Mr. Eddie Stern.
"at the time, we were all taking a lot of psychedelics.
And I thought, 'Here's a way of getting high
where you don't have to feel terrible the next day.'"
- Eddie Stern.
Along with his wife Jocelyne, Eddie Stern owns The Brooklyn Yoga Club, he is widely known as the pioneer of New York’s yoga scene.
He has taught the virtues of the practice to far too many celebrities to mention and when he is not teaching at the club, he travels the world extensively sharing his insights and passion.
He is the author of several books and is an avid supporter and advocate to underserved public schools around the country, developing new teaching programs that help both the kids and the teachers identify and reduce stress.
LW: Eddie, you grew up in New York City, how was that?
ES: Growing up in New York City was awesome. We moved down to Greenwich Village from the Upper East Side when I was about four years old, after my parents got divorced. And my mom was a trust fund hippie. She used to walk around Greenwich Village barefoot.
Soho was an uninhabited mess of artist lofts. It was barely lit after dark. I mean, we were going to school by ourselves when we were eight years old.
So it was more like an artists village than anything else, except for our street was MacDougal and Sullivan, the heart of the Italian Mafia.
On the corner below the Caffe Reggio was Jimmy's, which was a social club, there were two social clubs on either side across the street. And we were surrounded by two Catholic churches that had schools in them as well. So the area was safe. Because all the Mafia guys were keeping drugs, guns and crime away.
We had CBGB's when I was a teenager, just a few blocks down we had the whole punk rock scene on St. Mark's Place, there was amazing music. It was dirty and dangerous. We liked it. It was free.
LW: How did you find yoga, or did it find you?
ES: I was working in a record store named Bleecker Bob's on West 3rd Street. And there was a guy working in there who had done yoga. And he introduced me first to vegetarian diet. I got into that and I bought a book on macrobiotics.
In that book, there were some stretches you could do to keep yourself healthy.
I didn't know they were yoga poses, but I started doing them.
I enjoyed stretching, because I hadn’t and the main thing was, I was really unhealthy.
LW: Did you smoke?
ES: When I quit smoking, I was smoking two packs a day - Camel unfiltered.
I lived between McDonald’s and Ben's Pizza. I didn't drink water. I drank soda, cappuccino, beer or tequila. And that was it. Maybe, if I was feeling kind of healthy, I'd have falafel instead of pizza.
And so I felt like shit. I mean, I looked terrible and I didn't feel good.
My friend Ted started saying, “you know, with a vegetarian diet you detoxify your body. You start feeling lighter. Your brain is clearer. You have more energy.” He was talking about meditation and all these things, they were metaphysical in nature, primarily, but at the time, we were all taking a lot of psychedelics. And I thought, "Here's a way of, like, getting high where you don't have to feel terrible the next day”, "So maybe I'll try this instead."
And so he really sent me on a different path.
LW: You started yoga at 19 and went to India at 21, when did practicing and learning yoga turn to teaching?
ES: The people I was practicing with in New York said, "Why don't you go to India and take a teacher training course, then come back here and you can maybe teach at our school." So I did, I'd really only been practicing for about a year and a half before I started teaching. It was way too soon. I've been teaching yoga now more than half of my life.
LW: A lot of your New York friends that I've met through you are high achievers who seem to have turned out to be highly successful musicians, artists or performers of some kind or other.
What do you think was happening at the time that led you all to do so well on a global scale?
ES: I really don't know. I think we just got lucky. I think that we came of age in a really creative time. I think every age has its own creative time. And we just happened to fall into that particular one. We found things that we really were passionate about. So we put all of our energy into it.
LW: Famous people seem to be drawn to your studio. Even from my experience, the first day I was learning with two other gentlemen. It was only at the end of the class I realized that one of them was Michael Stipe of R.E.M. and the other one was Mike Myers.
Why do you think celebrities wanting to learn yoga come to you?
ES: I like to think that the yoga is good. And I like to think that what we're teaching is serious and authentic, and that people are drawn to that.
Quite often, the people who are successful on the level of some of those who come to my practice are very serious about their art. And they look for authenticity in what they do, whether it's music—or acting or painting.
But people might know of me more because I've been around for longer.
LW: The beginning of the conversation started with the fact that you were Manhattan born and bred. But you just moved your family and your business to Brooklyn. How’s that working out?
ES: Brooklyn is great. We love it. Manhattan is also great. But it's also really tiring. And it's a lot noisier. And we got priced out of it for the most part. Plus the building got sold. We looked around but couldn't find anything that we really loved in Manhattan.
My landlord bought another building out in Brooklyn. He said, "Come take a look." And we thought, let's give it a go.
It's basically like we've been starting a new business, building up our Brooklyn community from the ground up.
We've been open for about eight months now. And we're up to 75% capacity of where I want to be.
LW: I know you are requested to travel extensively around the world teaching yoga, but you’ve also been spending a lot of time traveling the US too, tell us about that.
ES: I always felt that it was important to try to participate in the world around you. And that would be to go into places that make you uncomfortable, because people are suffering. And just be in that space a little bit. To not get too comfortable with where you are and with what you have.
Public education teachers are some of the most unappreciated, stressed out people in our country. Their job is so hard. We have a group of kids in South Jamaica, Queens, who are all exposed to heavy amounts of gun violence and trauma in their neighborhood while they were growing up. And I've been working with them the past four years now to help try to transform their communities.
We create curriculums for public schools, and mainly underserved public schools in New York, we've also done South Carolina, Indianapolis, Houston, El Paso and some other places around the country.
We teach them how to do techniques which are going help the kids relax. To identify their emotions and understand how to deal with them. And hopefully, the teachers pick up some of these techniques too.
LW: You're probably the nicest person I know. Certainly the most selfless person I know. What's the background story that takes you from wearing a robe to a three piece suit just as comfortably?
ES: I don't know. I mean, I look at the pictures of my grandfather. And he was a super sharp dresser. And my dad, has an amazing sense of style.
We always used to joke that my dad was so straight that he put on a tie to go get the mail.
So I think there must be something in my genes that makes me like and appreciate fashion.
And I'll tell you, my teacher always used to say, "You should only have one guru, one doctor, and one wife. Otherwise, if you have more than one guru, you're gonna get confused. More than one doctor, you're gonna mix medications. More than one wife, oh, you're in big, big trouble.”
I think it's the same with your tailor. I think you should just have one tailor who knows you and wants you to look the best you can in their clothes.
And that's what you guys do. And plus, I love being insulted. So when I come here, I get to be beaten under a truck every time by a British wit. Because I think is part of the whole Lord Willy's experience is humiliation, is it not?
LW: Couldn't ask for more, Eddie. That's absolutely perfect. Thank you.