When Jai Ma Yoga Center at 69 Main Street merges with Ashtanga Yoga at 71 Main Street later this month, it will complete a full circle of sorts for Jai Ma’s director Ami Jayaprada Hirschstein. That’s because when Ami first opened her yoga studio in New Paltz 16 years ago, 71 Main was the original space it occupied. “And it does feel like a ‘coming home’ kind of thing,” she says. “But it’s kind of ironic, too, because we’ll be knocking down the same wall [to expand] that I knocked down there 14 years ago.”
Back then, after Ami moved Jai Ma Yoga one door down to number 69, Michael Stein moved into the vacated space and opened Ashtanga Yoga. Now the two yogis, who each have more than 20 years of experience teaching yoga in New Paltz, will join forces to create one united studio to be called “YogAlive.” They plan to open in August after expanding Ashtanga Yoga’s space at 71 Main Street.
The idea to combine the two studios was inspired by a number of things. For Ami, it had a lot to do with a new direction she’s taken in her life. Recently, she earned a degree to practice Ayurveda, a holistic healing system developed thousands of years ago in India, based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a balance between mind, body and spirit. Healing is accomplished primarily through changes made in diet and lifestyle. “I love teaching yoga and I love running the studio,” Ami says, “but I also want to make space in my life to pursue this new love that I have for doing Ayurveda. And I can’t run a studio by myself full-time and have space for that.”
In addition, the Hudson Valley region has become saturated with yoga studios in recent years and accordingly, there’s a lot of competition. “When I opened, there was only one other yoga studio in town,” Ami says. “There were none in Poughkeepsie, and maybe one in Kingston. Different styles of yoga have become popular now and there are a lot more choices. The face of yoga has to evolve and change, but my goal in doing this is just to keep teaching.”
For Michael Stein, merging the two studios seemed the logical thing to do, he says. “Ami and I have been friends for quite a while, with our studios right next door to each other, and we have similar philosophies on yoga; basically that it’s not just a physical practice. A lot of yoga is being practiced in a very physical way these days, and we both definitely focus on the philosophical side as well. With so many other yoga studios in this one small town now, we wanted to just bring our communities together.”
Those already practicing yoga at Ashtanga will find that YogAlive offers them new options. The construction going on now at 71 Main Street will open up the space to accommodate larger classes. “Basically, the back of the room will be expanded,” says Michael. “We’ll have a lot of light, and it’ll feel very spacious. I like to have people come to the wall and use it as an assistant [to support a pose], but there are times in the studio now when it gets too crowded to do that. I’m looking forward to having the space for that kind of thing.”
Combining the studios will also allow an expanded variety and scope of classes and class times to fit the needs of more people. “I’m excited that by joining forces we’re going to be able to offer so much more,” Ami says. “It just gives us a bigger palette to work from, so to speak. At my studio, the restorative gentle therapeutic classes have been very popular over the years, and now instead of offering them twice a week, we’ll have them four times a week.” Both Michael and Ami will continue to offer private classes, as well, and Ami will conduct Ayurvedic consultations in the new space.
Their individual approaches to yoga practice are different but complementary to each other, says Ami. Her methods often focus on the therapeutic. She does many private consultations with people undergoing chronic pain or with injuries, and describes her style of yoga as somewhat of a physical therapy approach; “more of an alignment-based, longer holding kind of practice.” Michael, on the other hand, practices Ashtanga yoga, drawing on the graceful flowing sequences of Vinyasa asanas guided by rhythmic breath to promote optimal health, heightened focus and peace of mind. But while it might seem on the surface that their individual styles are very different, Michael points out that “every style of yoga is therapeutic if it’s done properly. Anything you’re doing in yoga needs to focus on the body and the mind; otherwise it’s just calisthenics.”
Beginning in mid-September, the two will collaborate to conduct both a 200-hour and a 500-hour teacher training course. The advanced 500-hour course focuses a lot more on communication and understanding anatomy and physiology, explains Michael, along with a greater emphasis on yoga philosophy than can be covered in the 200-hour course. A free orientation in early September will be offered for people to get a feel for what the training courses are all about.
The new studio will honor any gift certificates or class cards issued at the old studios. Updates on the YogAlive opening as the month progresses can be found on the Facebook pages linked to ashtangaofnewpaltz.com and jmyoga.com.