A profile of Swanand Yoga by Nell Alk.
In a city where real estate is as squeezed as Times Square on NYE, it’s not unusual to find weirdly disparate businesses next to, or on top of, each other. To get to Swanand Yoga, already situated amidst the general chaos of West 29th street near 7th Ave, you have to pass through the pungent smells and scenes, respectively, of a first-floor cigar shop and a second-floor tax preparer’s office straight out of a ’70s noir flick. Which, once you’re on the third floor, makes Swanand’s six-month-old space even more of a sight for sore eyes, a place to slow fast-walking feet and still racing mind.
Family-owned and -operated, Swanand—literally translating to “innate happiness”—welcomes with yellow accents, minimalist décor, and a warm, new-looking wood floor. Hatha-style (often conceptualized as traditional, back-to-basics) yoga is the specialty here, and from the first friendly welcome to the magic on the mat, from downward dog to shavasana, the aim is to help the stresses of metropolitan life melt away.
At Swanand, breath is the trick. The instructor for the class I took devoted serious attention to the quality of our inhale-exhale, pushing us to let airflow drive our movements and poses as opposed to brute force or strained exertion. Zen settled in as I let go of the grind with each posture and breath, and I needed it because, in usual harried fashion, I had been running late.
Not only did the instructor wait for me, but he also waited for the girl who was still later than I. Then again, on a Tuesday evening, it was just we two and Alan Cook, our yogi guru guide. Interactions during the lesson were casual and tailored, Cook accommodating our respective comfort zones and challenging us when he felt we needed it. As someone who’d already been well initiated to yoga with vinyasa and bikram—all about working and sweating it out—Swanand’s drier, cooler, gentler atmosphere proved a refreshing change of pace.
And sometimes, a more relaxed, slower approach actually achieves better results anyway. Thanks to Cook’s calm tone of voice, tranquil disposition, and accommodating attitude, I came closer than ever to mastering an arm balance. Not having to forge through the high temps and fast tempo of my usual studio, I was granted time to try…and try again. It’s since instilled in me a confidence that, yes, I can conquer the poses (at least some of them!) that up until now had made me too nervous to try.
After all, even when doing something as mental chatter-dissolving as yoga, it’s tough to disengage from the feeling, conscious or subconscious, justified or not, that it’s just another proving-ground or competition. Especially given New York’s ambitious, go-getter culture, it’s not hard to imagine yoga becoming less about achieving inner peace and more about achieving ever-more-strenuous physical feats or impressing the cute guy or girl one up and two over. Swanand counters that feeling, encouraging individuals of all ages, shapes, sizes, and degrees of familiarity to find an elusive inner peace at the center of the greatest human maelstrom in the world.