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Upward dog: Yoga Pole Studio gets students above comfort zone

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In a neighborhood full of yoga, one studio climbs high above the rest.

Yoga Pole Studio, on Schermerhorn and Court Streets in Brooklyn Heights, melds the ancient practice of yoga with a structure that carries less traditional connotations — the pole.

“Our slogan is ‘take your yoga to new heights,” said owner and instructor Carolyn Chiu. “It’s not your usual yoga with [the positions] downward dog and child’s pose. Here you do downward dog on a pole.”

The studio opened a year ago and focuses on teaching “inversions,” or headstands, as well as handstands and forearm-stands, with students using the pole to steady themselves. In other words, the workout is not exactly what most associate with poles.

“Anytime anyone hears the word ‘pole,’ they bring up stripping or ask if you are training to become a stripper,” said Lauren Myzwinski, Chiu’s student since 2011. “Think of the pole as a prop, the best prop you have ever experienced, reaching muscles you normally wouldn’t achieve on the floor.”

There are two types of yoga pole: cobra style and monkey style. The former sticks close to the ground and is geared towards beginners. Monkey style is just what it sounds like.

“It’s more advanced stuff, like holding the pole with your arm, hip, thigh or leg,” Chiu said. “You can climb the pole, swing around it, hang off your arms, and use your toes and your fingers. Just like a monkey.”

Chiu developed the idea over years of attending yoga classes throughout Brooklyn, and in 2013 felt like the time was ripe for a new kind of yoga.

Yoga pole sessions have small class sizes, five max at her studio, as opposed to the common practice of packing in as many yogi hopefuls as are willing to pay, she said.

“In that setting, where the mats are all military-style row by row, your shoulders are bumping into your neighbor’s, and someone’s butt is in your face and the guy next to you kind of smells strange,” Chiu said. “I figured I want to create something that wasn’t shoulder-to-shoulder, something more comfortable.”

The studio also appeals to students’ vanity.

“I take pictures of students in their poses. It’s good for them to know how they look, and what needs to be realigned,” Chiu said. “Students brag about their pictures, like what they did, and they post it on Facebook or Instagram, and through that, their friends go, ‘Where did you learn this?’ ”

These days the operation is fully off the ground and holding steady, with classes full most of the time, Chiu said. Whether that’s due to the fascination around the pole is anyone’s guess.

“It’s a really typical stigma, but it doesn’t bother me. It’s just a pole,” Chiu said. “I don’t know why people get very excited about it. I guess it’s because you don’t see yoga studios like this too often.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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