Creating a space conducive to yoga is about comfort and coziness –

One of the at-home amenities that became particularly popular throughout the pandemic is an at-home space for exercise, yoga and meditation. But what makes a suitable space for yoga? Welcome Home reached out to two local yoga studio owners to learn more about their businesses and how students can continue their yoga practice at home.

Lisa Bragaw chose pharmacy as her profession, a career that can take its toll on the body.

“I used to work 12- to 15-hour shifts, being on my feet and standing in one spot. I ended up with some pretty severe neck and back issues. I came to yoga to relieve that pain and for the physical benefits, and then I fell in love with it. I found out how yoga can affect everything in your life — how to find more peace, more calm and more joy,” she explained.

Bragaw was interested in practicing yoga at home, and decided that she’d study for a teaching certificate to broaden her knowledge. To obtain the certificate, she was required to teach eight classes to students, who prompted her to consider becoming a professional instructor. She opened Zen & Now at 170 Flanders Road in Niantic in February 2012, initially with a partner. Today, the studio thrives with students who come for various styles of yoga practice, as well as cycling and fitness classes.

“We offer gentle yoga and Yin Yoga, which is really about softening connective tissues, like tight hamstrings or tight hips. It’s very calming and restorative, and it helps reset your brainwaves, so that you can sleep better,” she said. Zen & Now also has power-yoga classes, which tend to be conducted at a faster pace, and they have “hot yoga” classes, as well, with the studio warmed just enough to allow muscles to fully soften and relax, Bragaw explained. In the summertime, Bragaw also hosts paddleboard yoga classes in a protected, calm cove off the Niantic River.

Like with nearly every business, Bragaw had to rethink how best to serve Zen & Now’s clientele without in-person interaction during the height of the pandemic, so she began offering classes via Zoom, which proved so popular that they’re carrying on the practice today. Students can choose to attend in person or via Zoom video conference from the comfort of their homes or apartments. Many do both.

No matter where students practice, Bragaw said that it’s important to come to the mat with “a beginner’s mind and the curiosity of a little kid.”

“Everything then becomes new and different,” she said. “Every time you practice, even if you’re doing the same poses over and over, you’ll have a completely different experience. And I tell my students, what’s important is progress over perfection.”

Finding Your Bliss

Yoga students who study at Blissworks Yoga & Healing Arts in New London also have the option to take classes via Zoom, a virtual solution Owner Patricia “Trish” Reyburn rolled out during the pandemic, as well.

Reyburn’s relationship with yoga began back in 1995. She’d gone with a friend to an adult education class at the local high school. Her friend only went to the one class, but Reyburn found that yoga helped combat the symptoms of autoimmune diseases she’d taken medication to manage for more than a decade. She’d been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at just 15 years old, and at 18, she learned that she had lupus. Today, she credits yoga, diet, mindset and “more wholesome living” for a symptom-free life.

She opened Blissworks in 2004 and said that it was important that her business be located in downtown New London. The studio has had three locations in the years since, including the past 15 years at 228 State Street. Blissworks’ instructors teach a number of different yoga styles, including Anusara, which she explained is about attaining proper skeletal alignment. There are also classes in Yin Yoga and Vinyasa.

“There are so many styles of yoga, and every teacher puts their own twist on it, so each and every class can be very different,” she said. The type of yoga and how often one practices is a personal choice, but Reyburn said that even once a week can make a measurable difference.

When in home

To create the optimal yoga space in one’s home doesn’t require much space at all, both Bragaw and Reyburn agreed. Naturally, it requires space to roll out a standard yoga mat, which is 2-by-6-feet. And there should be enough unimpeded space to extend your arms out from your sides and rotate in a full circle without touching any furnishings or fixtures, they suggested.

The substrate on the floor — hardwood versus carpeting, for example — matters less than ensuring that you and your mat aren’t going to slip during practice.

Zen & Now’s Bragaw recommended soft lighting that’s dimmable. She likes to illuminate the space with the soft glow of a Himalayan salt lamp. “You’ll want to make it cozy,” she said. “Carve out your own sacred space — your own little corner of your world.”

Blissworks’ owner, Trish Reyburn recommended lighting a candle at the beginning of practice to set the mood, or to place visual reminders around you of those who bring you comfort, like pictures of your family.

Asked whether external distractions are an impediment to at-home practice, Bragaw said, “Yoga really helps us sit in the middle of all the chaos around us and be ok with it.”

In addition to a yoga mat, you may want to purchase some “props” — blocks and yoga straps, which can help execute poses and stretches, especially for beginner students.

“Blocks help raise the floor up to the person, so if they’re not able to touch the floor, blocks meet them part of the way,” Reyburn said. “The important thing is that they’re not straining. If you’re stressing yourself out trying to do a yoga pose, that’s counterproductive.”

Both instructors remarked about their mutual philosophy of making yoga accessible to everyone, and especially to students with physical or health challenges.

“It’s important to take for yourself,” Reyburn suggested. “The more we can help ourselves as individuals, the better place the world will be. With everything going on around us, like change and politics, it may feel like the world is spinning faster and faster. How are we going to deal with it? How can we adapt to it? Yoga is one way.”

Whether practicing in a studio with others, or at home alone or as a family, the space you create matters, the instructors concurred.

“It really is a sacred space just for you, to honor yourself — body, mind and spirit,” Bragaw concluded.