Volume 74, Number 8 | June 23 - 29, 2004

A special Villager supplement,

Yoga studio just felt right at loft on Allen St.

By Tien-Shun Lee

Villager photos by Tien-Shun Lee

A yoga class at Lola Studios, where things are looking up.

Former sushi-bar owner Ofer Mimouni basked in the sunlight of his new Lower East Side yoga studio last week, limbering up his body as well as his mind by breathing deeply and soaking in the warmth of the wood surrounding him.

“I do a lot of yoga myself. I’m a big believer that if you have a comfortable body, it’s much easier to go through the day,” said Mimouni, 37, an Israeli entrepreneur who opened up Swim sushi bar on Orchard St. seven years ago, then shut it down last October due to rising rents.

Lola Studios, Mimouni’s new business, will be opened Fri., June 18. Mimouni described himself as a carpenter and a plumber as well as the owner of his business. When he was renovating his bar/restaurant in 1997, he did not know what kind of food he was going to serve until a Japanese sushi chef walked into his space looking for a job.

“I gave him a broom and he swept, and that’s it. It turned into a sushi bar,” said Mimouni.

Six years later, Mimouni was in a similar situation after he purchased a loft space on the third floor of 66 Allen St. from the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The space used to be divided into cubicles and used as an administrative office for the museum.

“It took me a long time to close this lease, and slowly, slowly as I was dusting the floor, it came to me that this space should be a yoga studio,” said Mimouni. “I think health in general is a trend. People are becoming more and more aware of their health and their surroundings. This neighborhood is in bad need for a space like this.”

Mimouni had been practicing yoga for seven years. He decided to enroll in the Integra Yoga Institute to train to become a certified yoga instructor. At the school for yoga teachers, he met some experienced instructors whom he invited to come teach at his studio.

“When you do yoga, all your internal organs get toned,” said Olivia Martinez, an experienced yoga instructor who has produced a 30-minute DVD called “Love Yoga” that beginner-level yoga students can follow.

While relaxing on a round, white chair in Lola Studios eating watermelon, Martinez explained that the twisting and releasing motions of yoga promote the flow of blood to various organs.

“If you allow the mind to follow the breath, the consciousness flows to your organs,” said Martinez.

Lola Studios will be offering various types of yoga classes, including Hatha, Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Iyengar, said Mimouni.

The various types of yoga differ in the amount of time that a pose is held, as well as the types of poses used, Martinez explained.

For example, with Iyengar yoga, one pose can be held for about 10 minutes, while in Vinyasa yoga, practitioners switch from one pose to another fairly quickly.

“Yoga is restorative and meditative,” said Martinez. “There are about 100 poses, and the teacher gives you different poses. After a while, it’s not even a conscious thing — your health and posture changes. It’s just such a great influence.”

Mimouni said he used wood to build both his yoga studio and his bar/restaurant because wood is warm and homey and makes a room feel alive.

“Every summer and winter the wood expands and contracts — that’s why sometimes floors buckle if you don’t seal the wood right,” said Mimouni. “That’s what I love about wood — it’s alive.”

Mimouni used wood to conceal a pipe running through the middle of his loft studio, and he built a wooden ladder that can be used for stretching the body as well as fixing light bulbs.

At the edges of Lola studio are remnants of other potential businesses that Mimouni was toying with before he decided on a yoga studio — turntables for a deejay and a well-shelacked wooden bar that serves wine.

“I toyed with having a multi-concept business, but if someone is coming in to do yoga, they shouldn’t drink wine,” said Mimouni. “Yoga is about having an easeful body and a peaceful mind.”

Any music to accompany yoga classes will be left up to individual instructors, said Mimouni. Most yoga classes do not go with music because it can be distracting to the relaxation of the mind and body.

“Sometimes when you just try to hold your leg and pull, it’s painful,” said Mimouni. “When you relax, the stretch goes so much farther. So actually, it’s stretching through your mind as well as through your muscle.”

For information on yoga classes, call Lola Studios at 212-925-3290 or visit the studio at 66 Allen St., near Grand St.

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