Name: Karen Schwartz Clinton Hill Resident For: 3.5 years
(Thanks to the Polish Bar of Brooklyn for providing their space for the interview, as well as Essie pedicures, and to the Greene Grape for providing a bottle of Arregi Txacoli Getariako Txakolina 2006) On May 15, I met up with Karen Schwartz at the Polish Bar of Brooklyn for Essie pedicures, a bottle of Arregi Txacoli courtesy of the Greene Grape and mini cupcakes (it was Karen’s birthday!).
Karen, a yoga therapist, has lived in Clinton Hill for three and a half years, but spent the previous seventeen years in the same Upper East Side studio rental. Why did she move? “Because the ceiling fell. Literally!” she exclaims. After an unfixed long-term leak, her studio’s ceiling came crashing down. Two days later, she bid on her current Clinton Hill co-op. At the time, she didn’t know much about the area but its special differences became apparent very early on. None of Karen’s Manhattan neighbors had checked up on her despite hearing her ceiling fall in, but her current Clinton Hill neighbors call her out of concern if they don’t see her for a day or two. “There’s so much beauty here,” she says. “It’s great to walk around, and you can just say ‘hi’ to people.”
A native of the “Boogie-Down Bronx,” Karen and her family moved to Queens when she was in 6th grade, and she attended junior high and high school in Manhattan. The diversity of her neighborhoods and attendance at public schools strongly influenced her decision to become professionally involved in community life, though she didn’t end up there immediately. After a college journalism tenure focusing on social activism, her first professional experience working for a jewelry trade magazine left her less than inspired. Schwartz returned to school and obtained a Masters Degree in Social Work.
Focusing on clinical social work, Schwartz worked first with teenagers in foster care, and then on the Lower East Side focusing on dropout prevention. She also began teaching fitness classes and studying dance, which led her to her first yoga class. “I thought, ‘This is so hard!’” she explains. “But I couldn’t wait to go back.”
Schwartz says it took two years of yoga classes before she felt like she “got it,” and began to realize how many levels the practice operates on. “The physical is only a small part of yoga,” Schwartz says. “You can’t quantify everything about yoga. That is its essence.”
Schwartz began making some connections of her own, realizing how greatly yoga practice would benefit many of the people she encountered day-to-day as a social worker. “The current popularity of yoga is wonderful, but it’s often designed for people who are already in shape,” she says. Recognizing an evident gap, Schwartz has turned her career towards yoga therapy. “It’s not a replacement for other kinds of therapy, but rather a supplement.” Schwartz’s work has not gone unnoticed in the neighborhood, as she was nominated for the Personal Profile series by one of her local students: “What is particularly impressive about Karen is that she can teach at all levels. She is able to encourage new students so that they don't feel that yoga is beyond their ability while guiding more advanced students to new challenges. Karen was able to show me how to develop flexibility and strength that I didn't think I had.” Schwartz has clearly incorporated her life’s work into the community.
Currently, Schwartz focuses her career on one-on-one yoga therapy and conducting workshops for small groups, allowing her to assess each client’s individual needs and fitness level. She volunteers as much as time allows, providing valuable services for those who don’t traditionally have access to yoga. As part of this initiative, she has conducted yoga classes for senior residents in her building and has submitted a proposal to teach volunteer classes for the American Cancer Society; she also intends to work to a greater extent with abuse survivors and those suffering from eating disorders. Her work has truly come full circle, incorporating many of her life’s passions. A highlight of her work as a yoga therapist? “Making a connection with my students. It’s great to give them something to take with them afterwards.”
When she’s not teaching, Schwartz loves to enjoy the diversity of her surroundings. Dining out, Schwartz favors Luz hands-down, which she describes as having, “Great food and vibe, and they have a Tempranillo I just love!” You’ll also see her frequenting Olea, as well as enjoying a Café Moche at Pillow Café’s new space on Myrtle. “When I'm hanging out in the neighborhood I like to walk around and look at houses, relax in Fort Greene Park, and go to movies at BAM, especially the film festivals and other special cinema events they have.” And, of course, the ice cream question. “Haagen Dazs Deep Chocolate Peanut Butter, because it doesn't hold back!”
Schwartz has just launched a new website, www.oneselfyoga.com, which further details her work in yoga therapy. She also teaches mixed level/open yoga classes at Lucky Lotus Yoga on DeKalb.