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During a protracted half-pigeon pose in the inaugural class at Modo Yoga NYC's new Williamsburg location, I thought about the expression "sweating bullets." What a cruel, violent image for a bodily function that's actually quite healthy. You sweat because your body is doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing — taking care of you, trying to cool you down.
Then again, the beads of sweat that ran down my nose and plopped onto the towel placed under my forehead were the size of projectiles, so.
Before that Sunday sweat session, I sipped tea in the studio's atrium, an airy space lined with wooden cubbies for shoes and coats and a wall of living greenery over the archway that leads to the two practice rooms. A fridge houses growlers of red and yellow kombucha. A chalkboard lists the studio's seven pillars, or values: Be Healthy, Be Accessible, Live Green, Community Support, Reach Out, Live to Learn, and Be Peace. Spandex apparel, mats, books, chia bars, and loose-leaf tea are available for purchase. Everything is bright, clean, and brand spanking new.
The two New York branches of the global Modo Yoga community were co-founded four years ago by Sarah Neufeld, a solo musician and the violinist for Arcade Fire, along with cellist Rebecca Foon and Guillaume Brun, starting with a location in the West Village. Neufeld's yoga practice started earlier, in 2006, when she was living in Montreal between tours and began practicing at the Modo studio there (It's called Moksha in Canada).
"That was when my touring schedule got really crazy, and I was like, 'I need to figure out something that brings me back,'" Neufeld said before class. "I fell in love with Moksha." She, Foon, and Brun became certified yoga teachers in 2009, and she taught at the studio between tours.
"I probably would have found yoga even if I had worked at a bank," she said. "I think everybody, to some degree, needs a yoga practice — whatever that means for them."
Neufeld now splits her time between Montreal and New York when she's not touring, which led to the "crazy dream" of opening the NYC studio. "We imagined the kind of community that had been created in Montreal [happening] here," she said. Now, four years into the venture, "It's been incredible. It's such a fabulous, diverse, packed, fun, and loving environment. People come in and they're like, 'I feel so welcomed here.' They walk in and that gets unlocked for them."
Entering the practice room at the new Williamsburg studio, I noticed the sound of the heavy rain on the roof — thousands of tiny pebbles striking tin. A sweaty, radiant yogi later remarked that it was the perfect sound to accompany the inaugural class. The two practice rooms have soft cork floors and a wall lined with mirrors. In the soft yellow light, everyone's skin glows as luminous as a Golden Globe.
After a mad scramble to find seating for the 60-plus people attending the session, Brun and Dina Tsoulouhas — who has been a mentor to all three co-founders — led the class through Modo's signature sequence of poses. Their exhortations to breathe, bend and twist were accompanied by live music, improvised by Neufeld on violin, Bon Iver's Colin Stetson on brass and clarinet, Foon on cello, and fellow musicians Greg Fox on percussion and Alex Drewchin manning a minuscule synthesizer. (The fivesome will be releasing an ensemble piece, a version of the contemporary classical composer Henryk Mikołaj Górecki's Third Symphony, in April. Neufeld describes it as "black metal slash ambient slash electronic slash crazy.")
"I think everybody, to some degree, needs a yoga practice — whatever that means for them."
The first half of the 75-minute class, led by Tsoulouhas, was a more traditional vinyasa flow sequence: dynamic, challenging, provoking the aforementioned missile-sized beads of sweat. Brun then led a more restorative sequence of poses, including a long, drawn-out pigeon pose that was equal parts relaxing and excruciating. It was in these restorative poses that the improvised melodies provoked a near-trancelike state. As the women chanted, the instruments swelled and ebbed, and the dramatic, eerie result made thought nearly impossible. During final savasana, or corpse pose, the instruments petered out, until only the soft chanting remained. Then, total silence.
There are a few things you can count on after a hot yoga class: You will have turned a shade of red normally reserved for especially ripe tomatoes. If, like yours truly, you are wearing non-waterproof mascara, you will have raccoon-dark smudges around your eyes. Your hair will be soaked and plastered to your scalp. You might continue to sweat for some time after. You will look in the mirror and think, "Wow, I look ridiculous." And you will feel fantastic.