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Class Action: Led Ashtanga at the Ashtanga Yoga Shala


The Ashtanga Yoga Shala has been an East Village institution for nearly 15 years, drawing yogis to Thompkins Square Park for the rigorous, almost-daily practice of Mysore Ashtanga.

(It’s a self-paced set of increasingly challenging poses that you perform in silence with personal guidance and adjustments from a teacher.)

It’s never been the sort of thing you can drop in on.

The studio became a lot more accessible in October. Yoga instructor Alex Schatzberg, who has studied with and assisted the shala’s longtime director, Guy Donahaye, for the past three years, launched a program of user-friendly Ashtanga classes throughout the day.

Schatzberg, who previously taught vinyasa and led Ashtanga at Equinox, Yoga Works, Yoga Vida, and Go Yoga, wanted to “lift the veil in front of Ashtanga.” He set out to counter the practice’s image as harsh or aggressive and to demonstrate how customized and therapeutic it can be, even in a group class. And he succeeded in creating a welcoming vibe—though the small, simple pale-pink room gave him a big head-start—and a noncompetitive atmosphere that encourages students of all abilities to stay within their limits.

Whereas led Ashtanga at some shalas can feel like the K. Pattabhi Jois Express, with the teacher calling out Sanskrit commands and expecting everyone to keep up (in fact, many shalas consider their led classes more “advanced” than Mysore), Schatzberg expects students not to keep up—to modify poses or leave them out, and to do only as much of the series as they can.

In fact, most of the classes on the schedule are Half-Primary (through navasana), and many students don’t make it through the whole Full Primary in those classes. And that’s perfectly fine. —Ann Abel

Who it’s for: The Ashtanga-curious or others who can’t commit to an early-morning practice

Book it or skip it: Book it

Led Ashtanga at the Ashtanga Yoga Shala, 295 E. 8th St. Drop-in class, $15; one-month unlimited, $150. Visit www.aysnyc.org or Facebook