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Isaac Pena

To an outside observer, the closing of Sankalpah, the home base of instructor Isaac Peña and his loyal community, may have looked like a major setback.

Instead, the studio’s closing has left the beloved martial-arts-loving, inversion-prone yogi a renewed sense of freedom and purpose—and it’s translating into yoga stardom.

“I don’t want to be the head of anything,” Pena says, smiling. He admittedly does not enjoy the business side of running a studio. “I want to win the best supporting actor award.”

But that’s not going to happen. Peña’s new free-agent status is making him harder to find, but in that too-important-to-be-available way that only makes the spotlight shine brighter on a rising star.

Peña first saw the writing on the wall when he left Sankalpah for a six-day photo shoot. While he was gone, studio attendance shrank by 300 people. After years of overextending himself, he decided he didn’t need to be that busy, and now he’s working three hours a day and practicing for “about eight.”

“Let everyone come to me,” he says. And they do—for his intense, athletic style of instruction, and his gentle, profound magnetism, both of which are reminiscent of Rodney Yee’s allure.

Students traipse across Manhattan for Peña’s classes at Pure Yoga, his Saturday Sadhana sessions at the new Bija Yoga in Union Square, and to Body & Pole for flexibility training.

And he’s focusing primarily on his true passion: private sessions with his devoted clients, at least one of whom has won an Oscar.

Peña admits this cautiously, laughing and shrugging off the indications of influence. He won’t commit to plans for the future, and prefers to see where life, and yoga, will take him.

“I’ve always tried to bring yoga outside of the box,” he says. Often that means his classes don’t quite match what’s listed on the studio schedule. “I tell Pure Yoga they should just put on the schedule: ‘Show up to Isaac’s class, and you never know what’s going to happen.'”

Peña approaches his career in the same way. But something’s definitely happening, and it may just be big. —Lisa Elaine Held