A YOGI IN NEW YORK
How I got my head around the rebellion of holidaying in NYC by myself... how to walk for 4 days straight without collapsing... how I stumbled into the most amazing life drawing class in the city and how I did all the yoga at wildly varying speeds.... here is my reassuringly stereotypical run-down of my trip to NYC, via all the avocado toast, side walks and cofffeeee I could get my mits on.
My very numb bum is sat on a plane back from NYC and to save the mild panic which just ran through my veins upon realising that Norwegian airlines have sold out of dusty pre-cupped instant coffee I thought I’d get cracking with a little (long and rambling) blog post to chronicle how I wore the soles thin on my new Nikes after getting lost in New York City for the first of what I know will be very many more visits to come.
Before I get stuck in - I should mention that this coffee dilemma is about 67% more real than it was before I left UK shores. I’ve been a once a day, pre-midday, almond flat white addict for quite a while, but since the deep New York freeze and requirement for 12 hours worth of caffeinated steam to fuel me through 4 days of pounding the side walks (how will I ever regress to saying ‘pavements’ again?!) I’ve lost all ability to ignore the coffee itch. I had a cup of 'Joe’ at 5.30pm the other day, because that is just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of crazy that NYC is ok with. And now here I am, scratching at the on-board menu gasping for anything vaguely resembling a coffee.
This was my maiden voyage to New York City, and the second I booked the flight tidal waves of excitement erupted - turns out doing things for the first ever time once you’re in your 30’s is about a trillion times more exciting then the previous 29 years... and although I know I'm beyond lucky to have travelled to so many gobsmacking places so far, in recent years trips have either been beach-holiday focussed or yoga teacher training / yoga retreat / yoga festival related and thus carried with them some onus on having to come out the other side with either an impressive tan, a lot more knowledge in the noggin or a hell of a lot less skin on the surface of my toes (if you’ve ever done 5 hours of yoga a day on a rough wooden floor then you know what I’m talking about…) But THIS trip, booked just a few weeks before take-off, was an impulsive tagging along with one of my best friends as she was heading out on a work trip. This meant there would be a snippet of cherished time to share a couple of wines together - and ALL of the daylight hours for me get the hell out of her hair and do my wandering yogi thing all over town.
I realise I’m not the first woman in history to boldly take a semi-solo city break BUT being both recently married and having the best job in the world which revolves around either teaching, talking, playing or practicing yoga with lots of people all day everyday, doing things on my tod is a bit of a rare treat. Plus - I made myself a promise that 2018 would be all about adventure, so the door to my imaginary cupboard full of sparkly cheerleader pom-poms specifically reserved for doing the ‘do whatever the fuck I want’ dance seems to be permanently swinging off its hinges.
I feel that those of us who are London based, or live anywhere with an internet connection and a requirement to wear shoes and make adult decisions like whether to spend an extra £5 per bottle buying organic all-natural shampoo, carry the heavy burden of responsible adult life. But I don’t think it has to be this way. I believe we’re all free to create our own grown-up worlds and forever make fresh starts, and carve out a new path, sometimes without even washing our hair at all for days and days... but how can I begin to preach / teach / believe this if I don’t put it into practice myself?!
So anyway… I booked a flight and took a self-indulgent semi-solo trip. Unfortunately I still have to wash my hair daily or it gets very greasy. I'm working on that.
I’ve rambled more than enough already so I’ll cut straight to bullet points so you can get what you came here for - a run down of my meanderings around New York city via some epic views and about a billion chaturangas. Yes you can totally do NYC in a few days. Wear comfy shoes. And five layers of thermals if it’s winter.
FOOD & DRINK
My favourite thing about social media is that I have a wicked instagram ‘family’ who sent me so many great NYC recommendations with food at the top of every list. Your vibe attracts your tribe and foodies, i love you. I managed to abstain from filling myself with pizza by the slice... until the final day when I did a mental calculation which said that 10 hours of walking per day plus constant -7c shivering, minus the time difference and inevitable 'food-lag' = equals at least 2 slices of pizza per hour… I’ll show you the equation if you like, it’s totally legit.
Here are some other things I ate which weren't pizza...
TWO HANDS, Mott Street, Lower East Side
I went to this place not once, but twice for many reasons. First of all the art on the walls was mesmerising. Dreamy effervescent paintings of cloudy skies... when the walls are decorated like your mental image of heaven you know you’re in the right place. As much as I am usually a porridge for breakfast devotee to the core, being in a new city really gave me that extra motivation to branch out, so I ordered corn fritters with avocado, poached egg and pickled beetroot relish - it also looked like heaven and tasted like all of the delighted and delicious adjectives.
It was also here in this cafe that I managed to finish my 2016-7 tax return - there is something romantic and pretty cool about doing mundane life things when you’re in a very exciting city which looks like a movie set every time you gaze out of the window. Also I would have been fined hundreds of pounds if I hadn’t finished it so it was really essential. I celebrated by having three coffees in Two Hands that morning. They were all delicious, I was caffeinated off my tits and I don’t regret it one bit. In NY a flat white is usually translates as a cappuccino but these guys kindly had 'Flat White' on the menu and of course they had at least three dairy alternative milks.
I went back the next day because on my first visit I spotted the banana bread with espresso mascarpone billowed on top and not only do I adore banana bread (even more so because however hard I try I just can’t make a decent one at home) but also this offered another route through which to mainline caffeine into my system. I feel like crying a little bit knowing that I’m currently hurtling through the sky at 965 kilometres an hour in the opposite direction of this banana bread creation. If someone who can bake is reading this please can you try to recreate this combo and i’ll pay you whatever money I have left in my very empty New York savaged bank account to deliver it to my house. Thank you.
Banana flavoured sex on a plate from Two Hands.
CHA CHA MATCHA, 373 Broome St, Lower East Side
As I live in Dalston I obviously gravitated heavily towards the Lower East Side and the magnetism towards signs for matcha lattes and chia seed puddings on every corner was strong AF. Cha Cha Matcha drew me in within my first 5 minutes of strolling on my first morning of solo explorations, and I happily sunk straight into a psychedelic matcha trip. The whole place has that inexplicably good tropical / neon pink combo down to a tee and definitely nails the whole ‘do one thing and do it really bloody well’ ethos. It doesn’t just do matcha lattes matcha, iced teas and matcha smoothies though - they also did some really delicious overnight oats which gave me that little fix of home which I hadn’t realised I missed so much already.
They were also playing this really great version of ‘For What It’s Worth’ while I was in there, which punctuated this point of my trip pretty perfectly. Music was a huge part of my trip so I'll share my whole NY soundtrack at the end of this post.
THE BUTCHERS DAUGHTER, 19 KENMARE STREET, Nolita
This was another place recommended to me by a lovely yogi who comes to classes - this is the real reason I do my job, so I can surround myself with people who JUST KNOW.
There are a few of these restaurants in NY, and they all have a very nice proportion of hanging plants to bar-stool seating ratio inside. I could have ordered half the menu but at this point was starting to realise that New York is not cheaper than London and as a person who regularly complains about how pricey London is whenever I run out of things to say at dinner parties I thought I should try to rein in the spending somewhat. SO I got a raw cacao to try and warm up my frozen extremities, and the Protein Bowl to renourish my recently Barry’s pummelled limbs. It was so tasty, it had avocado on top and i was really happy. I didn’t feel at all weird taking photos of my food and journalling and gazing out of the window by myself in a cute little corner of this gem.
IRVING FARM COFFEE ROASTERS, 88 Orchard St, Lower East Side
Sometimes you wander from one place to the next and your feet just end up taking you to a coffee shop and you’re completely powerless to stop it. This little corner coffee shop in the Lower East Side had a sign outside which said “bring your tinder date here’’ and I’m smug enough to admit that I’ve never had to experience how hideous tinder is so it made me smile and drew me in. The coffee was strong and tasted like chocolate, another of my favourite caffeinated substances.
MUDSPOT, East 9th and 2nd Avenue
Ok, so there is a trend appearing here. If I like something, I tend to go back for more. I first arrived in Mud as I was looking for somewhere dark and shady enough to have a glass of wine and some dinner by myself whilst scribbling down my inflated feeling and intentions the big ass full blue super leo moon had magnified quite considerably. Ooof. Did you feel it too?! I’m a pretty cheap date since yoga became the driving force of my life so after just two glasses of (totally delicious $9 a glass) wine here I was coming up with some pretty ground breaking moon musings.. I mean, I haven’t read back the 6 pages of chicken scrawl I churned out my I’m pretty sure it’s all inspired, deep and genius...
The lights were dim, the music was ACE - LCD sound system, The White Stripes…. - and they did food which was just as well to absorb the couple of thimbles of wine which had gone directly to my head. I had a mushroom bowl which was all hot and hearty with black beans, brown rice and loads of veggies and a poached egg on top. There was avocado somewhere in the mix too, of course.This is the kind of thing I cook at home when I’ve had a really shitty day and it was exactly what the full moon ordered. I wandered back to the hotel feeling like the supermoon, the earth, the friendly bar dude, the wine, The White Stripes, the whole NYC adventure, me and my chicken scrawled journal were all aligning majestically. I was probably just a little tipsy for the first time in weeks but it was special.
Clearly I hadn't been too tipsy on my first visit as I managed to navigate my way back there the next night with a friend from my first Yoga Teacher Training a few years back and I had the banana bread for dinner because it was my last night in NYC and I'd eaten pizza out of window vendors for most of the afternoon. Have to balance out all of that savoury with some good, healthy SWEETNESS.
If I lived in New York I would live in this place and I'm sure some kind of hilarious American sitcom would materialise out of it.
THE IMMIGRANT WINE BAR, 341 E 9th St
This was actually the bar I was searching for when I first wandered into Mud. I went there the next night with my friend and had a delicious gin cocktail but their wine list looked pretty great too. Very cosy and really friendly staff, if I was able to handle more than just a couple of drinks I probably would have stay here for a while.
THE CROWN, 50 Bowery
My friend recommended I head here to see the best views of the city. She was right. I didn't actually stay and have a drink or anything as they were setting up for a private party so I was just that annoying person who took photos of the view then scarpered. It was lovely in the bar though and they're open all day so if you're looking for somewhere to chill with a view I think this would be a winner.
We're spoiled rotten here in London to have some of the best studios and teachers in the world, and I feel very lucky to have found a a couple of teachers who I truly resonate with - meaning I don't have to dip in and out of a all different kinds of classes any more, getting a constant giddy yoga high from scoffing on a jumbo sized bag of yoga pic n' mix. BUT I was hungry for a little inspo and beyond intrigued to know what the yogis are up to over in NY so I threw all my discipline out of the window and became a yoga tourist for 4 days. I just want to say that I'm a firm believer of 'each to their own', that there is no 'bad' yoga and what I enjoy will be totally different to the next person, so this is not a critique of classes or studios - just a sharing of what I experienced.
JIVAMUKTI CENTRE, 841 Broadway 2nd Floor, $22 for a 60 minute class
I don’t practice Jiva that much at home but I have been to a fair amount of classes in the past so I had a good idea of what to expect. Like all the yoga studios I explored in NY, you enter from the hustle and bustle of street level through a inconspicuous looking door and ascend up many floors, as if being lifted above the chaos into a serene other worldly nirvana above the city. Me and my friend took the Sunday night class - it wasn’t too busy, the vibe was mega chilled and there wasn’t a shred of pretentiousness about the studio, the teacher or the yogis there. Pretty much everything you hope for from Sunday night yoga. They also have a little shop and cafe there too - not things you necessarily need from a yoga studio (unless you forget your yoga pants) but very nice nonetheless.
YOGAVIDA, 99 University Pl & 12TH ST, Booked via free Classpass trial
So compared the previous night of pretty traditional, reassuringly familiar yoga this was quite a different experience. Since becoming a yoga teacher I’ve perhaps taken it for granted that I can avoid the Monday evening January pile-up which occurs in yoga studios globally. It was time to set that right. Again, me and 3 friends entered through a street door and ascended up to yogi heaven which this time was full shoulder to shoulder with post-work New Yorkers hungry for their 6.30pm fix. The room was pretty huge, I reckon maybe they had 50 of us in there mat-to-mat. We were taking a dynamic vinyasa flow class and it was like nothing else I’ve ever practiced before. My yoga CV used to say I taught ‘fun fast flowing dynamic vinyasa’ (whatever it says now is a whooole other blog post) but THIS was beyond dynamic... THIS was yoga on speed. We did about 4 different types of fiery pranayama techniques in the first 10 minutes and then got sweaty by moving 'one breath one movement' which for me was about a quarter of a breath to one movement and rather than finding myself absorbed into a meditative flow, instead I became absorbed in fits of giggles, probably from the oxygen deprived, dizzy but weirdly entertained yoga-stupor. I love to flow but this was fast guys. So fast. It was too fast for me but I’m sure it serves the purging of sweat and sins and safe alignment which I guess some people need to feel alive. In all seriousness I don’t wish to criticise anyone’s teaching at all, but it was a real eye-opener to see how vinyasa flow translates in some places. It was fun and great vibes but I don’t think I’ll be ready to move like that for a few more lifetimes at least.
KULA YOGA PROJECT, 481 Broadway, 3rd floor, $25 for a 75 minute class
I hate to sound like I’m doing a food-critic style run down of yoga in New York but food is life right?! So lets stick with this metaphor - if yoga studios were serving up things on toast then rather than a lick of butter and some baked beans this studio would be serving up avocado with toasted buckwheat, turmeric sauerkraut and de-activated pumpkin seeds on triple fermented sourdough. We’re talking the same language right? You get me.
I went to a class called The Rub which I thought sounded hilarious before hand but was actually total genius. It combined Self Myofascial Release with some amazingly cued mindful vinyasa and the whole thing resulted in what felt like a full body massage. We had some interesting looking fascia release massage balls and other little toys to use throughout class and the whole experience was as fascinating as it was delicious - my inner yoga geek was in total heaven and I got all of the inspiration I'd been hoping for. The class was created and taught by bodyworker Derek Cook who was clearly hugely knowledgeable and passionate, gave great assists and had generally awesome energy. If you go to NYC - and especially if you get a very achey bod from days of exploring - you must check this class out.
Oh and the studio was gorgeous. Picture says it all.
YOGA TO THE PEOPLE, 1017 6th Avenue, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10018, I paid the suggested $8 but it is pay-what-you-can
Yoga To The People is a pay-what-you-can no frills yoga studio with an epic ethos. Everyone who heard I was headed for NYC recommended I pay this place a visit and the poster at the entrance to the studio totally sums up why.
They have lots of different locations but I was at the tail end of a full tourist day of walking around The Empire State, The Rockefeller Centre, MoMa, Central Park and Times Square so I visited their uptown studio which I was closest to just before I collapsed, which also happened to also be a hot studio. I don't often practice hot yoga these days but given that I couldn't feel my legs thanks to the -7c temperature drop I was more than happy to sweat some life back into my bones. The 4.30pm class I went to wasn't too busy (I hear their peak classes pack out) and was heart felt, simple, mindful vinyasa. It was everything I needed and reminded me of the best fact of yoga-life of all: it doesn't have to be fancy, yoga just works.
ART & LIFE DRAWING
I knew I'd never have enough time to see all the galleries which I'd listed before I headed out, but did make it to these...
THE WHITNEY, Greenwich Village
The Whitney is a beautiful twentieth-century and contemporary art museum which focussed on works by living American artists. The exhibitions provoked reflections on many political and social constructs and events, but it was the space which captured me more than anything else. I went there on a Monday morning so it was eerily quiet, and it was my first morning of exploring so I was already pretty wide eyed and spaced out to start with. I went for a 'top-down' action plan and as soon as I hit the top floor wandered out to the roof terrace which had incredible views over the city. I also wandered down the fire escape stair-wells rather than taking the lifts down, and had funny little reflective moments at each level as I looked out of the huge floor-to-ceiling windows. These silent solitary pauses between the floors of art work twanged something right behind the sternum. Sometimes art hits you in the most unexpected places.
MOMA - MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, 53rd Street
This gallery is gigantic and I arrived it at after walking pretty much the whole length of Manhattan, via a stroll past the Empire State which was really just a building from ground level. So wisely I fuelled up with a soup in the Cafe on arrival which came with to-die-for focaccia, perhaps the beginning of the slippery slope towards my pizza-binge.
There is so much to see, give yourself at least a few hours to wander. I'm going through a curious infatuation with painting lately, so I really enjoyed the Collection Galleries 1800-1950 where I got to look very closely at Starry Night by Da Vinci and get my nose very close to lots of Monet paintings. Something which in recent years has become somewhat of a gallery habit for me.
It was way busier than the Monday morning Whitney. But I had headphones so I drifted into my own world pretty happily.
Hands-down the best thing I did throughout my entire trip was turn up at Spring Studios for a three hour life drawing class on my last day in the city.
My ongoing quest of self-enquiry revolves mostly around trying to carve out time to reconnect part of myself who feels most alive when drawing and painting - and I know from my uni days where I went to regular life drawing sessions that this is the best way to get immersed back into the relationship between the outside world, your paper, your stick of charcoal, your hand and your soul.
Spring Studios runs daily life drawing classes, some tutored, some un-tutored, from a little studio in Soho. I turned up with a huge newsprint sketch pad under my arm and a box of charcoal, and within 30 seconds was sat down next to Minerva, who I soon discovered to be a legendary 45 year experienced drawing teacher with a way of describing form and expression and mark making which drip-fed inspiration directly into the part of my less over-complicated brain which just 'got it'.
Poses ranged from 2 minutes to 20 minutes with mini-lectures in between and the 3 hours totally flew by. I left with a stack of scribbles and cemented determination to keep drawing.
i love nyc...
I did A LOT of wandering around so I got to see these typical sights too...
There is honestly no way to sum up the whole experience of being in new york. It wasn't anything like I expected and I absolutely fell in love with it. It was a great place to wander alone... all those who wander most certainly are not lost, but if you're going to get lost then New York is not a bad place to do it in.
Oh... and as promised my NYC playlist is at the bottom of this page. I'm still adding to it as I trawl back through my shazam.
NEW YORK PLAYLIST
Songs collected from cafes and bars and the tunes which kept me strolling....