Explore the practice through the eyes of the impassioned in Paris, Tokyo, Sao Paulo, and Istanbul.

There’s no doubt that the human experience of yoga is universal, and it’s easy to forget that the practice reaches well beyond the confines of your neighborhood studio or even history-steeped India. If you were to close your eyes and put your finger on a map, in all likelihood you’d land on a city that has yoga studios, well-known teachers, and maybe even a big annual yoga conference. What does this mean for yoga? Is the practice drastically different in Tokyo and in Paris? How does each place embrace and assimilate the ancient spiritual practice within its culture?

Description: There’s no doubt that the human experience of yoga is universal

The four yoga studio owners profiled here have put their passion, business savvy, and perseverance on full throttle to build yoga communities in their cities – sometime from the ground up. We asked them to share their journeys and to describe the ripple effect yoga is having on their cities.

Turkish insight

Description: Turkish insight

After opening a studio in 2001, Zeynep Aksoy swore she wouldn’t do it again. The studio was successful and continues under different ownership, while her self-produced DVD sold more than 100,000 copies, but she suffered from burnout. She decided to return to her studies, becoming a student of European teacher Godfrey Devereux and delving into meditation in India. While studying with Devereux in Spain, she met her husband, David Cornwell, who convinced her to open another studio, Cihangir Yoga. (They have two business partners, teachers Xeynep Uras and Rebekka Haas Cetin)

The second time around, Aksoy is focusing on living the philosophy that’s been taught by her teachers. “I’ve found that the path is not about becoming something you’re not; it’s about becoming more of who you are,” she says. “I’d call it being more selfish – not in a bad way, but I take care of myself.” With Cihangir Yoga studios in two locations and an average of 2,000 students coming through each week, Aksoy’s surrendered approach seems to be the secrect to her success.

Description: With Cihangir Yoga studios

On the witness.

Alsoy describes her personal philosophy and vision as the “pure advaita message. We want the [students] to feel their body and to feel what’s going on in the moment as it is. You release the effort and come into a space where you’re only a witness, instead of struggling through life and blaming and feeling guilt.”

On the climate of yoga

When Aksoy opened her second studio in Istanbul, she dropped her prices, and the studio doubled its customers. “We changed the climate of yoga. It was an elite thing in Turkey, and [then] everyone started doing [yoga] once we made it accessible.” With the motto “Yoga for Everyone,” Cihangir offers different classes at a variety of prices, with the least expensive priced at around three dollar. “We really want to make sure that everyone – even the taxi driver – can do yoga in our studio,” she says. “There’s a lot of classism in Turkey that you don’t get in America. We wanted to break that barrier.”

On a scientific approach.

Aksoy describes a great schism in Turkey between citizens who want to maintain  the separation  between church and state and those whose oppose such secularization. Both Cihangir studios are located in Westernized neighborhoods; most of the students who come are Westernized and are suspicious of any religious practice. Because of this, Aksoy says, they are “so not bhakti” (devotional). Her students favor a more scientific approach.

On lightness of being.

“There’s no alternative community in Turkey. In America, there are people who have alternative life-styles. But in Turkey, it’s all the same; it’s homogenous-there’s not really a big mix of races. And the atmosphere in Turkey is heavy. People smoke. There’s a lot of pressure on women to sort of act like men so as not to call attention to themselves. You can’t wear miniskirts on the street. But I notice that the students who have been with us for many years – they’ve stopped smoking. They smile more. It’s like lifting a cloud off of people. We’ve brought lightness and potential happiness to people.”

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