Written by Julia Garro: April 15, 2005
Be Yoga is an expansive institution, running five yoga studios in the New York area: midtown, downtown, and upper Westside Manhattan, Nassau and Westchester, as well as another studio in Tokyo, Japan. It was founded by Alan Finger a South African native who was inspired by his father Kavi Yogiraj Mani Finger, a devout yogi who studied all over the world. By the age of fifteen Alan had begun his own exploration of the yoga asanas (body positions), carrying on the study of his father’s life work as a second-generation yoga master. For the last 40 years of his life he has been at the forefront of spreading yoga in the West.
The nature of what can be called “American Yoga” has become a great topic of discussion in the yoga community. What exactly is meant by the term and in what ways do American yoga organizations function under the ideology and metholodgy encapsulated by that idiom? Be Yoga is a strong example to provide answers for these questions, since it participates in the larger network of yoga organizations founded by Alan Finger. This network is called Yoga Works. Studios run by Yoga Works Be Yoga’s management head organization. It runs over 1000classes each week through all its studios. Be Yoga is therefore one of many studios in America imprinting a strong perception and experience to the growing population of yoga’s followers as to what yoga is.
Be Yoga’s origin lies in Be Yoga’s origin lies in Alan Finger who first emigrated to the United States in 1976 and opened Yoga Works, which has grown to be one of mostly widely accredited yoga hubs in the US. What now is known as the Yoga Works Family consists of 15 studios that spread throughout the Orange County area, Los Angeles, and New York. The Yoga Works Family’s objective is to foster new studio communities all over the United States. Studio owners who are just starting out become part of the Yoga Works family by owning and operating their own yoga school yet still remaining under the Yoga Works name. The newborn studio is run in conjunction with the support and expertise of Yoga Works, who provides access to the full run of services necessary to launch and manage these fledgling studios. Yoga Works offers teacher training programs and ongoing teacher education to help in building yoga programs for beginners, pre- or post-natal women, kids, seniors, and serious students. Their services also include retail buying and distribution management, financial software systems, and advice about studio design, fixturing, marketing, and communication.
In 1992 Alan Finger moved to New York and started the studio out of which Be Yoga would eventually evolve: Yoga Zone. Over time Yoga Zone gained more and more popularity. Striving to render yoga more accessible to the Western world, Finger made it the basis for an entire retail world. He aired a television show, produced various yoga videos DVD’s and books. In 2001 Be Yoga branched out from Yoga Zone, but both of them remain under the general umbrella of the Yoga Works Family.
In all of Alan Finger’s organizations he instills his own philosophy of yoga, a type of yoga he calls ISHTA,which he developed in collaboration with his father. The acronym stands for the “Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda.” The Sanskrit word ishta refers to something that is one’s own, or developing a practice that meets individual needs. ISHTA as an asana practice is described as “a modern, dynamic distillation of spiritual traditions blended into a form of yoga that’s joyful, accessible and vibrant.” ISHTA draws on Ashtanga, Viniyoga, and Iyengar methods. Following in his father’s footsteps, Alan Finger has become a man of the world, traveling incessantly to give lectures on ISHTA philosophy and lead workshops in yoga studios.
Be Yoga is a very busy place. In addition to its daily class schedule, it offers teachers’ training programs, daily workshops that aid practitioners in using yogic asanas to deal with health issues ranging from osteoporosis to heart problems, and introductory workshops for beginning students. The classes marked on the studio schedule are Ashtanga, Iyengar, Mysore, and Vinyasa yoga, all of which are foundations of Finger’s ISHTA yoga.
Be Yoga is what you make of it. Some people just go to experience a physical challenge that touches mental and spiritual levels more deeply than ordinary exercise. Teachers offer gentle, non-judgmental adjustments to the way students practice yoga poses and are constantly reiterating the experiential and self-evaluative goal that the physical work is geared towards. This contrasts sharply with the highly competitive and demanding styles displayed by trainers in many of New York’s top gyms. Such instructors focus on image-based goals and adopt a regimen of strenuous, constant criticism to achieve them. Be Yoga’s approach produces distinctively different results. Some Be Yoga students have become deeply involved with the practice, to the point of pursuing careers in the yoga industry, making pilgrimages to India, or working as staff in the studio.
In many classes Hindu teachings about yoga—excerpts from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, or the Upanishads- are read by the teachers to redefine students’ intentions as they address the asanas. After twenty minutes of flowing sun salutations that leave your body sweating bullets, you might hear something like this: “Why didn’t you take a spin class today? Why did you decide to come to yoga class? Offer up your practice to someone else. Yoga is a selfless practice, so let that be the motivating factor in the effort and focus that you use today.” Be Yoga’s flexible, non-demanding standards for the involvement of students in yoga—on or off the mat—are apparent in the teachers’ “lite” approach to chanting and the reading of scripture. You can listen to it if you want and incorporate it into what you’re doing; but if not, just keep sweating.
The classes at Be Yoga are designed to accommodate all levels of fitness and yoga experience, on a scale from highly athletic classes to those occupied solely with meditation and chanting. According to Alan Finger the goal of his studios is to achieve an “in-depth study of yogic traditions, and the scientific exploration of the exact blend of postures, breathing, and meditation that accesses human potential to the fullest and benefits all levels of being.” The goal of the asana classes is to help participants gain mental clarity and release on physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Be Yoga offers a comfortable bridge between Western consumer lifestyles and the more purely yogic mentality of selflessness and simplicity.