Caring for the Spirit as Well as the Body

How teachers and students carried Integral Yoga’s Manhattan headquarters through the pandemic

| 23 Dec 2022 | 10:30

In the words of Sri Swami Satchidananda, a spiritual teacher from India and founder of Integral Yoga, the perfect or divine life is “something like a motorcar: it should be perfect from the motor to the muffler.”

“Everything in the car — the engine, radiator, battery, tires, brakes — all must be in perfect condition. Last but not least, the spirit — what you call the petrol or gas — must be of good quality too.”

To that end, the classes and teachings practiced at Integral Yoga’s Manhattan headquarters at 227 West 13th Street are dedicated to caring for the spirit as well as the body.

“For all the history of [the New York IYI], people have come there to meditate midday and evening, and that’s a really nice way for people to do their practice and be together. We’re a leader in sound healing,” explains Chandra Sgammato, a longtime teacher at IY.

One of NYC’s oldest yoga studios, the New York IYI has been there since 1971 and is part of a much larger, international network of Integral Yoga studios.

“The way we’re a little different is we are one of the lineage-based yoga studios. We can trace our lineage back to the eighth century,” says Radha Metro-Midkiff, executive director of the Manhattan headquarters. “The type of yoga we’re doing and the teachings that we’re doing can be traced back, and we’ve been doing them essentially the same way since the eighth century.”

An Ashram

Integral Yoga NY is not only a yoga studio and center, but also an ashram, meaning that a community of people dedicated to yoga live on the premises full-time.

“It’s a community of people who gather together to live a yogic lifestyle and actually practice these practices together,” explains Metro-Midkiff. “We have 12 people who currently live here ... they live a vegetarian lifestyle, they’re committed to the teachings and practicing those teachings.”

While the pandemic presented immediate challenges for IY’s practice, the passion of its teachers and students ultimately carried them through.

“[COVID] was terrible, obviously, as for everybody,” says Sgammato. “Friday the 13 of March [2020] we decided we had to close. All of the unknowns everybody was facing.”

“One of the things Integral Yoga does is train yoga teachers. So we always had training courses going on, people coming in 3 days a week to study in person with the trainers. And that afternoon, each of them was asked, ‘Will you stick around if we move to Zoom?’ They all said yes, and on Monday morning they were all on Zoom, and finished their certifications all online.”

Positive Effects

For disabled students and others who could not physically attend classes in person, the changes had positive effects as well.

“COVID had a terrible impact on one hand, but on the other it opened things up to people who otherwise couldn’t physically come in even if there wasn’t COVID,” Sgammato continues. “So I have students from the West Coast, I have a student from Israel. People make the time difference work. So it’s been a two-sided story.”

Metro-Midkiff, who joined as executive director as the studio was working to transition out of the pandemic and back into in-person activities, acknowledges a few obstacles they’ve had to overcome over the past year.

“One of the biggest challenges we’ve had is having people come back to classes and workshops in person,” she says. “New Yorkers are still a little bit nervous. Some of the people in yoga communities still have a lot of nervousness around being inside in tighter spaces like that.”

The pandemic, of course, also brought changes to the industry in general, some of which may be lasting. “The landscape has changed a lot. A lot of people are taking yoga online,” says Metro-Midkiff. “So [we’re] really figuring out what is needed in the city right now, and what kind of health and healing services people really need.”

However, the community at the New York IYI is optimistic and excited for what’s to come, with lots of plans for 2023.

“In this new year I’m really looking forward to increasing outreach,” says Metro-Midkiff, adding that she hopes to reach new populations and bring the benefits of yoga to more New Yorkers.

COVID had a terrible impact on one hand, but on the other it opened things up to people who otherwise couldn’t physically come in even if there wasn’t COVID.” Chandra Sgammato, teacher at Integral Yoga