Francesca Bove tells us to use two blocks for hero’s pose because we’re “going to be there for a while as the class starts.” She pauses to correct herself. “I mean the ‘experience,‘” she enunciates. I roll my eyes, which are closed behind an eye mask.
Ninety minutes later, I’ve participated in group singing (“la la la la,” “ma ma me ma,” “wot wot wot wot”), watched shapes, clouds, and stars move across the walls while wringing my body out like a sweaty sponge, and gotten physical chills from sound vibrations above my body, all while wondering how to follow instructions like “become an ocean” and “taste the dream in your mouth.”
After, I wonder, “Is experience even a big enough word for what just happened?”
This is Woom, a wellness center that just opened in New York City with a category-defying concept that bucks silent inner reflection in favor of yoga and meditation tools that wake you up to in order to calm you down.
“The yoga tradition is really about sense withdrawal,” says yoga instructor Elian Zach, who created Woom with her partner, David Shemesh, and Bove, her teacher from Laughing Lotus, who is now the yoga director. “Coming from the Burning Man community—and I was an actor and singer for many years and David is a chef—visual, auditory, and olfactory stimuli play a big role in our lives.”
Inside the Woom
They play a big part in yours, too, when you show up for class since all of the signature Woom experiences include elements of all five senses—sound, sight, touch, smell, and taste. (You can also take a few more specific classes like Katonah Flow—which uses geometric imagery—and Sound Dive.)
Everything in the space is bright, modern, and minimalist—think white brick, light wood, and lots of hanging plants. The entrance feels more like a chic community center than a yoga studio check-in area, and houses a full-service vegan cafe with a seasonal menu that includes dishes like quinoa and lentil kabob wraps and smoked eggplant and tahini. (Shemesh is a French-trained chef and former restaurant owner with a hummus specialty.) When I was there during the soft opening phase, the room was already buzzing with energy and conversation over shared food, a community taking root.
The yoga room appears empty as you set up your mat, blocks, blankets, and bolster. The technology that you’ll experience later—a 4D sound system that allows noise and music to be distributed completely evenly, a projection system that creates the moving visual installation, and a scent-diffusing system—are all hidden from view.
What it’s really like
Back to the experience. Everything about it feels perfectly designed and each section flows seamlessly into the next, with Bove and Zach switching on and off in terms of instruction.
The seated portion at the start includes breathwork (ujjayi and kapalbhati), some spiritual reflection from our two guides, and call-and-response chanting and singing, all blindfolded.
When the masks come off, it’s time to flow, and I figure the vinyasa is going to be slow and easy given how spiritual the experience has been so far. I’m wrong. It’s a tough sequence that requires serious strength and attention to breath and leaves me drenched in sweat. Both Bove and Zach circle the room constantly offering expert adjustments—the kind that push or pull you just the right amount to help you go just a little deeper, safely. Throughout, visuals are moving all over the walls, and music is setting a rhythm (it’s melodic, sometimes tribal—nothing pop or with lyrics).
After that, we get into a restorative posture, laying down with our legs supported over bolsters and blocks, blindfolds back on, and the real sound starts. First, it’s booming, but it keeps changing. I recognize the sound of a rain stick, and the location and direction keeps changing and adjusting so that it completely takes over my consciousness. I’m thinking, “Is it possible a sheet of water or tiny beads are actually about to rain down on me?” I honestly can’t be sure anymore. When it sounds like it’s directly above me, I actually get physical chills.
“When we’re silent, laying down, it’s the perfect platform for the mind to go crazy. The idea with sound in relation to meditation is to kind of trick your mind,” Zach explains when I tell her later that savasana normally involves me mentally running through a to-do list, but that the sound kept me focused. “Your mind wants to have a task—and usually the task is to drive you crazy. The idea is not to stop thinking; it’s to navigate the mind and give it a better task. The sound is a tool for you to navigate your mind and observe it, to take a moment and give it a rest.”
While I’m getting that rest, at one point, something touches down on my chest, vibrating (I later learn it’s a tuning fork). An amazing smell also fills the room, holding me over until the very end, when a cucumber-lemon-ginger-coconut butter shot is handed to me.
I think about earlier in class, when we were told to sing the words, “Everything…in its right place.” Whether you’re a natural skeptic (like me) or a member of the stylish spiritual cognoscenti that will undoubtedly feel right at home here, you’ll see, immediately, that inside the expertly executed dreamworld (taste it!) that is Woom, everything is, in fact, in its right place.
Think Woom is out there? How do you feel about doing tree-posing with goats? And even you’re not a “yoga person,” everyone can learn something from the world’s oldest instructor.
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