“Integrity,” answers Dina, when asked what distinguishes Annie’s Yoga Studio from the studio on the next corner . . . and the next corner . . . and the next corner. In a time when most new studios change names before you even learn to pronounce their original Sanskrit name, this place is a true rarity. It has been “Annie’s Yoga Studio” since 1988.
As I survey the studio, I note another thing about Annie’s that probably has not changed since 1988; namely, the dÃ©cor. From the unadorned entryway to the plaid bolsters in the studio, there’s nothing glamorous about Annie’s. The studio is simple, immaculate, and vaguely reminiscent of a classroom. At one point in the interview, Dina mentions redecorating, but she does not seem particularly invested in the idea. “It’s really about the teaching and the atmosphere,” she admits. “The box is just a meeting place.”
As Dina and I gab about the history of this particular “box,” I notice a rope contraption strung across one of the walls. I squint, trying to discern whether it is a medieval torture device or a piece of modern art. Dina follows my gaze and informs me that I am looking at Iyengar ropes. “My students say, ”˜unless we’re hanging, I don’t want to stay,’” she laughs. Since I’m still eyeing the ropes curiously, Dina asks, “you know how they work, right?” I pause, I’m a writer for Yogi Times, after all. I even teach a yoga class a couple times a week. Yet, I have no idea how to operate those things. Before I have decided whether or not to reveal my yogic ignorance, Dina leaps up and begins to untie and retie the ropes. Before I know it, I am hanging upside-down from a swing that she has constructed just for me.
Once I’m right-side-up-again, Dina tells me how essential it is to carefully secure the ropes for each individual student. This is probably the reason that Iyengar ropes are such a novelty. They require a degree of care that few instructors are willing to invest. Dina, however, is more than willing to expend her energy to show me something new. I am beginning to understand what Dina meant when she referred to the studio’s “integrity.” That initially vague kernel of yoga-speak is starting to take shape. “I want new students to have fun and come back,” she explains simply. Dina is even willing to take the time to evaluate newcomers in order to help them find the class that is right for them. This degree of personal attention is what distinguishes Annie’s from the rest. “It is a spiritual center with room for everyone,” muses Dina. “A center for people to feel safe,” she adds emphatically.
In order to make “room for everyone,” Annie’s has had to be extremely flexible with their pricing. The studio’s owners are as generous with their finances as the teachers are with their attention. There is no fee for borrowed mats and the studio has even accepted service trades from students who were unable to afford classes there. It is clear that the owners care much more about making yoga accessible than they do about making a profit.
Dina largely credits her partner, Dario, for maintaining the generosity, integrity, and overall vision of the studio. His careful selection of instructors helps make Annie’s the sacred space it is today. Dario chooses teachers that will “keep the yoga pure,” explains Dina. He searches for instructors that display a “deep spiritual commitment to the transformational and healing possibilities of yoga.” Dario has been known to say, “If you want McDonald’s yoga, go to your gym.” Thus, if you’re after a drive-thru yoga-bod, Annie’s may not be the studio for you. If, however, you seek to cultivate the entire mind, body, spirit triad, Annie’s is ideal. Whereas many studios today sacrifice meditation for four more minutes of crunches, the classes at Annie’s all include both an opening pranayama segment and a lengthy savasana. The instructors at Annie’s refuse to bow to present-day pressures to reduce yoga to a mere workout.
I am curious, however, as to whether or not yoga’s newfound popularity has affected the business end of things. According to Dina, yoga’s explosion into American pop-culture has proven equally beneficial and detrimental to her client roster. She explains that although there are more practitioners than ever before, there are also more studios to serve them. Thus, Dina even sees balance in the business side of Annie’s Yoga Studio. Now, that’s a true yogi!