Yoga Shanti Celebrates 25 Years In Sag Harbor

Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor is celebrating its 25th anniversary. Owner Colleen Saidman Yee shares her story with us.

Tell us about how you started Yoga Shanti. What were the early days like?

Twenty-five years ago, I naively approached another yoga teacher named Jessica Bellofatto and asked her if she wanted to open a yoga studio with me. She shrugged and said, “Sure,” and we withdrew $500 each from the ATM for our business plan. We found a perfect space behind Murfs and started our journey. We cut yoga mats from a roll and had a studio that could accommodate 22 mats. Somehow, word spread quickly, and we had a full house from the beginning. Our system consisted of index cards in a recipe box since computers and credit cards were not widely used at the time.

Within a year, we outgrew our small walk-up apartment and moved to a windowless studio behind the kite store, where we could accommodate 35 students. We upgraded to a sophisticated Rolodex system. Two years later, we moved into a storefront on Washington Street, increasing our capacity to 45 students per class. It was during this time that I took full ownership of Yoga Shanti.

Words cannot fully convey the profound impact this studio has had on my life. It has surpassed all of my expectations and nourished my soul in ways I never imagined possible. Being a part of the Sag Harbor community has been an incredible journey, one that has brought us all closer together over the past 25 years. The studio has become a large part of the heart of the village, a sanctuary where students of all ages and experience levels feel a sense of belonging. As we walk down the street, we share a heartfelt connection to the people we meet, knowing that we are part of a larger family. And in my opinion, there is nothing more precious than that.

You’re celebrating 25 years. Congratulations! Can you reflect on a few of your most memorable moments?

There are hundreds of stories exemplifying the power of yoga and the dedication of the students. One that stands out is of a woman named Lynn Kohlman, who battled multiple types of cancer. Despite her illness, she never missed a Sunday class and would lay on her mat, smiling and mouthing the lyrics to Neil Young’s music. Her husband would help her to her spot, just to the right of the altar. These moments have made the past 25 years truly life-changing for me.

Over the years, we have had many celebrities visit the studio, but it was never a big deal. However, one day, while giving a manual adjustment, which consisted of pulling thighs back in a downward-facing dog, I realized it was Serena Williams. That was definitely a highlight moment.

In 2009, we (I am using the word we because my husband, Rodney Yee, is an integral part of Yoga Shanti even though he is not technically a partner) moved the studio to its current location at 32 Bridge Street, where we can now accommodate 70 students. We negotiated the lease while the space was still raw, so we were able to create the jewel box studio I had always envisioned, complete with a gold leaf ceiling. The community came together to help, with people on ladders peeling off the sticky backs of the gold leaf and adhering them to the ceiling. It was a labor of love, and we are grateful for their support.

Then, on March 17, 2020, everything came to a halt. We had to close the studio due to the pandemic. I also had to close a studio I had started in New York City. We quickly adapted and started teaching online through Zoom, Facebook, and Instagram. When summer arrived, we taught outdoors with masks on, first in a field next to Topping Rose and then on The Church lawn in Sag Harbor. Eventually, we set up shop in Mashashamuet Park for the summer. Despite the challenges of practicing in wet grass and goose poop, these memories have become fond reminders of our resilience.

We are now a fully established business, complete with a computer, a credit card swiper, and even branded merchandise.

There are countless selfless people who helped to build and sustain the studio. It really does take a village. There are too many to name, but you know who you are, and I bow to you.

I must admit, there were times when I doubted if the studio would survive. I wrestled with the decision to hold on or let go. But I chose to persevere, and we are making a comeback. We now stream our classes and have been able to connect with hundreds of people from around the world through daily classes and teacher trainings. Having students back in the studio, unmasked, and being able to pull thighs back in downward facing dog again is something I will never take for granted. We are back, and I am honored, humbled, and grateful for the teachers who share their wisdom and the students who continue to join us under the gold ceiling.

So, as we celebrate our 25th anniversary, we acknowledge the trials and tribulations we have faced, but we are here to stay.

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