When Carla Stangenberg first came to Jaya Yoga to teach in 2000, just a few months after it opened, she felt the strong sense of community that was already starting to form. It was that connection that led her to take over the space a few years later, when the original owner was looking to move on. And it’s the same thing that helped inspire her to open a second location with her partner, Ramit Kreitner, and, most importantly, it’s what keeps the two of them returning day after day, watching their community grow — in so many ways.
“The people who’ve been coming in for years, they’re an amazingly inspired group of people,” Stangenberg says. “They want to grow with you — they want to know, ‘What is this all about?'”
Aside from the spiritual possibilities that could answer that question, the earthly ones have already been compelling. This year, Jaya Yoga celebrates its 15th anniversary in business at 1626 8th Avenue, and Jaya East celebrates its 5th anniversary at 2902 Fort Hamilton Parkway. In that time the they’ve seen their community develop and change — both crucially, in births and deaths, and topically, as new neighbors and businesses have moved in around them.
“We have all this history with each other,” Stangenberg says, “like a big fat extended family. It’s really something else, to be in community with other people for 15 years. You see so much.”
Tucked away on a mostly residential block, the 8th Avenue location opened when the surrounding neighborhood didn’t have quite the big draw it does today — Connecticut Muffin was leading the soon-to-grow demand on Prospect Park West — and neither did yoga itself. Though these days you can pop into a class at any number of studios, that wasn’t the case in 2000. And even more rare was a place that only offered yoga, rather than, say, a gym that happened to have a few yoga classes. It was that aspect that attracted Kreitner to the space in 2007.
“Even though I live in Ditmas Park, about a mile and a half away, at the time, this was the closest place whose four walls were dedicated entirely to yoga,” she says. “I wanted an ashram-like quality, and I found it. I fell in love, quite literally, with the space, with the director, with the vibration of everything.”
What drew her to the space — plus a growing interest in yoga in general — was bringing in even more practitioners, and so they began considering growth from a business perspective. Stangenberg had been living in Kensington at the time, and noticed the corner space on Fort Hamilton and East 4th, and decided that even though the first location was not very far from there, and even though the strip wasn’t the bustling neighborhood anchor it is today, they’d take the chance.
“The proliferation of yoga, around the U.S. but specifically in the five boroughs, has certainly benefited us — we’ve been able to open the other studio not even a mile away, because of the great love, the desire, the need, for it,” Kreitner says.
With two spaces, they’ve been able to develop schedules to provide new classes they’d been seeing more demand for from a growing group of practitioners — classes for and involving babies and kids, abbreviated “express” classes, and a wide range of workshops. Plus, they added a teacher training program, which has been a big boost to their community — and perhaps it’s that constant access to learning that keeps people coming back.
“We have some great teachers,” Stangenberg cites as a possible reason for Jaya’s longevity. “I really think it’s the consistently great teaching, teachers who have continued to dive into their craft.”
The success of the business is also due in part to, as they repeat almost like a mantra, the people they’re surrounded by. And it’s not just those teachers and students from their classes, who they often run into at the businesses they frequent in the area, it’s also those businesses — they say they can often be found everywhere from DUB Pies to the Double Windsor to Windsor Shoes, from Brancaccio’s to Hamilton’s, to “everyplace on 7th Avenue.”
“We’re trying to talk the talk and walk the walk,” Stangenberg says. “We believe in small businesses, and we live it, so we support it. We hope that locals believe in it too. There is no shortage of amazing places to eat, shop, and support.”
Because, as the pair knows well, running a small business comes with its challenges, and it’s that support that makes all the little difficulties satisfying in the end — support, and a little bit of stubbornness.
“That’s probably why we can be in business in New York City — I think you need a certain level of willfulness and resilience, and maybe a little attitude, I don’t know,” Stangenberg says. “But it makes it happen. And I think that the community can look to us, and they feel like we’ve got something — we’re good in a crisis.”
Running a small business together has been an adventure, as has sharing their lives with one another. That’s a lot of time to spend together, but the couple says they’ve learned to recognize when one needs some space, and, most essential to their relationship, has been the opportunity to come back to Jaya.
“We’ve always got our love for yoga, and our great desire to serve,” Kreitner says. “That’s our great joy, is coming to teach.”
As part of that, they’re able to get away sometimes, to retreats where they have a chance to teach, learn, grow, and, eventually, bring something back to their own community. They say they find themselves returning to the same spots, giving them a chance to build relationships — much like the practice of yoga, in a sense, as they attempt to get as close to a truth as they can.
“We’re people who like to return to a place,” Kreitner says.
“We like to have that sense of community with people,” Stangenberg adds.
Neighbors should feel welcome to join that community, which they say, despite having strong existing bonds with so many, is always open to more. While many weekend classes tend to be at capacity, they’re always working on ways to accommodate more people, and will do whatever they can to help anyone who’s brand new to yoga get into it.
“We make a concerted effort with the people that we don’t know,” Stangenberg says. “To be warm and to be welcoming on purpose — in the position that I’m in know, thank goodness that I’ve learned to cultivate it, because it’s so nice to be that way to people, it just helps. It helps everybody and everything.”
Find out more about classes, events, teacher training, and more at Jaya Yoga (1626 8th Avenue at Windsor Place) and Jaya East (2902 Fort Hamilton Parkway at East 4th Street) on their website, and be sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram.