Q+A: Tara Glazier, Abhaya Yoga
Abhaya Yoga has called Dumbo home for more than 12 years – and we are thrilled to welcome them to their lovely new location at 55 Prospect Street. We met with founder Tara Glazier to learn more about the inspiring story behind Abhaya Yoga, and how Tara has guided students with her Abhaya Method, inspired by the depths and breadths of her training, elements of dance, mythology, and the unplanned gifts in everyday life.
Tell us about Abhaya Yoga: How did you come to start the business? What is the meaning behind the name “Abhaya”?
Tara: We opened 12 years ago on Jay Street. Prior to that I was teaching Yoga all over Brooklyn and Manhattan. At that time, I loved teaching Yoga, but I also had a full-time job teaching and directing Ballet Tech, which is a public school for dance in the city. Here came a point, however, when I became more in love with Yoga and started putting more of my hours into my training and practice. I saw my future trajectory as teaching yoga full time, offering workshops, trainings, and retreats. I offered retreats in Bali and Costa Rica as well as upstate and some Retreat Centers like Kripalu and Ananda Ashram.
I remember vividly being on retreat in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica circa 2009 with a dear friend who I was co-teaching with. We started talking about what if we actually opened a yoga studio in Brooklyn. We were sitting at a little bar, it was super hot, reggae was playing in the distance, and we started to work out a business plan on cocktail napkins, crunching numbers and seeing if it could work. We were so inspired by the idea that when we came back, we formed a business, raised a little money and started to put it into motion!
At that point, I wanted to open a studio and yoga education center in Brooklyn, I loved Brooklyn. When I was looking around the area, there was something about Dumbo that drew my attention. At that time, I was primarily based in Boerum Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Brooklyn Heights, and that's where my clientele was. But when I came down to Dumbo, there was something about the water, about the space, something kind of rough around the edges that I liked, but also artistic, and something a little off the beaten path. We happened to find this amazing space at 10 Jay Street. It was on the water, a corner spot with a whole view of the city. I walked in and immediately thought, ‘This place is perfect’. It's perfect for yoga: you can hear the water, you can see the city. So we raised the money, it was really community-based. I remember, we had a painting party, we were painting, we were doing the floors, people from the Yoga community banned together. So that's how we started. We opened really strong. We were lucky to start with such a sweet community.
When I came down to Dumbo, there was something about the water, about the space, something kind of rough around the edges that I liked, but also artistic, and something a little off the beaten path.
To me, yoga is about empowerment. Yoga changed my life, healed my body, and awakened my heart. At Abhaya we want nothing more than to help our students become empowered to find opening and healing in their bodies, hearts and minds.
Our motto is ‘Fear Less Love More’, which is inspired by ‘Abhaya Mudra’. This is how we came up with our name, Abhaya. If you look at many of the deities, you’ll notice they have an open-palm hand gesture, which is called the ‘Abhaya Mudra’. When I was learning about iconography associated to the yoga tradition, over 20 years ago, the meaning behind the mudra really resonated with me. Abhaya loosely means fearlessness. The open palm is like an invitation to engage one's fear and challenges, and I just loved that idea of stepping into being fearless. I thought it was a perfect name for what we're offering… Empowerment and Freedom.
The Shiva statue at the front of our space dances with his hand in the Abhaya Mudra. He/She (long story) is like our mascot. I mean that because he embodies the qualities of a yogi and represents in his dance the “dance” of life and consciousness. I think no matter our background, we can all appreciate the great dance of life and what it means to engage our fear and live with more love. Shiva is a symbol for freedom and empowerment.
Did you face any challenges starting Abhaya Yoga?
Tara: One challenge we had experienced is that early on, there was a shifting in the style of yoga we were trained in and associated with.
There was an interpersonal/ ethical conflict with the lead teacher and creator of the method and the greater community. It was a challenge because we had based our business on this style of yoga, which was very popular at the time. So when there was a little bit of a fall of that leader, everyone was shuffling a little bit with questions like, ‘What do we call ourselves now? Who are we now?’.
That said, it was a really interesting time, because we had an opportunity to identify ourselves as Abhaya, and not just be held under the name of a particular school. It allowed us to flourish. It gave me, as a teacher, an opportunity, with all of my background, to codify our own method, come up with our own ideas and create my own curriculum. For instance, in the past, I was a ballet dancer and modern dancer. I was also inspired by salsa dancing, and Chi Gong, Tai Chi, and all of the different types of Yoga, both therapeutic and flow based.
What happened pushed me to think, ‘You're not defined by just this one method’. I was really then excited to create our own kind of method, sequences, style, and codification. I also got the chance to play a little bit more: I love teaching with the breath, the subtle or energetic body, and I love bringing in elements of dance and flow. Teaching yoga is very personal. You can learn from a style or method from a star teacher, but ultimately the teaching needs to become your own. We encourage the teachers at Abhaya to be authentic, not cookie cutter. We all have a similar lineage and training but each teacher is so unique and has their own voice.
Our motto is ‘Fear Less Love More’, which is inspired by ‘Abhaya Mudra’.
Abhaya Yoga’s story is so inspiring! So, ever since the beginning of Abhaya, what has inspired your teaching?
Tara: Life has really evolved for me. Pre-marriage and pre-kids, I was a dancer-yogi. I would do yoga all day long. I would take 3h classes, and then I might go to dance rehearsals, and then maybe meditation or philosophy workshops on top of that. My life was very different, and it was very full, in terms of that steeped study.
My plan was not to be a mother. And then, when I had my first child, my life went from being a yogi-dancer, very individually-based, to this partnership with my daughter. I didn't stay with her father, but my daughter and I developed a really strong bond. She would come on retreats with me, we had so much fun. Not expecting to be a mother, and then having the experience of it taught me love in a different way. I realized that it was that surprise or that unplanned that became one of the greatest gifts in my life, and that realization inspired my own teachings. I always taught my students that while you can plan everything, sometimes the greatest gifts are the things that you don't plan for.
I love traveling as well. I still hope to do retreats in Costa Rica and other interesting parts of the world. I like giving retreat, teaching in different environments, especially at the beach. I love the water, the ocean. The teachings really come to life while on retreat and immersed in nature with a like-minded community.
My dance experience has formed who I am and how I teach. Although I'm not professionally dancing anymore (I did have a short stint learning and performing salsa recently, however!), I still love the discipline: the craft, the beauty, the line. I still go to the ballet and to more experimental dance. Dance and yoga are very similar in that you can transcend the mind and enter a flow state. I guess it makes sense that I have found my way into yoga and it is sustainable. Something we can all do forever.
One of my favorite solo things to do is silent retreat. I often go on 7-day silent retreats, which was one thing that was not possible during Covid. I miss it. Just by sitting still, over a long period of time, in an open space, I had some of the most profound experiences of peace and clear insight I ever had in my life. I attended silent retreat many times over the years, and it was different each time, very deep, very intimate. I highly recommend a silent retreat for anyone looking for deeper personal relationships and insight. I always try to create a quiet environment at the end of yoga so that the students can have a little bit of that retreat experience. Meditation has been a big piece of my inspiration and I hope to offer more of it at our new studio. Our culture needs it more than ever.
The experience you mention reminds us of the story of Buddha reaching awakening while meditating under a pipal tree.
Tara: Yes, he had clear insight that was coming through him and went to teach about Enlightenment from his experience of it. It was such a beautiful story. Funny you should mention it because telling the Buddha story is one of my favorites that I might share in class sometime. By sharing story and myth while doing yoga, it allows the mind to relax and focus on something else. You can go on a journey while moving and breathing. I invite you all to come to hear the story of the Buddha and how he actually left his prescribed path of being a monk. Once he veered from strict discipline and found his own way and followed his own intuition, he found enlightenment. He called this “The Middle Way”.
Besides being really engaging with students, can speak more into the ways that your practice of yoga helps students and yoga practitioners get through difficult times? Covid, for example.
Tara: At Abhaya, we teach an integrated approach. There are 3 components to an Abhaya class: The first would be alignment. Feeling aligned in your body and learning about proper alignment in the poses would help relieve pain, move energy, and make one feel better. So that's one thing that you'll generally get from Abhaya class.
The second aspect is flow. You will be connecting the poses in a flow and different paces with the breath. Some teachers might move more quickly than others, but the flow helps to move the breath with the movements. When you're moving and breathing, it's really meditative, so it helps your body and helps the mind to get very clear.
And then the third component that I think a lot of the teachers often offer is the restorative component. The restorative component might be slower poses at the end, or pranayama (breath work) to find a level of deep rest. I think this is something that we all really need when there's a lot of stress, both to get the energy moving in the body, and to get the component of rest, so the mind could turn off. So we like to, even in one hour classes, create all of those elements, so that by the end of the practice the mind is more clear, the body's more rested, and can settle into a deeper state of relaxation. Those are the three primary components of what we do.
Even in one-hour classes, by the end of the practice, the mind is more clear, the body is more rested, and can settle into a deeper state of relaxation.
Abhaya Yoga has been offering many online classes, now with the opening of the new studio, what will be the structure of your curriculum?
Tara: We're on our way of figuring things out. It is a whole new world! Life and how we exercise is different from it was 2 years ago. So with that, we want to honor where people are at. At this time we are offering in-person classes, online only classes AND hybrid classes. This seems to work well for our community since some have moved, some prefer to have the option at home sometimes, and some are very much ready to be back in person. We want everyone to feel safe and comfortable while having an option that works best for them. We offer 2-5 classes/ day and memberships vary from class cards, monthly memberships, or a combination thereof. Our class offerings include: vinyasa flow, power flow, align and flow, flow and restore, open level, and meditation. There is something for everyone.
And, Abhaya is also more than just a yoga studio, we are a training school and are connected to our Non-Profit 501c3 arm. We offer three 200 hour level Teacher Trainings / year, one 300 Hour Advanced level every other year, as well as workshops to deepen one’s practice and technique. Our Non-Profit offers scholarships for yoga education to women in need, intersecting with those affected by trauma. Abhaya Yoga Foundation supports inclusivity in yoga and yoga education. We hope to see you in class, at a workshop, or even at a community class taught by a new scholarship graduate!
Our Non-Profit offers scholarships for yoga education to women in need, intersecting with those affected by trauma. Abhaya Yoga Foundation supports inclusivity in yoga and yoga education.
Definitely, and I think Abhaya’s development really reflects the way yoga is, which is staying nimble.
Tara: That's right, my friend once mentioned a quote: ‘It’s evolve or die’, and for us, it's time to evolve. Last night, I looked at the faces on the screen, and they seemed really happy. Even though they've moved away, or maybe they can't get to the studio, you could tell they were sharing the excitement of the opening.
Talking about the opening, how has it been?
Tara: The opening has been like a reunion but with different characters, if that makes sense. We are reuniting by coming together in person to practice, and yet there are so many new or different faces! The experience has been incredible for myself and the other teachers to be back with humans again. I think I speak for all of us when I say how special the in-person experience is. While for some the online option might be their only route right now, you just can’t reproduce the live, in-person experience without the group, the container, the movements together. It is so much easier to breathe and stay focused when together. We are having a blast. And we are trying to navigate this new world. It will take us some time to rebuild but we are ready for the challenge. We have done it before in other ways. It has been a blessing to teach in person.
We have received feedback from the students that they love the light filled room, which is now filled with green from the windows. The huge ceiling to floor windows are looking out onto the full bloom green right now. They tell us that the space feels clean, open, and fresh. So, we are happy we could create a safe and sacred space for them!
We started with a Friends and Family week in April which was aligned with the start of our Spring Teacher Training. We got our feet wet in April, rolled into May getting more acquainted, and are now looking forward to growing our studentship into June. We have seen some of our old members returning and lots of new faces. It will be a fun journey to see how it all unfolds.
To close, you've been in Dumbo twelve years – where are your favorite spots?
Tara: Well, Brooklyn Roasting was our favorite. Now they're not in Dumbo, but we were next to each other for years, and we became friends with the owner. That was our favorite coffee shop.
My daughter, the artist of the family, does her art lessons with Creatively Wild. I think one of the reasons she's such a great artist is because of one of the teachers that she has there. She started there when she was 3, and now she does more high level classes. She's built a whole portfolio and a website and she wants to go to Art School, and so they're amazing.
We go to Brooklyn Bridge Park all the time. The playgrounds are the best and there are so many options for fun on the piers. We still go to the rock beach, and oh, we can't even go over there without going to see the “horses” at Jane’s Carousel for my little one. I have a 10 and a 2 year old and there is always something fun to do. We love Dumbo. It's really my favorite out of all the places in the city, honestly. I just love being by the water, and I love the vibe of Dumbo.
We love Dumbo. It's really my favorite out of all the places in the city, honestly. I just love being by the water, and I love the vibe of Dumbo.