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East Meets West: Ashtanga Yoga Studio Opens in Fairfield County

Sonia Jones hedges belief the rigorous form of yoga will be popular in Greenwich.

 

The growing popularity in yoga paired with a personal interest in its restorative properties, has led a one Greenwich resident to capitalize on the principles of sound body and mind.

Practicing the intense physical demands of the Ashtanga yoga for 13 years, Sonia Jones, wife of hedge fund king Paul Tudor Jones, has opened the Jois (pronounced joys) yoga studio in the former WGCH radio station headquarters at 8 Dayton Ave., in central Greenwich.

"There is no real traditional ashtanga yoga in Greenwich, all levels of people can do it if taught correctly," Jones explained. "You start with one pose at a time. Basically anyone can do it. It is custom-tailored to your needs. You start very slowly say 10 to 15 minutes a day the first week, then 20 minutes the second week and 30 minutes the third week."

Jones said the yoga studio/school concept had been eight years in the making. "I wanted to bring it here to Greenwich because there is no real traditional ashtanga yoga in Greenwich ... I know that a lot of women want to do yoga ... (and) all levels of people can do it if taught correctly," said the resident of the waterfront Belle Haven section of Greenwich.

Jones says she hopes the community will embrace the school and participate in the strenuous yoga form that helped her to regain her physical well-being 13 years ago. "It changed my life—I had an immediate love for it," Jones said. "I knew I found something that was great. It is not only physical but it calms you from stress. You've fallen love?," Jones asked. "It was almost like that feeling I had fallen in love…it’s just amazing."

She added, "I want to provide a service to the community so it could benefit from the wonderful things yoga has given me." The plan to open a yoga studio/school has been on the drawing boards for 8 years, Jones said. Her first preference was to find a location on Greenwich Avenue. But as with most businesses—parking was an issue.

She heard about the former WGCH studio through a friend and arranged for a tour. "It's right next to A&P. It is perfect. It is a little spiritual oasis in Greenwich, close enough to town, in a great area, out of the way and in the middle of everything at the same time. I thought it was a gift from God…it’s got a little garden. In the summer people will be able to sit outside."

The studio was the backdrop for the official opening on April 14 and this week there is a series of orientation classes for visitors, under the tutulage of the descendants of Ashtanga founder Pattabhi Jois. Several A-list celebrities, some of whom are yoga devotees attended the opening—music icon Sting and his wife Trudie Styler; music mogul Tommy Mottala and his singer wife Thalia, and New York Yankee and Patch's recently appointed Commissioner of Baseball, Mark Teixeira and his wife Leigh.

The classes are led by Sharath Jois, the grandson and successor of Pattabhi Jois. During the 90-minute sessions, Jois will lead the students through the Primary Ashtanga Yoga Series along with his mother, Saraswathi. Sharath will lead participants through each breath and movement while giving adjustments and assistance to students as necessary, according to Jones.

Jones said she was pleasantly surprised that on Wednesday there were nearly 30 people who visited the studio between 6:30 and 11:30 a.m. There are other classes throughout the day and evening. The classes are self-led at the practitioner’s individual pace with the instructor guiding each individual through the poses when necessary. Each Ashtanga teacher at Jois has been trained by members of the Jois family at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India.

Jones advised, "Don’t be intimidated…we’ll go along at whatever pace you need. It's not just people with legs over their heads. We want to teach you to be whatever it is you are….whatever you are is great and you learn as you are—that takes away some of the intimidnidation. It's not all the perfectly fit people. It’s the people who are overweight or with (medical issues). We will teach slowly, one pose at a time."

And the business plan for the yoga studios will continue slowly, according to Jones, who is partners with the Jois family and Salina Ruffin who designs a line of yoga clothing. The Greenwich studio is the third—with one in Encinitas, CA and the other in Jones' native Sydney, Australia.

"I think right now we have our hands full," said Jones, who also teaches a class at Brunswick School where her son Jack is a student. "I am personally teaching at my son’s school, the boys really have taken to it. They get a lot out of it…a lot of them are top athletes in ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer. It helps build their core."

Yoga is a family affair for the Jones family. Her husband and four children actively practice Ashtanga. Jones said the children began several years ago in preparation for a trip to India and now realize the physical benefits of yoga as she believes many students should.

"You have to counteract the computers and sitting. It helps stretch the body and breathing. Kkids can’t breathe because of the stress of school. With this you have to breathe with every move…breathe in, breathe out," Jones explained.

She said she is working with the Jois Family Foundation to integrate yoga into the curriculum of three schools around the country.

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