No mirrors, free classes: The Auckland yoga studios doing things differently

yoga studios in auckland
You'll find no mirrors, pumping music or intimidating body ideals here. Photo credit: Supplied.

Thanks to our stressed-out adrenals and the need for some serenity in already very hectic lives, this winter has seen many people turning to slower movement practices like Pilates, barre and yoga as a way to slow down and catch our breath. 

But if you're looking to start and aren't sure where to begin, it can be an intimidating minefield, often accompanied by Instagram posts of bikini-clad super flexible yogis or intensive 30-day yoga 'challenges'. 

I'm not ashamed to say I've tried most of the studios around Auckland in the search for the perfect class. 

The following studios aren't just accommodating for the beginner, they're also all doing something different, whether it be encouraging diversity, getting rid of comparison or dealing with the often extortionate cost of classes. 

Here are my top three picks of the studios in Auckland: 

The Connected Centre, Birkenhead 

It's not often I'm crying as soon as I sit down to interview someone. But Araluen Clarke, founder of The Connected Centre in Birkenhead, has that effect on people.

The certified counsellor runs counselling and self-compassion courses along with yoga classes out of the studio that, along with her family, she prepped and painted, right before the country went into COVID-19 alert level 4 lockdown last year. 

Among the multiple lockdowns and an unpredictable economic future, Clarke also launched The Kindness Project, an initiative that allows anyone two-weeks access to her online yoga classes where they only pay what they can afford. The same goes for her in-person koha yoga classes. 

"That is what the main intention of The Connected Center really is. To provide a sanctuary to experience kindness through yoga and community along with strengthening their own self-compassion," says Clarke. 

"Because when we are able to travel into our heart and master self-compassion, we will all end up being kinder to those around us as well." 

No mirrors, free classes: The Auckland yoga studios doing things differently
Photo credit: Supplied.

You'll find no mirrors, pumping music or intimidating body ideals here. Everyone seems to know each other, and it is the most incredible community vibe.

After our tearful (on my end) self-compassion course, Clarke makes tea for everyone before the yoga portion of the class begins, starts, and as we 'slow flow' on an autumn evening the twinkling lights of Auckland can be seen out the window. 

This is the most wonderful studio for North Shore yogis, and if you're not on the Shore, it may even be worth making the trip over the bridge. 

Sala, Ponsonby 

Many Auckland yogis will know of Sala, the Ponsonby studio opened by founder Sarah Lindsay in 2018. The chic, concrete space marked by a standout lighting 'eclipse' has been home to yoga, Pilates and fitness classes for several years. 

Now Lindsay has opened a new architecturally designed room in the same space, but this time the sun lights a darkened room. Blackened mirrors reflect a duotone image of yourself and others, offering a "calming, non-confrontational" feeling to encourage far more freedom of movement.

No mirrors, free classes: The Auckland yoga studios doing things differently
Photo credit: Supplied.

Lindsay says the point of Sala is to encourage confidence and freedom of expression. 

"What does it mean to be moving alongside 20 other bodies? How can a 'gym', which is so often an intimidating space, be inclusive, supportive, and welcoming?" she asks. 

Sala also offers a scholarship programme to encourage more diversity within the yoga teaching community. 

"With our teaching practice, we want to encourage a more honest reflection of New Zealanders. We get so many applications every day, but none from people of colour, so to encourage more diversity we started offering scholarships to Māori or Pacifika yoga practitioners," Lindsay explains. 

"Not only is yoga a valuable tool for empowerment and connectivity, but a beautiful way to find a common language through our physical experiences." 

If you're looking to get an endorphin rush without the stress, technicolour and deafening music of a gym, try one of the barre classes in Sala's new space. After two classes with instructor Maria, I felt as strong and as graceful as a dancer - and the very forgiving tinted mirror didn't work convince me otherwise. 

Basecamp Power Yoga, Grey Lynn 

If you're looking to warm up from the winter chill and build heat in the body while calming the mind, there's no better way to do it than in the 33-degree heat of the studio at Basecamp Power Yoga in Grey Lynn. 

Founder Cat Thompson told Newshub their style of yoga is community-orientated, fun and "not too serious".

If you try it, you'll understand why class-goers leave looking like they've just gotten out of a swimming pool, while completely exhilarated. 

No mirrors, free classes: The Auckland yoga studios doing things differently
Photo credit: Supplied.

But yoga studio memberships can be expensive, which is why Thompson offers something a little different to members ready to help. The Basecamp Energy Exchange programme hopes to make yoga classes accessible to everyone.

Energy exchange participants spend three hours a week cleaning yoga mats, sweeping the studio and preparing the cold lavender eye towels the studio is famous for.

In return, they get an unlimited membership, half-price workshops and discounts towards teacher training.

"It is important to note that this is not a volunteer position, it is an equal exchange for energies," the website reads.