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Studio Cities

Explore the practice through the eyes of the impassioned in Paris, Tokyo, São Paulo, and Istanbul.

By Andrea Ferretti

Brazilian Spirit

Studio: Aruna Yoga
Students per Month: 800

Location: São Paulo, Brazil

Population of São Paulo: 19 million

Anderson Allegro found his calling at a young age. After reading about yoga in a book when he was 10 years old, Allegro started entertaining his family by leading yoga classes in the living room. At 18, he found his first yoga teacher, and by the tender age of 20, he began teaching classes out of the garage at his family's home.

His studio in São Paulo is now nearly two decades old, and it offers a variety of different styles of yoga, teacher training programs, and rousing nights of kirtan (devotional chanting) in the studio's 3,000-square-foot space.

On Being a Young, Male, Catholic Yogi: "It was a revolution in my house because my family was very Catholic, and they didn't understand what was happening to me. But yoga made me change my point of view and the way I was behaving. At first, my family was a little worried; but after some time, they saw that it was good for me, and they agreed with my yoga practice. Now they all practice yoga, and some of them work with me at my yoga school."

On Being Spiritual, not Religious: "Most of my students enjoy hearing about the spiritual part of yoga. Once, a student came to me and said, 'I don't want to do mantras because I'm Catholic.' And I said, 'That's OK; you don't need to. No problem at all.' So they know that we're not pushing them into another religion. They can decide what's good for them."

Last year, Allegro brought one of his gurus from the Bihar School of Yoga in India to give a talk at his studio. He was surprised by the enthusiastic participation of his students. "More than 100 people took initiation with her, which was a surprise for me. I was expecting 20 to 30 people, but 130 people! I think Brazilian people are becoming very open to this spiritual part of yoga. This is what I want to teach more. It's not a religious approach, but we cannot deny this spiritual part of yoga."

On Having Fun: Even though the practice is sacred and dear to him, Allegro lightens things up from time to time with a wisecrack or a practical joke. Last Christmas, he put a Santa Claus hat on the studio's statue of the elephant-headed Hindu deity, Ganesha.

French Connection

Studio: Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche
Students per Month: 3,000

Location: Paris, France

Population of Paris: 10 million

As a 16-year-old living in Frankfurt, Germany, Daniela Schmid had never heard of yoga. But when a worldly cousin left behind B. K. S. Iyengar's seminal book, Light on Yoga, Schmid was intrigued. "That book became my little treasure," says the owner of Rasa Yoga Rive Gauche. She remembers pain-stakingly practicing along with it and being introduced to the micromovements of the system—reading several paragraphs, then moving her big toe, then reading some more, and rotating her thigh. After years of studying yoga and working as an architect, Schmid opened her Paris studio in 2005. Seven years later, the studio is thriving, and Schmid is enjoying the ride.

On Diversity: According to Schmid, yoga is still relatively young in Paris. (She remembers getting phone calls from people just a few years ago asking, "Are you a religious sect?"). Before she opened Rasa, there were Iyengar and Ashtanga Yoga studios in Paris, but few of them took an ecumenical approach. Schmid offers more than 10 different styles of classes, from hatha flow to Iyengar to prenatal yoga, so that students of all ages and interests can find something appealing, even as they change and evolve.

On Beauty: With her background in architecture, crafting a beautiful, serene space was of paramount importance to Schmid. At Rasa, the reception area is as big as the light-filled studio. She wanted the reception space to provide students with an opportunity to chat, have tea, and connect with each other as well as giving them an area to transition from the bustling streets of the Left Bank to a calm, quiet space. "At other studios, you had wonderful teachers and classes. And you'd come out of this amazing class in complete bliss, and you'd be thrown onto the street," says Schmid. "It was too abrupt."

On City Living: In a city where living space is small, the Metro is crowded, and expectations for excellence abound, Schmid is thrilled to see students go from being aggressive and rushed as they sign in for class to being relaxed and centered as they leave. "I think, 'Good, good. Take it with you outside. Keep it there.' "

On Giving Back: The practice of seva, or selfless service, is important to Schmid. Through a partnership with a charity called Trees for the Future, money from each purchase at the studio—whether it's a class card, a T-shirt, or juice—goes toward tree-planting projects. According to Schmid, Rasa also supports 250 children in an orphanage in India who have opted to take yoga twice weekly. "They get their outfits and their mats, and they get to travel to competitions and live for a few days outside of their world," she says. "I think it's such a wonderful project. I just love it."

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June 2012

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