I’m a runner. Neither yoga nor barre classes have appealed to me historically. On one hand, I prefer exercising outside, and alone, rather than with groups and indoors. And on the other, boutique fitness culture has also turned me off. The kind that idealizes unattainable physiques, feels interpersonally or socially inauthentic, and is, you know, very, very white—not to mention expensive.
“I did the research, and 82.2 percent of the boutique fitness population are women,” says Corinne Wainer, co-founder of the month-old SHAKTIBARRE, a yoga-barre studio, café, public workspace, and educational center in Williamsburg. “But 76.4 percent of them are white, and 44 percent make over $75,000 a year in New York City.”
She’s standing behind the café in a very spacious and minimally decorated front room. It is also a welcoming area for anyone arriving for one of about 30 weekly yoga-barre classes, and inlcludes a workspace with a large communal table, outlets, WiFi, in addition to the café. Its menu is extensive and includes coffee, tea, low-sugar sodas, acai and yogurt bowls, yogurt shakes, and breakfast. The Ayurvedic menu was created by Wainer’s SHAKTIBARRE co-founder, Shauny Lamba.
“First of all,” Wainer continued about those off-putting but not surprising statistics, “The first is not my partner,” Lamba’s family is Indian and she is from Long Island, “and the second one is not me.” As she talked, she was generously whipping me up one of Lamba’s mouth watering yogurt bowls; this one included chick peas, cucumber, cumin, salt, and some hot sauce—a totally brand new combination to me that was, I found, delicious.
“We don’t wanna make this a place where you can’t even go, so the simple solution was to have sliding scale prices,” Wainer explained of their uniquely affordable prices, which range between $10 and $22 per class. “You don’t need a membership—we’re empowering the membership in everyone, whatever you need to get in here.”
I’d just come from taking one of Wainer’s classes in the back studio. It combined classic barre elements—short, controlled, ballet-like calf-raises and low squats—and then lots of downwards dogs and warrior poses. During class, Wainer played pop tracks that had been submitted beforehand by students, and as we crunched, and posed, Wainer told us to be mindful of our energies, both our own, and those shared among us. SHAKTIBARRE uses the “yogic” view of the body—focusing on opening our Chakras, rather than on the jiggle on the underside of our arms. “And if we say ‘lift your butt,’ that’s fine, but at least that’s not our primary dialogue,” Wainer explained. (For the record, though, that doesn’t mean classes are easy; I was thoroughly wiped.)
But it is perhaps the third element of SHAKTIBARRE that sets it most apart from other yoga centers. Between the back studio and combined café and workspace there is—get ready for this—a classroom. Wainer was an English teacher and worked with young girls who had to overcome a lot in their home lives just to get to a place where they could study. “I created YoGirls, and a room, just for them, where they could practice mindfulness,” Wainer explained. Eventually, Wainer added actual Yoga to their practice, and she watched them transform. When she and Lamba prepared to open their studio in Williamsburg, it was imperative to Wainer that an educational space be included.
Inside that space, Wainer offers anything from eating disorder clinics, to Reiki, to corporate wellness retreats, to vibrational medicine, and social activism meetings. “SHAKTIBARRE came from both passions,” said Wainer. “I love to work out, be erudite, and eat.” And, starting this spring, Wainer and Lamba hope to enroll and fully sponsor 1,400 local YoGirls students.
So with all of SHAKTIBARRE’s emphasis on Shakras, education and wellness for young girls, the stats that say boutique fitness classes are nearly 90 percent female, and, finally, the studio’s official mission—“empowering the feminine in everybody”—I wondered, do any dudes come inside? “We have an open door,” says Wainer, “Feminine power is in both men and women,” she reminds me; a “speckling” of men have joined their classes. “We’re re-awakening the feminine in men, and re-introducing the feminine to women, if it’s been lost—we are having them energetically balance them out.”
Above all, says Wainer, this open door policy is important for vulnerable or largely left out populations, including Hispanic and Hasidic women. “They walk in and they think they don’t deserve it,” says Wainer, as I enjoy my post-class wrung-out calm and finish the quite remarkable yogurt bowl. (“It does a disservice to it, but it’s like a huge bowl of elegant ranch dip,” Wainer joked.)
“It’s yoga at a sliding scale that better look good, that better be clean, that better look nice,” Wainer emphasizes. “Because it’s really more about a social shift—you’re changing their minds about what they deserve.”
449 Keap St., Williamsburg
Images by Nicolas Maloof