It used to be that if you wanted to practice Dharma yoga, which emphasizes a strong physical practice framed around self-realization, you had to go to the Dharma Yoga Center in Gramercy, where you could study with Sri Dharma Mittra himself. The guru, now in his seventies, has been headlining at his own studio since 1974, and yet in all this time, his acolytes haven’t opened studios. That is until now.
At first blush, Lily Cushman and Jeremy Frindel (that’s them in pigeon pose) seem a bit like a generation-Y Sharon Gannon and David Life. They’re a couple in business and in life, and they’ve opened a notable studio, Dharma Yoga Brooklyn. But unlike the entrepreneurial power couple behind Jivamukti, Cushman and Frindel have opened a donation-only studio that’s devoid of class cards and any and all merchandise. You can’t even buy the iconic poster of Dharma Mittra called “Master Chart of 908 Postures,” which hangs in loads of NYC studios.
“Our friends all said ‘well, it’s a nice idea, but you’ll need to list a suggested donation,’” says Frindel, who’s mild mannered but an intense teacher. “But when you suggest a donation, it’s no longer a donation.” Cushman and Frindel’s commitment to the donation-only idea comes from their practice in Manhattan. “Lily and I would go to the juice bar and vegan restaurant after class, and we realized that the Nepalese workers couldn’t afford to practice yoga at $20 a class.” Their new Park Slope Dharma Yoga studio at Sixth Avenue and St. Marks doesn’t exactly cater to restaurant workers either, but Frindel’s pleased with the crowd of regulars, mostly early 20-somethings whom he thinks couldn’t afford to have a regular practice otherwise.
After class in the immaculate brownstone studio with pressed tin ceilings and stained-glass windows, I watch as people slip money into a big flower pot. I spot one guy dropping in a $20; a young woman in American Apparel drops in a few singles. Frindel says the haul varies wildly—some classes averages $10 per person, others just $4. “We don’t really care how much is in the pot. We’re not looking to get rich,” says Frindel. “We want to share how profoundly this practice has changed our lives.”
Dharma Yoga Brooklyn, 82 Sixth Ave., at St. Marks Ave, 2nd Fl., Park Slope, 718-395-7632, dharmayogabrooklyn.com