Down Under School of Yoga Bends Expectations

You chose Down Under School of Yoga as your favorite yoga studio this year. Photo courtesy of Down Under School of Yoga.

Down Under School of Yoga
(617) 661-6565

Down Under School of Yoga is committed to doing things differently—rather than looking to existing studios for inspiration and guidance, Down Under founder and owner Justine Cohen wanted to bring the practice of yoga back to its roots, free from catchy slogans or pricey accessories.

“I’m quite an unlikely studio owner, I think,” Cohen says. “I never really had an interest in business. When we went around Boston, we didn’t see a lot of wonderful examples of studios that we wanted to replicate. When you have $120 yoga pants and this sort of tness elite culture creeping in, that’s a confusing message for students.”

“I think we want our vision for the studio to really be a space of teaching and learning, as opposed to a shop,” Cohen adds. “To create a quiet space where you could genuinely come and do what we consider to be the courageous work of yoga. We really feel like we’re trying to create a model that actually doesn’t exist.”

Founded in 2004, Down Under School of Yoga began informally in a church in Newton Highlands before moving to the basement of a CVS store and eventually opening its own studios in Cambridge, Brookline, and Newton. Now, the school offers a wide variety of traditional yoga experiences including continuous, flow-focused classes; free-form, one- on-one style group practices; through the Vinyasa School, the Ashtanga School, the Iyengar School, and more.

Though the classes differ in the movements and paces required, they all serve the common goal of clearing the mind and creating a sense of community.

“Every teacher is working a different aspect of your practice,” Cohen explains. “Each style, each tradition of yoga, has its own secrets. But the goal of every teacher is the same. The definition of yoga is the satiation of mental chatter, the quieting of your mind. Quite often it’s what’s hardest for you, not what’s heavenly to you, that teaches you the most. When I walk into a heated flow class, my mind’s chattering. My brain is going to get quiet, because in heated flow, it’s the rhythm of the body and the rhythm of the breath, that actually you have to focus in order to keep up.”

“I really love the energy in the room when I’m teaching a class, and it’s palpable the difference from the beginning of class,” Cohen adds. “When you walk in it’s like you can feel the sense of separation. Everyone’s an individual and we come in from the outside world. And then somewhere during class, it’s like the boundaries between people melt. At the end you’re much more aware that you’re connected to each other, because the practice often involves some kind of relationship with vulnerability.”

Beyond caring for her community of loyal customers, Cohen’s approach to prioritizing sustainable working conditions for her team of sta and instructors sets the school apart.

“We really, really wanted to be sustainable,” Cohen explains. “We took our profits for several years and just ploughed them into creating what is now a huge management team. It means that the studio always looks clean and beautiful. It means that when you walk in and you say, ‘I have a herniated disk,’ there’s someone who’s knowledgeable behind the desk saying, ‘Okay, don’t go right into a heated flow class if you have severe spinal issues,’ and can really offer guidance.

“Most yoga teachers are employed as independent contractors,” Cohen adds. “They have no protection, they have no benefits, they don’t get sick days, they don’t get retirement. We all know there’s this big white elephant in the room where most studios are employing people illegally. We had moved all of our managers to be employees, that was our first step. And then we took the move of moving all of our 60 teachers, making them all employees, giving them all the benefits. It’s taken 15 years of deliberate, intentional planning and strategy. We were really interested in making a studio that the teachers called home.”

This story appears in the Scout’s Honored 2019 print issue of Scout Cambridge, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Cambridge (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.

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