Ananday studio crush 💕: Sarai
I sat down with my friend and amazing yoga teacher Samara Speller to chat yoga, teaching, and what it's been like to open a physical studio in the midst of a pandemic. Samara founded her beautiful studio Sarai in the spring of 2022 in Fort Greene, Brooklyn to nourish her community and create a safe space for yoga, meditation and music. She believes yoga is for everyone and is one of the most accessible and powerful tools we can use to move through life with more grace, know-ledge, and awareness. I've been very lucky to practice with Samara and am so excited to share her wisdom. If your'e in NYC — her class is not to be missed!
1. How do you start your day? Do you have a morning ritual or is it roll- out-of-bed-and-go?
Oh dear, I’m so not a morning person though I’m hoping to become one in old age! I have a handful of early morning private lessons with students online so I roll out of bed and turn on my screen. Afterward if I’m headed to the studio I’ll pack my bag with breakfast that I prepared the night before (usually a peach smoothie or black rice pudding with banana & coconut) and bike over the Manhattan bridge which really wakes me up!2. What was your path to yoga like? There are so many different lineages and modalities — where/why did you start and how has your practice changed over time?
I started practicing yoga after college at a donation based studio in the East Village. It was a vinyasa style class with 45 people jammed inside mat to mat and I went because it was the only “fitness” class I could afford at the time. Since then, I’ve studied so many lineages of yoga and I like them all for different reasons. Nowadays my practice is a combination of vinyasa, traditional hot yoga postures, katonah yoga, functional movement, and meditation.3. Why did you decide to teach? What is your favorite thing about being a yoga teacher?
I loved practicing yoga, loved reading and talking about yoga, and wanted to share it with other people. It ended up being the perfect fit for me because teaching yoga is both creative/cerebral and physical/embodied. I need that balance. My favorite thing about teaching is all of the people I get to meet. My students are the best. They make music and films, they build ovens and bake focaccia. They’re acupuncturists and architects, dancers and entrepreneurs. They’re the most interesting and kind people I’ve ever gotten to work with and many of them feel like family.
4. What’s your advice to someone who is just starting out with yoga or meditation? Is there a trick to maintaining a practice over time?
"We live in a fast paced world where we’re used to instant gratification with everything but yoga and meditation do not work on that timeline. They follow the same pace as nature. Yoga changes us the way water changes a rock. This pace isn’t a downfall, it’s part of what makes yoga so effective. It gets us to slow down our racing minds and racing limbs and be with the pace of our own resting heartbeat, our own natural breath. So be patient."
We live in a fast paced world where we’re used to instant gratification with everything but yoga and meditation do not work on that timeline. They follow the same pace as nature. Yoga changes us the way water changes a rock. This pace isn’t a downfall, it’s part of what makes yoga so effective. It gets us to slow down our racing minds and racing limbs and be with the pace of our own resting heartbeat, our own natural breath. So be patient. There’s nowhere to go but here. My advice for maintaining a practice over time is to put it on your calendar. If you’re going to a studio, book out your classes in advance. Oftentimes, the hardest part is just getting yourself there.
5. What inspired you to open a physical yoga studio in the middle of a pandemic? Especially when so many yoga and wellness spaces were shuttering.
So many reasons. First, Sarai was not just my idea but also the idea of my dear friend Apoorva, who actually named the space. She is a remarkably talented Hindustani/Sufi singer-songwriter and wanted an intimate space where she could perform unamplified. Her first performance was pure magic and she’ll be back next month.
Second, both the music scene she is a part of and the yoga scene I am a part of are unfortunately rife with men who abuse their power and prey on young women. That’s why a whole chain of yoga spaces shuttered during the pandemic. It wasn’t just Covid, it was also a really brave group of people who spoke out about it.
Third, there are many wellness spaces that are dominated by white people and my experiences in them made me want to create a space where people of color aren’t treated as and don’t feel like outsiders, as I often was and did.
Finally I wanted to support myself and also other teachers I really believe in. I didn’t choose them for their social media following or because of what poses they can do. I chose them for who they are and how they treat people. Of course, they are all also incredibly talented teachers and I feel so lucky they came onboard.
6. What has been your favorite part about creating Sarai?
"There are many wellness spaces that are dominated by white people and my experiences in them made me want to create a space where people of color aren’t treated as and don’t feel like outsiders, as I often was and did."
Hands down, my favorite part of creating this space has been all of the beautiful moments it has already housed. In just four months, Sarai has been the container for so much life. People have cried, laughed, spilled their guts, formed new friendships, had breakthroughs, had breakdowns, sang, shared their art, and taken their first deep breaths since the pandemic began. It’s been incredible to witness and is exactly what the space was intended for- a place for people to meet themselves and to feel free enough to fully experience everything it is to be human.
Me too! We love our Ananday blocks! Thankfully the yoga studio really doesn’t produce much waste since we reuse everything. When designing the space I thought about how I could make it hard for people to waste things. That’s why we don’t have a water carafe sitting out with a bunch of paper cups next to it. Instead people bring their own water bottles or ask me to borrow one of our glass mugs. We chose our paper towel dispenser because you have to pull one paper towel out at a time which prevents people from grabbing a whole stack they don’t need.
These are very little things but they make a difference. My biggest challenge with sustainability isn’t the business’ challenge but my personal one which is all the food containers I go through. Even when I cook at home and use tupperware, there is still all the packaging the ingredients come in. That’s partly why I want to start building out and planting in the studio’s backyard and make it a garden.8. How do you balance your own self-care with the everyday responsibilities of running a business? Is there such a thing as work/life balance as an entrepreneur lol?
It’s really hard. As an entrepreneur, who is responsible for commercial rent and paying our staff, I feel like I can never stop working because there is always more to be done and the studio is open everyday. The first two months were bad. I remember I would go home and there would be no food in the fridge, all my clothes were in the hamper, my apartment was a mess, I didn’t see any friends. Now that we’ve been open for four months I have a bit more space to breathe. I still do all the marketing and clean the studio myself but I make sure I schedule time for dance classes, dinners with my friends, and date nights with my boyfriend, all times where I don’t touch my phone or email.9. What makes you feel the most grounded? Do you have go-to self care staples?
I love to cook. There is something so luxurious about setting aside an hour or two to prepare something really elaborate and nourishing for myself. One of my meditation teachers used to say “prepare your seat in a way that shows your body that you care.” I take that idea into my cooking, always making sure that I plate something with care even if it is seconds from being devoured.
10. One tip to navigate life’s ups and downs?
"Everything is both an up and a down. In every crisis there is an opportunity. In everything that is good there is a dollop of poison. My own crises have brought me closer to my loved ones more than a shared joy ever could."
Expect them. Everything is both an up and a down. In every crisis there is an opportunity. In everything that is good there is a dollop of poison. My own crises have brought me closer to my loved ones more than a shared joy ever could.11. How do you end your day?
I have a five year journal (a journal where each page has the month and day at the top, and then a few lines for each year. That way you can see what you wrote the year before right above what you’re writing currently). Before I go to bed I always read last year’s entry and then write down this year’s. Then I dim the lights, take a shower, and read for a bit. I just finished The Color Purple by Alice Walker and it was phenomenal.