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The Tao of Williamsburg
by Richard Bainbridge
Whether you want blissful yoga, trance-inducing tai chi, some kick ass kung fu, a dreamy shiatsu massage, or even just a little feng shui to balance your life, we’ve got it all. Richard Baimbridge spent two weeks researching the holistic scene, and shares the enlightenment in Williamsburg’s ultimate holistic guide.
It was my ex-girlfriend, a turbulent young Finnish painter with a habit of throwing dishes at me, who first introduced me to yoga. We were renovating our very raw loft on the southside one summer, and every night she’d do these crazy stretches. After a while, I began to follow along – at first, I admit, it was so I could watch the way her butt moved. But then I started to feel the benefits, and it became a part of our daily routine. She’s gone now, but yoga’s still a big part of my life. In fact, it’s had a major impact on me.
And it just so happens that Williamsburg is home to an incredibly diverse and talented group of holistic practitioners. Whatever you may feel about the word ‘holistic,’ these are people who can drastically improve your health and lifestyle, whether by curing your insomnia with acupuncture, or by giving you the strength and confidence of Shaolin kung fu. No more searching bulletin boards for Capoeira dance or Kundalini classes – it’s all here. And there truly is something for everyone. So get out there and give it a shot – trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Tai chi and yoga classes, Swedish massage, acupuncture
Greenhouse Holistic is new to the ‘Burg, and it’s an absolute godsend. A teacher of Yang style tai chi (associated with the New York School of Tai Chi Chuan), owner David Greenhouse is an extremely friendly and patient guy who teaches a small class of tai chi students, ranging from a retired carpenter to young, artsy professionals. Tai chi is an unbelievable experience. Some call it "meditation in motion," and it has some powerful martial arts applications, as well. The benefits include increased strength and energy, yet it is incredibly tranquil and mentally focussing. Tricky recently took up tai chi to cure his insomnia, and guess what? He finally put out a decent album.
Greenhouse also offers Vinyasa yoga classes with Irena ad Jill on Mon-Wed. evenings. When he’s not teaching tai chi, David uses the space as a Swedish massage clinic. You can also book acupuncture treatments with Dr. Scott Gremmel, a brilliant acupuncturist who takes an ‘interpersonal’ approach. It can do wonders for your body. He’ll prescribe an entire Chinese medicine regiment for you and stick you full of needles. Don’t worry, they only look scary.
- Tai chi course (12 classes): $180
- Yoga: $13/class
- Acupuncture: $80/session
- Swedish massage: $60/hr.
Yoga in the Neighborhood
Hatha and Vinyasa-style yoga
Imagine if your 6th grade piano teacher offered a yoga class. It’d be the antithesis of Jiva Mukti’s "girl, where did you get that yoga outfit anyway" attitude. But what’s surprising is how good the instruction is at Yoga’n’the hood. A lot of people try to jump right into serious yoga classes without having the basics down, yet without the basics, yoga is pointless. Here you can get a great foundation, This is down-home yoga, chicken-soup for the soul yoga, yoga like mom used to make it yoga. No attitude, just love.
Lee Jung-Yi New York Shaolin
Southern Shaolin-style Kung Fu, Wu-style tai chi classes
The Shaolin monks created a system of kung fu designed to keep them fit for meditation. But they can also kick some serious ass. Walking into Christopher Lee’ s 10am kung fu class is like entering another world. It’s super serious, no joking around kung fu "for the few" (the allusion to the Marines is no coincidence). In the practice area, in keeping with tradition, students call him "Sifu Lee" (Master Lee) and say "yes sir" and "yes ma’am" both to him and to each other out of respect. The class opens with 50 bare-knuckle push-ups on a concrete floor…and gets harder from there. Half the students are girls who can take down almost any jerk at a bar with one punch. In under six months, Lee prepared a class of total beginners for an international competition -- and they won their division. Plus, being from Williamsburg, they looked the most stylish, too.
- $150/mo. for group kung fu classes
- $70/mo. for tai chi
- first class is free.
Shiatsu massage (specialty in prenatal shiatsu)
Shiatsu, as Dayna likes to point out, is a dance between the practitioner and the recipient. Stretched out on a soft mat on the floor, with my arms resting on tiny velvet pillows and Japanese music playing softly in the background, I fell deeply in love with this dance. There is a mother hand, which stays mostly stationary, as the son hand travels through various pressure points. In a small back room in Dayna’s beautiful loft, I am pulled, adjusted, and stepped on until I reach a state of perfect Zen happiness. Now I know why the Buddha is smiling.
Feng Shui (pronounced ‘fung shway’) can be used for a lot of things. But Jenny is probably the first person to ever use it to get rid of an unwanted roommate. "He was a virgo," she says, sitting by a green wall, which in feng shui represents wood. "They don’t like changes, so I started making lots of little changes to the house." The guy actually moved out! Scattered around her tiny apartment are small rocks (earth) and Chinese trinkets. But everything – and I mean everything – has its place for a particular reason, all based on the Bagua energy map. "You don’t have to have a lot of space to do feng shui," she says, noting that even something small, like having an altar for sacred objects, can make a difference in creating a home that fills you with good energy. "It can really change your relationship with your home."
- Home consultations: $75/hr. (usually takes 2 hrs.)
Vinyasa yoga and meditation
Conveniently located in the "mini-mall", Go Yoga is Williamsburg’s own little Jiva Mukti. Madonna may not come here, but lots of people who listen to Yo La Tengo do. The teachers are among the best you’ll find in New York, and the environment is pure shanti (peace). There are beginner classes and intermediate, as well as free meditation on Sunday evenings.
Kundalini and Hatha yoga, modern dance, special children’s programs
Dressed in stark white, including a white head wrap, Philippa Wooley guides her students through a ‘kriya,’ or a meditation focus of the day. Each kriya has a different purpose, be it releasing anger or achieving tranquility. On the outside, kundalini looks easy – a lot of breathing exercises and ‘mudras’ (hand positions). But what’s happening on the inside is extremely intense. Based on the teachings of Yogi Bhajan, Kundalini classes at The Stable can awaken powerful energy locked deep inside your body, while simultaneously calming the mind and helping you overcome things like insomnia, depression and anxiety. Plus you get to wear all white and feel pure for an hour, to balance the naughtiness of your real life. The children’s programs include dance, art, music, and best of all, snacks!
- Yoga classes: $12 (add $1 if you rent a mat)
- Children’s full program: $525 (single class $13.50)
Physical Arts Center
Gyrokinesis yoga, African dance, Gymnastics, Thai Kickboxing, Capoeira (Afro-Brazilian martial arts dance), special events
If you’ve never seen Capoeira in action, it’s amazingly beautiful. Part martial arts, part dance it’s like Perry Ferrell and Bruce Lee all in one: sensuously dangerous. A recent Physical Arts Center event featured a showcase of everything from yoga-based dance to African musicians and dancers. It was like a rave without drugs, alcohol or cigarettes. And though I personally like all of those things, it was the first time I ever went to a rave and woke up the next morning feeling really good. ..except the depression of watching the Africans and realizing how terrible of a dancer I am. Yes, it’s true, I am white. But at least now I know that there are classes that can help me overcome this problem.
- Gymnastics: $20/class
- Martial arts: $12/class
- Dance/yoga: $12/class
Isla Jones Cheadle718-486-3626
deep tissue massage, shiatsu
After you’ve finished up a class at Go Yoga, stop by for a visit with Isla, who will be operating a massage chair in the mini-mall on Sunday afternoons. A specialist in deep tissue and the more gentle art of shiatsu massage, Isla does most of her work out of her home, but she’ll also come to your place.$10 for 15 minutes at the mini-mall, or $65 an hour at her home (a sliding scale is available to those who need it) and $90 an hour at your home in Williamsburg.
Shanghai Martial Arts Institute
(ask for Stuart Peaslee)
Qi Gong (energy exercises)
Gu Zhong Ping is a Grandmaster of Taoist internal martial arts from Shanghai with 45 years training in Qi Gong (pronounced ‘chee-gung’). His class focuses on the five elements of water, wood, fire, earth, and metal, which are associated with 12 internal organs. The 5,000 year-old tradition of Qi Gong is often hard for Westerners to appreciate as it is very calm and takes some time to see results. The affects are subtle, yet profound, unlike more "external" exercises like kung fu. The emphasis in Qi Gong is on internal power, not external power, which is considered essentially ‘hollow’ energy.
- $100 for four sessions
Attention holistic practitioners and instructors: If you want to be included in the next update of this listing, please send your information to email@example.com
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