In creating Upper West Side Yoga and Wellness, one of the most impactful decisions we had to make was to choose teachers who could co-create this community with us. We intentionally sought out individuals from whom we enjoy learning, and who engage in ongoing exploration and have a sense of humor.
Our amazing team of teachers continues to grow! Check them out!
I’m a native Upper West Sider, an educator, yoga teacher and integrative therapist who uses yoga, Reiki, aromatherapy, nutritional and contemplative counseling, and Thai Bodywork with my clients. I have spent over two decades working with diverse populations: from the homeless and incarcerated to the economically secure. Whether a person is in a hospital bed with highly limited mobility, in hospice or fully ambulatory, brimming with strength and vitality, I love working with people who, at the very least, are open to learn. The moment of inquiry can be a dynamic time of new action and change. It is one that I relish! I am grateful to have studied with (and continue to study with) an amazing grouping of teachers. Here is a partial listing: Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman Yee, Richard Freeman, Mary Taylor, Richard Rosen, Joan Halifax, Koshin Paley Ellison, Robert Chodo Cambell, Alan Finger, Charles Matkin, Jason Ray Brown, Jenny Arthur, Chrissy Carter and Jodie Rufty, as well as workshops with Rod Stryker, Mark Whitwell and Ramanand Patel. Apart from yoga, I hold an MA in Counseling and Guidance from NYU and a BS from Ithaca College.
I’m a transplanted Upper West Sider by way of Massachusetts as a baby, Germany as a child, New Jersey as a tween/teen, upstate New York as a college student, and Manhattan post-college (with a little stopover in Paris for a year and the Caribbean for six months). Prompted by my own health crisis in the early 90s, I dove headfirst into studying every imaginable method of natural healing (nutrition, bodywork, mental/emotional/spiritual practices, energy practices, movement) and my main entry points became healthy eating and practicing Reiki. A natural-born klutz (yes, the last picked for kickball, always), I was also stunned to find that I could feel strong and graceful while doing yoga. I was hooked. So blessed to train with the best teachers I could imagine at YogaWorks, Urban Zen and elsewhere (alongside Stephan the entire time, so I’m conveniently saying “ditto” to his list above), yoga became my tool to finally integrate my mind and my body. As an integrative therapist and wellness tourguide, I specialize in yoga, Reiki, aromatherapy, nutritional counseling, feng shui, spiritual counseling and life-cycle ceremonies for a diverse array of private clients and groups, from the radiantly healthy to the dying. I’m an RYT-500, completed and continue to mentor for the Urban Zen Integrative Therapist training, am a Reiki Master in the Usui lineage and am an ordained Interfaith Minister. Of course, most importantly, I’m also a full-time mom to our fabulous daughter, Shakti, my most powerful teacher so far.
Sylvie came to NYC intending to pursue a dance career, but Life quickly re-routed her towards the healing arts professions. A Certified Yoga Teacher from the World Yoga Center, one of the longest-running Yoga centers in NYC, she began teaching yoga full-time in 1996. Since then, she’s become a skilled Thai massage practitioner (Lotus Palm School), licensed massage therapist, and obtained certifications as a Meditation Teacher and Ayurvedic Health Coach from the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. All those modalities have shaped and sharpened her teaching in many ways. Sylvie’s style is thorough, with a strong emphasis on proper alignment while being accommodating to everyone’s unique needs. She’s often been told her classes were “deep”, her voice “immensely soothing” and her “down-to-earth spirituality easy to relate to.” Equally at ease within the western and eastern health paradigms, her classes appeal to left and right-brain individuals alike. As a long-time NYC dweller (and Upper West Sider!), Sylvie is forever grateful to yoga and meditation for keeping her calm and grounded in this fast-moving world. She teaches Yoga as a tool for optimal health of body, mind and spirit, knowing that it can help us all reach our highest potential. For more info, see www.stressfreeinthecity.com and http://yogavpk.com/blog/.
Lisa has been teaching for over 20 years and is renowned for her brilliant sequencing, her radiant energy and her ability to lead you through intensity while getting you to smile the whole time. She was trained through personal mentorship from Alan Finger and her teachers include Angela Farmer, Glenn Black and Kevin Gardiner. Lisa’s Yoga Zone: Power Yoga video was rated #1 by Natural Health magazine and her classes have been rated as the “best high energy in the country” by Allure magazine. She co-directed the Teacher Training at the Mind Body Therapy Department at Haelth, a complementary Health Care Center in NYC founded by Dr. William Fair, and she has been on the faculty of Kripalu, Omega and The Open Center. Lisa is the star of Anchor Bay’s Healing Yoga line of videos and she has participated in writing, developing and producing over 23 retail videos and DVD releases. She is currently a contributing editor at Fit Yoga magazine and has also contributed to numerous other publications. Lisa’s teaching style finds inspiration from her own life challenges and experiences, which she shares generously from her heart and spirit to guide others to reconnect with their own uniqueness. For more info, see www.lisabennettyoga.com.
Kelly Brennan teaches yoga to people of all ages, from babies to seniors and everyone in between. She also has the honor of traveling to cities around the world sharing her passion for kid’s yoga through her role as Teacher Training Facilitator at Karma Kids Yoga. She has completed numerous certifications including those of Om Yoga, Restorative Yoga with Judith Lasater, Prenatal Yoga with Janice Clarfield, Yoga Mom Buddha Baby, Karma Kids Yoga, Radiant Child Yoga Program, Circus Yoga, and Every Kid’s Yoga for Children with Special Needs. Kelly is known to be a patient, nurturing, and fun yoga teacher. Her adult classes incorporate a creative flow of sequencing that links movement to breath while practicing mindful alignment. Her classes for kids often include playful games, music, adventures and contagious laughter. For more info, see www.kellybrennanyoga.com.
Originally from Stockholm, Sweden, Maggan spent 15 years in corporate finance and banking before hanging up her pinstriped suits. After 2 Master’s degrees in finance and accounting, she came to realize that she wanted to be a human development specialist or, specifically, a stay-at-home mom to her now 4-year old twins, Madeleine and Declan. Maggan has been practicing yoga since 1993, is a graduate of the Yoga Shanti 300-hr program and is also certified as an Urban Zen Integrative Therapist. Maggan’s principal teachers are Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman, Richard Rosen, Richard Freeman and Heidi Fokine. She and her family split their time between the Upper West Side and the East End of Long Island.
Melissa’s life changed when she discovered the healing and transformative effects of yoga, and after having been a lawyer at the NYPD, she left the law and trained at Rasa Yoga (sound-based Kripalu-style), the Breathing Project (individualized, breath-centered derived from viniyoga), and Integral Yoga (Hatha; Gentle and Chair). Melissa has taught at Integral, The Open Center, The Breathing Project, Gilda’s Club, JCC, Rasa Yoga, and Omega Institute. Certified in Pilates Mat by LindaFit Pilates at Equinox, her yoga classes are infused with core-strengthening movements. A Tai Chi Easy™ facilitator, she teaches that and Qigong at Dorot for seniors and Visions for the Blind. Combining her modalities and Third Degree Reiki training, she teaches Stress Reduction Workshops for organizations. Also currently an assistant ballet teacher at Steps, Melissa completed a children’s ballet teacher training at ABT, returning to her roots as a dancer — having danced professionally with Pennsylvania Ballet before attending Barnard College and Columbia Law School. She recently filmed the “Ten Minute Stretch Break” DVD with Finis Jhung. Delighted to be teaching at this wonderful addition to the neighborhood — Upper West Side Yoga & Wellness — Melissa is a long-time resident of the UWS, and co-founded The West 80s Neighborhood Association (www.west80s.org). For more info, see www.goodenergymovementandwellness.com and www.facebook.com/goodenergyyogareiki.
Having completed her initial training at OM Yoga Center, Jessica has been teaching yoga in NYC since 2001. She entered this tradition as a dancer looking to rediscover the simple joy of movement. She found not only a way to bring balance to her body but a lifelong practice that encourages a deepening relationship with oneself and an ever-expanding sense of our interdependence. Jessica has earned her 500hr certification and has furthered her knowledge in both yogic and Buddhist traditions with (to name a few!) Cyndi Lee, Rodney Yee, Susan “Lippy” Orem, Larry Rosenberg and Doug Phillips. In 2011, to bring greater anatomical understanding and safety to her students, she completed Jason R. Brown’s Anatomy Studies for Movement Professionals. She studies under the guidance of Barry Magid, dharma heir to Joko Beck, at the Ordinary Mind Zendo. In continued exploration of bringing health to our lives, she completed her culinary degree at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Wellness in 2009. Now a health-supportive chef, she spent a year learning and working in NYC’s original sustainable restaurant, SAVOY, and a summer in the kitchen of San Francisco’s Zen Center’s Green Dragon Monastery and Farm. She continues to be excited by the different choices we can make to bring clarity and joy to our lives and inspired by the many students who invite her to show up and listen. For more info, see www.jessicaliphillips.com.
Ginger’s passion for creativity, dance, music, and performing has helped her explore the world. She’s traveled and lived in Russia, Germany, Italy, Canada, the Caribbean, and almost every state in the US. Although now a New Yorker, the South Shore of Massachusetts will always be her first home. After earning a BA in Theatre and Speech with a minor in Dance at Wagner College, she became a dance teacher at Ballet Academy East, where she first fell in love with yoga, and later taught with the National Dance Institute. In the middle of practicing tripod headstand, it dawned on her that she had to teach yoga! She wanted to help others discover that same sense of empowerment and inner strength. Ginger was awarded a work/study position with YogaWorks, where she received her 200-hour certification, mentored by Jodie Rufty and Ann Mosca, and hasn’t stopped teaching since then. She combined her love of teaching yoga with her passion for working with children, and was certified at Karma Kids Yoga to teach children and prenatal yoga. Ginger very much enjoys incorporating movement and singing into her kids yoga classes, and brings that same joy into her adult classes, where she loves teaching arm balances and inversions. Her motto is: Yoga should be fun! There are plenty of chances to be serious in life, so leave your inhibitions at the door…get ready to soar, fly, toes in the sky…grab a partner, dance solo or with friends, spread your wings, dip your toes in the ocean of life and experience yoga with Ginger. FYI, her hobbies include scuba diving and crocheting, but of course not practiced at the same time. For more info, see http://gingermerritt.com.
Tzahi, an E-RYT-500, discovered yoga between rehearsals early in his acting career and soon trained in NYC at Be Yoga, which later became YogaWorks. With his focus and skill, he quickly became a senior teacher trainer there. Another senior teacher urged him to take an Iyengar class and he was struck by its effects on his body and mind — it was a perfect fit. After completing a rigorous two-year Iyengar teacher training program at the NYC Iyengar Institute, Tzahi passed the Introductory 2 Assessment in 2012. He spent the month of July 2012 with the Iyengar family in Pune, India, and is now a certified Iyengar teacher. His primary teachers are Mary Dunn, James Murphy and Carrie Owerko. Renowned for his clarity and humor, he loves sharing yoga and enjoys observing his students make their own discoveries. For more info, see Tzahi-Yoga on Facebook or www.tzahiyoga.com.
Danny O’Brien’s path has been a circuitous one. After moving to NYC over 26 years ago, the Western Massachusetts native (and former Marine) worked in the music business, broadcast news, graphic design and publishing before a freak scooter accident and casual lunchtime practice brought his true calling and passion to light. For the past decade, Danny has taught yoga through a therapeutic lens in a variety of settings—hospitals, PT offices, homes, offices and gyms—integrating yoga, meditation, Reiki and essential oils with contemplative care. In 2012, Danny helped implement the integrative therapy program at Beth Israel Medical Center. From 2005-2013, he was on the Integrative Medicine Team at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, using yoga and meditation with HIV, stroke, post-op, and substance abuse patients. Danny is a graduate and mentor of the Urban Zen Integrative Therapist Program with Rodney Yee & Colleen Saidman Yee, and completed the Professional Integrative Yoga Therapist Program with Joseph and Lilian Le Page. He’s registered RYT-500 with the Yoga Alliance.
After 25 years as a top manager in the frenetic and aggressive world of magazine and internet publishing, Brette Popper wandered into her first yoga class in 2001 and was immediately transformed by its benefits. She soon found herself deeply immersed in yoga asana and philosophy. She is a 500-Hour RYT and was certified at that level in 2009 by Alison West’s Yoga Union. She has further completed Ms. West’s Backcare and Rope Certification Programs. She has completed several modules of Dr. Ganesh Mohan’s Svastha Yoga Therapy Training and is currently enrolled in Amy Matthews’ 9 Month Online Embodied Asana Training. Brette continues to study with Ms. West as well as Iyengar teachers Genny Kapuler, Bobby Clennell and Nikki Costello. In addition, Brette has combined her interests in yoga and the media business to create YogaCity NYC, New York’s premiere website for yoga news and listings. To check it out, see http://yogacitynyc.com.
Priti, an E-RYT-500, holds advanced level teacher certifications with over 20 years as a leader in the field of yoga and wellness. She is currently co-director of the Kripalu Yoga teacher certification training at the Kripalu Center in MA, as well as of the Prana Yoga training at the New York Open Center in NYC. In addition, she also served as co-director for Kripalu’s Integrative Yoga Therapy teacher training for ten years. Priti pioneered a Cardiac Yoga program at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center with Dr. Mehmet Oz and has developed recognized yoga programs for a number of top NYC hospitals and major corporations, as well as founded and directed “Worksite Wellness Solutions”. Priti also conducts private yoga therapy sessions, personal growth workshops and exciting worldwide yoga retreats. She has been published in two major medical textbooks on yoga therapy and has been featured on network television and in leading magazines. Priti is known for her big open heart and passion about the art and science of yoga, and for her unwavering devotion to supporting her students in leading extraordinary lives. She creates a safe and nurturing learning environment with personalized attention for every student. Priti is thrilled to be a part of the UWS Yoga team and looks forward to creating a loving Sangha (spiritual community) with her neighbors! For current events: www.PritiRobynRoss.vpweb.com and, to be updated, www.LifeAsYoga.com.
A modern dancer, Barrie received her first teaching certificate in 1997 from Cyndi Lee, director of OM Yoga Center in NYC. Fascinated by the power of restorative yoga, she went on to receive her advanced Relax and Renew teaching certification from Judith Lasater in 2006. She has also trained in children’s yoga with Karen Safire, who has trained with both Little Flower Yoga and Next Generation. Barrie continues to study with diverse master teachers, including Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Genny Kapuler, Jeanne Marie Derrick, Rodney Yee, Roxlyn Moret, Liz Koch and Donna Farhi. In her many years of teaching, she has taught a wide range of classes, including Vinyasa, hatha, one-on-one, Restorative, yoga for fertility, children’s classes, Baby Om (classes for moms and babies), prenatal and family classes. She is also co-director of Receptive Nest, a yogic approach to fertility. Learn more at barrieraffelyoga.com and www.receptivenest.com.
Maria Phegan Sweet is a 200-Hour Certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher, a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) with the Yoga Alliance, and is certified in YogaWorks’ Prenatal Continuing Education. A yoga practitioner for over a decade, Maria has been teaching in the tri-state area since 2007. Maria strives to make yoga more accessible by providing a nurturing, non-intimidating environment for the individual to learn the foundations of yoga and grow at their own pace. Utilizing the tools of Kripalu Yoga, she empowers the individual to tune into and listen to the knowledge stored within their own body. Following the mantra that “you can only teach what you know”, Maria’s yoga practice and inquiry deepened while working to keep her own body in balance and striving to heal dance-related injuries during her 20-year professional ballet career. Maria’s epiphany occurred when she realized yoga not only allowed her to continue her performing career, but also offered her a multitude of health benefits. Maria’s teaching expanded over the past three years to include Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga, alongside the pregnancy, birth, and development of her two young daughters. Her Kripalu teachers, Priti Robyn Ross and Jairaj Randall Williams, plus guests Mark Whitwell and Nischala Joy Devi, also shaped Maria’s teaching style and life immeasurably. Maria is very excited to join the UWS Yoga community and families. Photo by Deb Donenfeld.