If you so much as dabbled in yoga in New York City over the past 12 years, chances are you found your way to Virayoga. Elena Brower’s beloved SoHo spot was more than a studio—it was a warm, welcoming community and global hub for yogis of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. As heartbroken as we were to hear of Vira's closing this June, we're also excited to see what comes next for its multi-dimensional, always-evolving owner.
As part of our ongoing conversation about The Practice of Leadership, we asked the world-renowned teacher for her perspective on inclusiveness and staying true to yourself.
YogaJournal.com: How do you define yoga?
Elena Brower: Coming home to myself.
YJ: What were your studio’s core values?
EB: To provide a haven for the healing of downtown NYC after 9/11. And to offer superb teachings and teachers to the SoHo community.
YJ: Did you ever have to adjust to meet changing trends in the yoga world?
EB: No. I did my own thing, always.
YJ: What advice would you give someone trying to create a company with soul?
EB: Stay true to yourself—that soul will always come through.
YJ: How did you know it was time to move on?
EB: Practical reasons: Rent going up was the first door. Then in taking a good look at my numbers and time constraints, I realized that there were adventures I wanted to experience both personally and professionally that couldn't happen until I was able to free up some time.
YJ: What's something a teacher should always do to create a non-threatening, welcoming space?
EB: Learn names, afford lots of silence, trust that you're all there to help each other grow.
YJ: Are there subtle messages that teachers sometimes send that can be unintentionally intimidating or reinforce the idea of a “perfect” body?
EB: There is no perfect body. For me, it's best to simply teach what works architecturally, which leads us all to a more open and optimal flow in our bodies. I'm learning from my teachers at Katonah Yoga that we all have habits in our practice and in our lives. So we use our yoga to learn very specific new habits (how to hold our feet, hands, etc.), so this flow is optimized and we aren't stuck in our preference. Preferences limit what's possible. When we're in the right measure and form, the flow is optimized, and that's the "perfect" moment: when our eyes want to close and breathing fills out and our bodies become more dimensional.
YJ: From marketing campaigns to social media, images of the "yoga body” abound. What’s your take?
EB: I just want to see the yogis and their real bodies. We are all such different shapes, and to see the full range of possibilities in the media is helpful and healing for all of us.
YJ: What makes you feel the most beautiful?
EB: Waking up to the sunrise and sitting quietly to welcome the day.
YJ: How does your personal practice affect your relationship to your body?
EB: My personal practice helps me remember my strength, my softness, and my listening. All three are key in nurturing a nourishing relationship to myself. When I forget even one of those, I'm unmoored.
YJ: What are you focusing on now?
EB: I'm spending more time with my son, my friends, on my guitar, painting, and on creative projects. [I’m] designing an audio meditation course for fall/winter launch and a capsule clothing collection for Lole as well as another retail store. (I’m going back to my design roots.) I’m continuing to teach in NYC, continuing coaching for Handel Group, and taking lots of long baths ...