yoga practice

Mala Yoga: Small is Beautiful


Mala Yoga sits on the second floor above a corner real estate office in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, at arguably one of the cutest intersections in the neighborhood. With coffee shops, restaurants, a Montessori school and a small independent bookstore nearby, this could be Main Street, USA. The church spire rising in the distance completes the picture.

But it’s Court Street, a bustling, residential part of Brooklyn. Run by three yoginis, two who left white-collar careers for yoga, Mala has only a sandwich board outside to mark its presence. It gets most of its students from walk-ins and word of mouth.

Opened in November 2007, Mala bucks current trends of expansion and franchising as one of the smallest studios in the city, at just 700 square feet–including the bathroom. Space is used efficiently: students’ bags and shoes go in one small closet, props in the other. Subs for the week are posted on the bathroom door, and the sign-in desk is tucked up next to the wall inside the practice space.

Such a vibrant place doesn’t feel small. In fact, there’s a bit of a love-fest going on at Mala. Students praise the smart, down-to-earth teachers, and teachers adore their students.

“We have really fantastic students here,” says Angela Clark, of of Mala’s co-founders. “They’re really into practicing, really into knowing who they are.”

Mala’s warm community of professionals, freelancers, and new parents is also remarkable.

“People are gregarious here, we all talk to everyone,” says Robyn Sklarson, VP of Library Content and Development for Sony Pictures Television who assists classes as a part of Mala’s new-teacher apprenticeship program. “If it’s a really packed class, everyone gets cozy and squishes up next to each other.”

Popular classes sell out at 26 – 30 people—when there’s an inch or less between mats—and so students get to know each other. Teachers walk through the class before it begins, learning names and discussing injuries or issues.

“You never have to worry about not getting an adjustment or getting lost in the shuffle,” says Sklarson.

Mala has done exceptionally well in its first year of business thanks to its location and handpicked staff, but also to the founders’ pre-existing popularity at other studios. One Mala fan, Rick Jakobson, a professional cook, had practiced with all three founders at Area Yoga just a few blocks up Court Street. “I’m teacher-centric–I like to hear the same voices,” says Jakobson.

Co-founder Stephanie Creaturo explains the vision that infuses the studio. “Practice is a thread — the beads on the mala are your life.” All three founders wear mala beads that have been blessed by Amma, the hugging saint.

“You come to the practice in your 20s, keep practicing into your 30s, as you go through family life, and get older,” says Creaturo. “Yoga can be with you through the stages of your life. That’s how we approach it.”

Mala Yoga 162 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY, 11201 718 237 9642


Music City Goes with the Flow: Nashville Yoga Gets Moving


When circumstances kept Nashville-natives Tom and Daphne Larkin from moving to California in 2004, the last thing on their minds was opening their own yoga studio. But as experienced yoga teachers, they realized they had to listen to the obstacles.

Three of four planned trips to LA had fallen through when a friend suggested they see a space on Hillsboro Road-—just a few doors up from Nashville’s famous Bluebird music club. That changed their minds for good. “Daphne called me right away. It was just so perfect,” says Tom, 40.

Daphne, 42, agrees, “We liked the space and thought, this is what we’re supposed to do—be in the flow, in the current.”

The idea of bringing some Shiva Rea-inspired fluidity into Nashville’s yoga scene was understandably tempting. Iyengar yoga—which both Tom and Daphne had studied before discovering Shiva Rea, their long-time teacher—had dominated Music City for many, many years.

Wallace Joiner of the Yoga Society of Nashville (est. 1977), says, “Jan Campbell and June LaSalvia were the first yoginis to teach in Nashville, and that was over 40 years ago.” Even today, most of the dozen or so studios in Nashville teach the Iyengar tradition. Only one other studio in town teaches vinyasa. There was lots of room for expansion.

Sanctuary for Yoga Body and Spirit opened in October 2004 a few miles from downtown Nashville, in the affluent Green Hills neighborhood. With help from family, Tom and Daphne painted the walls vibrant colors, constructed a cute boutique, and imported ornately carved wooden screens (which help to block out the Walgreen’s red-neon sign that shines in from across the street).

They began with an ambitious roster of 20 classes, all of which they taught. “At first we were excited that even one or two people were coming. We aimed for 5.” In little more than two years, attendance has grown to a steady 200 and 250 students per week. Now students ask when they plan to expand.

“It’s been successful beyond our wildest expectations,” says Tom, a former Web designer who now runs Sanctuary full time.

“We taught what we were learning,” pixie-haired Daphne adds. “The community followed.”

In spite of the studio’s success, Daphne has kept her full-time job as director of online marketing for the Country Music Association and the couple still teach 19 of the studio’s 25 weekly classes. They encourage their 6 staff teachers to bring their own expertise to their vinyasa teaching whether it be in Anusara or therapeutics.

But the vision is theirs. “We want to allow for creativity and freedom of expression in all of yoga’s forms, but especially vinyasa,” says Daphne, a former dancer and actress. This “melting pot” approach was inspired by teachings they witnessed in LA where established teachers blended influences from all over, while holding true to their own style.

This approach seems to work for their clientele who are as much Nashville locals as film and music people in Nashville on business. “The music industry brings a lot of people here—musicians, executives, celebrities, film-types,” says Tom. “People drop in and feel at home. It’s more like the yoga they are used to in LA.”

Several A-list actors and musicians are regulars, but the vibe at Sanctuary remains friendly, relaxed, and intimate. The evening I practiced there, two newcomers to the studio were welcomed and made comfortable. Regulars were greeted by name, and several people stayed after class to chat with the Larkins.

Just back from a trip to the Bahamas with country star LeAnn Rimes, one of Tom’s private clients, Tom and Daphne are excited about the future. “We see traveling a lot more, giving workshops,” says Daphne. The couple will be giving their signature Yoga Groove workshops in Kentucky and Ohio this summer, and hope to expand to Memphis, Atlanta, and L.A. in the near future. “But right now we’re just so grateful to have a fantastic community here.”

Tom agrees, “The community is very warm. People enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes we have to quiet people down so that we can start the class.”