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How many people do you know with five-year plans—and how many have actually stuck with them? If you take Tamara Behar's class at Tangerine Hot Power Yoga, New York City's newest destination for yoga, then you'll know at least one. The studio owner turned losing her job in advertising during the recession into an opportunity to create the home for yoga that she wanted to see—that is, one that's warmed to 95 degrees with special radiating heat panels in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn.
We sat down with Behar, dressed in a tee-shirt that read "Forehead Kisses Are Underrated" and dotted with flash tattoos, to learn about her passion for hot yoga, pick up some tips for those who haven't flowed in a heated room before, and ask why she chose to name her studio after a fruit (spoiler: cute dog photos ahead).
What led you to becoming a certified yoga instructor?
I started doing yoga regularly around 2007, and then in 2008, I got laid off from my job as a creative director in the height of the recession, when there were no jobs. When I was at Om yoga [in 1998], I had wanted to do a teacher training, but there were only trainings during the week—I was working full time, I couldn't. So when I got laid off, I was not going to sit around by the phone and wait for it to ring. I did it not knowing I was going to teach. I just did it to keep me busy at something I always wanted to do.
And where did you go from there?
I had no idea how, but I just started telling everybody I knew that I was opening up a yoga studio.
At first, it was really hard. I started teaching in a tiny little gym somewhere in the depths of Brooklyn because I was just desperate to teach. And then I started teaching at Yoga to the People, which is where I got my first training. But it was hard as a new teacher. It's challenging to get a job when you don't have any experience. I took anything I could get—make it up, teach in the park, teach to my friends.
What was the motivation behind deciding to open your own studio?
In 2009, I was at a Baptiste training, and we were asked to close our eyes and say "Where do you see yourself in five years?" So I said "I'm going to have my own yoga studio in Brooklyn." I have a lot of heart for Brooklyn. I've been here since 2000. So that was my dream, and after that I didn't do anything about it, because Prana, the power yoga studio, opened up on Smith Street, and I said "That's where I wanted to open!" I felt like my dream was crushed. And that's when I started teaching there, from day one.
Then I was teaching at studios all over the city: Crunch, Pure, crazy places, just running around like a maniac. I pulled back and said, "I'm just going to teach in Brooklyn, I just want to build my community." It was after a lot of rejection, after trying to get into certain studios that I thought I was going to get into and it didn't work out, that I finally said, "I've gotta take the stand and do this." I had no idea how, but I just started telling everybody I knew that I was opening up a yoga studio. Every day I would wake up like, "What do I do to make this happen?"
So how did you make it happen?
The pivotal moment for me was when I was practicing at Prana in 2013. I ran into a student that used to come to my classes at Crunch, because I would tell her to come to my classes over here, and she said she could help me because she was a commercial real estate agent. So I started looking at spaces, and everybody thought I was crazy because I had no money. But I just thought, you know "Why not?" Then I met another student who helped me write my business plan, and started seeking out every different avenue for how to get money. I owned my apartment and I was like, "I'll fuckin' sell it. I don't care. I'll live in a studio." I had to be talked down the ledge off from there.
We're close enough to everywhere. Cobble Hill is here, Brooklyn Heights to the right, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Park Slope—everyone can get here.
In May of 2014, my real estate agent said "I think I found a space for you," which is this space. Two weeks later, she said she might have found an investor for me. She set up an introduction, and we talked on the phone. And I knew—his very first email to me had a smiley face at the end. Then we met at the space, and he saw what was going on around here. He loved that I had all my ducks in a row, all this work I had already done and paid off—He was like, "Wow, she has a space already," and that worked for me when everyone told me not to. We talked for three hours and two weeks later, I said "I'd love for you to be the sole investor," and he agreed. We signed the lease on October 9th 2014, five years from when I initially said I wanted to [open the studio.]
Right on schedule!
Right on schedule. Manifesting works. And now we've been open for two months.
What is it you love about being in Downtown Brooklyn?
Well, first, it's close to my house. It's a very funny, eclectic street, but what's nice is a) we're right next to the subway, and b) We're close enough to everywhere. Cobble Hill is here, Brooklyn Heights to the right, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Prospect Heights, Park Slope—everyone can get here. And the fact that we got to be on the street level is a dream. Who gets that? We could have been on the third floor somewhere. I couldn't be happier, I'm psyched.
Can you explain hot power yoga to someone that's never done it before? What will they be doing for an hour?
You're practicing in a room that's about 95 degrees with 40 percent humidity—the best way to describe it is you're practicing on a hot summer day. What we do is move to the breath, so you flow, or transition, from one pose to the next using both upper body and lower body strength. So it's a cardiovascular workout. You do not need to be flexible—inflexible people, please come! You're trying to create a balance between strength and flexibility in every pose while using breath. And when people think "power," they think that's going to be really hard.
We're empowering you to discover the practice for yourself, and to let yourself make mistakes and to let yourself be a hot mess. I was a hot mess for 10 years.
They think of someone doing yoga with, like, a 40-pound barbell.
Well, they do have a class like that. Not here, but...to me, yes, it's a powerful practice and it's going to be challenging for you. The other key piece for me is that power—the word power— is also about empower: We're empowering you to discover the practice for yourself, and to let yourself make mistakes and to let yourself be a hot mess. I was a hot mess for 10 years. It really took me finding the right teacher to understand, and then do teacher training for myself to really understand. So you know, it's practice, and that's it.
And why is the room at 95 degrees? Is that a standard temperature?
Some people have used 90, but personally, I like 95. I like a little bit warmer. I want you to feel like your circulation is moving. What I like about this temperature is that it allows you to breathe, and you don't feel suffocated. And in our studio we use radiant heat so that it's heated like the sun, rather than blowing hot air in your face and making you feel claustrophobic. That's the last thing you want to feel. So [the heaters] heat objects rather than the air. They're also more eco-friendly, since they don't blow dust around or that type of stuff. The humidity you want so that you have moisture, and it also helps you breathe. You don't want to be in a dry environment. The breath is the most important thing, and if you can't breathe, then you know, it's not really going to work.
What are benefits of working out in a 95-degree room?
I always think, "How does your body feel in the winter as opposed to the summer?" We're just a little bit looser, a little more open when we have the heat.. It's completely detoxifying for the body. Personally, for me, when I'm sweating and releasing all of that, I feel so much better. My skin looks better, everything feels better.
And of course, it's also challenging. It's staying in the room, staying focused, calming your mind. And those things leave with you. When I leave a yoga class, I forget about what's going on in my life. It gets me calmer and more focused, so that I have a little bit more clarity, and I just feel better overall. I'm more relaxed, and I'm less reactive. I can stand in line at the coffee shop and not get aggravated because I know I'm in a rush but there's 10 people in front of me. I can just relax and breathe.
What would you tell a beginner interested in trying hot power yoga?
A couple things to new students—we didn't learn to walk, talk, or ride a bike in one day. it took a lot of practice and a lot of falling. So that's what you should expect when you walk into the room for the first time—expect that it's going to take time. And you can rest when you need to rest.
Is there anything that you recommend for eating or drinking before or after class?
Yes—this is a big problem. We're getting a lot of new people here, and they're showing up on a Saturday morning for an 8:30am class and they haven't had a drop of water, any food, and probably drank the night before. And when they leave class, and they're a mess. I ask them, "Did you eat anything or drink anything?" And they say, "No, I just had coffee."
What I would recommend is to have a coconut water a half an hour before class, or have a banana, and get your electrolytes. Because it's not the water you're losing—it's the electrolytes, the calcium, the potassium, the magnesium. That's what gets you exhausted or dizzy. If you're taking a class at 12:15, drink water all morning, as much as you can get in, and then eat something. New people absolutely have to nourish themselves.
Do you think you're going to have any problems convincing people to do hot yoga in the summer?
Yes. But one of the awesome things I think people don't know about practicing yoga in the heat in the summer is that it lowers your body temperature, so you actually feel cooler throughout the day. It's a little counterintuitive, but I can tell you when I walk out [of class], I'm not going to feel as hot as if I was outside all day. Because you're sweating so much and your body temperature is cooling, and that's why it's actually not so great to drink cold water when you're in there.
So drinking normal room-temperature water is better for you?
Yes, it's better for you because it's not going to change your body temperature. If you're drinking cold water, no matter what the temperature is, your body temperature is going to want to rise. That's why we also recommend not leaving the room because it's the change from hot to this air-conditioned area, going back and forth, that's how you get sick. It's not being in the cold or in the hot—it's the change.
Did you think that a hot power yoga studio was something that this neighborhood, or Brooklyn as a whole, or the city as a whole, really needed? How do you see yourself fitting into the yoga scene?
I think it's needed. I'm not going to compare ourselves to Bikram—I know there's a couple Bikram studios in the neighborhood, and we're not competing with them in any way. And there's not even that many [hot power yoga studios] in the city, if you really think about it. It's a very specific thing. People either love it or they're just like, "No." Those people who love it, I want to feed. I've had many people come in and say "I'm so excited that you're here!" And even if we were not as nice as this, I think they'd still be happy that we're here. I think it's definitely needed.
What do you want people to feel when they come in here?
The idea of community is really important, the idea that people would feel comfortable hanging out here—coming early or staying after, by the nature of all the seating we have. We're even adding more. This whole place was designed to be like a lounge. And I want them to feel taken care of. We have your towel, we have your mat. We have cold towels after class. We have hair bands if you need them. We've got all these little things. We usually have fresh fruit, some almonds. I want people to feel nourished.
Nourished is really the right word for it—this feels like someone's really nice kitchen.
That's what everyone's been saying!
It's like when someone is cooking in the kitchen, and the whole party will gravitate there—that's what this feels like.
It's important that, from the students to the teachers to the staff, that everybody is heard and felt and listened to. And I think that's what we all want in life. I really wanted to capture that, and nurture that part.
What studio projects are you excited about coming up?
We started doing some workshops. I want to go kind of workshop-crazy with out-of-the-box, different things. I'm asking everyone to brainstorm. If you want to teach a workshop where you're in a headstand and you're drinking wine upside down, cool. Let's just see the ideas that will come, and then we'll play. We're also doing yoga on stand-up paddleboards in the Rockaways—four day-trips with the great teacher Patricia Pinto, and she's amazing. And we'll be doing a couple beginner's workshops, too.
That's how I teach. It's slightly sweeter and stronger.
The other piece is that I consider the studio as a lab. So since I don't have the time to go to all my favorite teachers in the city, I want to bring them here. I spoke to my teacher Elena Brower: "Can you come do a workshop?" I'm having this other guy come in to do a yoga and wine workshop. I want different master teachers to come, where we can all get a different point of view. And also, another piece that's really important is supporting other people's visions for themselves. So the flowers that are up at the front are from a student that's a flower designer. We just had these two students come in that are documentary filmmakers; they're going to shoot something in there for one of their films. And I just said, "I really want to do a movie night. Let's support your film." Let's do fun things. It's just very organic.
Last but not least: Where does the name Tangerine come from?
So, I didn't have some, like, sacred name [for the studio], nothing that was close to my heart. And I don't like to take myself too seriously—I don't like taking myself seriously at all. I did not want a "yoga studio name," I wanted something that was like the opposite. I wanted something bright and fun and vibrant. And I was looking through the thesaurus and I came across Tangerine, and I really like the sound of the name. It's sweet, it's playful. I love the color orange, I love the look of it. And then what solidified it for me was when I looked up the definition of a tangerine: it's slightly sweeter and stronger than an orange—and that's how I teach. It's slightly sweeter and stronger.
So it has nothing to do with your hair color.
No, and that's what everyone thinks—but I'm like, "My hair is red, not orange!"
Time for the lightning round! 8am or 8pm?
Cats or dogs?
Beer or wine?
Whisky or tequila?
Beach or mountains?
Donuts or croissants?
I'll say croissants.
Tea or coffee?
And how do you take it?
With almond milk.
Game of Thrones or Orange Is the New Black?
Orange Is the New Black! I've never watched Game of Thrones.