“I’m a Type A, middle-aged neurotic Jewish woman,” she states proudly. Less than a minute into the interview, Elyse Briggs – owner of Yoga at the Village – already has me laughing. She later corrects herself, saying that thanks to yoga, she now considers herself a “Type A Minus” personality. She is careful to add, however, that she’ll “never be a B.”
Elyse Briggs is a far cry from your average, incomprehensibly calm yoga instructor. For ages, she was a pink-spandex clad, step aerobics devotee who viewed yoga as “a bunch of breathing and praying.” Then, while attending performing arts school, Elyse was required to enroll in either fencing or yoga. Since fencing was full, Elyse got stuck taking yoga. Almost immediately, Elyse noticed her yoga practice trickling into her life off the mat. “Everything in my life was a little slower somehow,” she recalls.
After the course ended, Elyse grew progressively more serious about yoga. Six years ago, she began teaching at Yoga at the Village. Then, last March, the studio went up for sale. So, what’s a yoga teacher to do when her favorite studio goes on the market? According to Elyse, “ya mortgage the house and ya buy a business!” Since her acquisition of Yoga at the Village, Elyse’s joyful spirit has permeated every aspect of the studio. Now that she is in a position to select the instructors, for example, Elyse considers only those that share her own playful nature. “If a teacher can’t make me laugh, I won’t hire them,” she states plainly.
Elyse encourages her students, above all, to look at themselves and laugh. If a student drops into child’s pose during an intense sequence, Elyse may ask, “excuse me, are you on vacation?” Elyse is demanding, but her comedic approach to challenging poses keeps her students coming back for more. Whereas many teachers utilize lion’s breath to release tension that has built up during the practice, Elyse uses a different tactic. Her students inhale through their noses, then exhale with a big belly laugh. According to Elyse, there is nothing as invigorating as the sight of twenty-five students laughing together at absolutely nothing.
The types of yoga taught at the studio also reflect Elyse’s sense of play. Kundalini appeals to her because “it makes you laugh and move in new ways, and leaves the spirit light.” She is also an Anusara fan, because, quite simply, she believes that Anusara is the most fun form of yoga. Elyse is especially excited about an upcoming workshop called Yoga Groove. The teacher of the workshop, like Elyse, goes against the yogic grain, playing jazz music and incorporating dance moves from the likes of Bob Fosse into her class.
With the therapeutic and physical returns garnered by Elyse’s students, it’s no surprise that the studio’s roster has increased by forty percent since Elyse purchased it back in March. Along with the constant influx of fabulous new students, however, Elyse sometimes gets a student with a chip on her perfectly sculpted shoulder. In such cases, Elyse has been known to stop class and ask the yogini to leave her ego at the door: literally. Elyse explains that there is a bench outside for egos and requests that the student leave class, place her ego on the bench, and return afterwards. Some never come back, while others become devoted to the class on a whole new level. Either way, Elyse refuses to compromise the spirit of her class for anyone. She has taught for long enough to know that one expansive ego can adversely affect twenty-four expansive minds.
This careful weeding out of bad energy results in an unshakable sense of community in the studio. “It’s about changing one finger,” explains Elyse, flipping me off, “into two.” Here, she gives me a peace sign coupled with a sly smile. Elyse is probably the first yoga teacher who has ever made me laugh this hard, and she is definitely the first one to flip me the bird.