Yoga in NYC is currently a tale of two houses: Behemoths like Pure and YogaWorks, which lure the yoga-as-workout crowd to their mega-studios. While, on the other end of the spectrum, a handful of yoga teachers are instructing in substantially homier settings. Literally. That’s been Alex Auder’s M.O. for some time.
Students of the renowned yoga teacher unfurl their mats in the light-filled living room of her West Village apartment. Auder’s West Village Yoga is an unbranded counter to Lululemon-filled classes, and the yoga cognoscenti claim her small classes are some of the city’s most inspired, with Auder and her students bound in a give and take that’s “a lot like a mentorship, without being formalized that way,” says one female student. With attendance capped at eight, her students (of various levels) also get personal attention, corrections, and major hands-on assists.
Auder, who grew up in the Chelsea Hotel with a mom who hosted weekly Kirtan sessions, experienced yoga’s salad days in NYC. In 1989, Auder was just out of high school when she began practicing at the original Jivamukti on Second Avenue and 9th Street, with founders David Life and Sharon Gannon. Their style was a revelation compared to the Hatha, the leading style at the time, which Auder describes as “serious soft-voiced, baggy-clothed instructors teaching mild and simple postures for relaxation in a digestibly colored room with new-age background music.” By comparison, studying with Gannon was “super hard and sweaty,” says Auder. “Sharon chanted in Sanskrit, translated it, played Van Morrison as well as traditional Kirtan. She rubbed eucalyptus oil on my chest and gave me intense hands-on adjustments that sent me into another physical dimension. She was funny and theatrical and yet absolutely authentic. I was hooked.”
When Auder completed Jivamukti’s nascent teacher-training program, she made a study of Iyengar yoga and Vedantic yogic philosophies, then opened Hudson Valley Yoga, near Rhinebeck. She returned to New York City in 2006 to find both the yoga scene and its practitioners substantially more advanced. The yoga canon had exploded from two schools to about twelve. And the chill, alt-lifestyle philosophy was now a full-fledged business model drawing everyone from professional dancers to young women in publishing to classes. “The bar was set higher for teachers,” says Auder, who became a believer in home-schooling her yoga students with an old-school idea that dedication and craft—and her students—would shine in a small setting. (And no one could object to ‘70s music or belief in a class card that never expires.)
Now approaching her 40th birthday, Auder’s teaching method has evolved into an “attempt to integrate Iyengar-based alignment cues into a creative Vinyasa sequence that builds slowly.” But it’s harder to label the je ne sais quoi that her students feel practicing here, and to quantify what the boutique-size, home-study yoga studio offers. Though it’s likely we’ll see more teachers going this route for economical reasons and others. When class is over here, students thank their teacher and respectfully shuffle out so Auder, dedicated to many things, can read a bedtime story to her daughter.
West Village Yoga, 311 West 11th Street (btwn Hudson & Greenwich St.), 845-399-8934, www.westvillageyoga.com
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