On 521 E. Fourth St., a walk up three flights of stairs leads to a wide, quiet space full of plants, shelves upon shelves of tea leaves and boho-style hanging chairs, surrounded by blue-tasseled curtains.
Yoga students walk past the counter with their foam block in hand, greet the barefoot managers and instructors behind the counter, and enter a studio room filled with the sound of echoing, meditative music and vibrations behind a closed door.
The Yoga Loft in Bethlehem, owned by Rachel Abott, is centered and focused on creating a welcoming and accessible community for all who want to practice yoga, while battling generalizations about the art.
“Typically, in the U.S. anyway, yoga is seen as a practice that’s really only accessible for fairly wealthy, athletic, white women,” Abott said. “And here, we really want to change that perspective, so that people feel like no matter who they are, what they look like, what their background is, what their ethnicity is and what their economic status is, they feel like they can come in here and join our community and have access to this practice.”
Formerly a student at the Yoga Loft, Abott acquired the business at the beginning of 2018, 12 years after the establishment opened.
Abott said the previous owner knew her from when she taught at the studio and reached out to her to help build the business in Bethlehem with fresh marketing ideas. Soon after, Abott was asked if she would inherit the Yoga Loft.
“I jumped at the opportunity, because I loved the space. I love the community,” Abott said. “And I really just wanted to see it grow and thrive.”
The Yoga Loft offers an all-inclusive, diverse set of classes and workshops, such as community yoga, an eight-week chakra exploration, beginners yoga, all levels yoga and foundational flow. Some advanced courses are offered, such as “Journey to Handstand” and “Advanced Flow” in the studio.
Of the classes, Abott has a hard time picking a favorite. She appreciates that their Vinyasa Flow session allows for anyone to participate and feel comfortable in a meditative combination of breath and movement.
“But if people feel like that’s not approachable for them, we have other things… we have gentle classes, we have meditations, restorative, things like that, that almost anyone can access,” Abott said.
The Yoga Loft rarely needs to seek out instructors, since the studio offers teacher training and is an accredited studio to do so.
Studio manager Lori Jardel said a lot is expected from the teachers.
“We not only expect them to teach, but there’s also a mentorship that goes along with that. Because as you’re teaching, people want to learn. We have instructors that travel out of state to come to train. So it’s a really, really amazing environment,” Jardel said.
Jardel, who also considers Abott one of her best friends, said she loves to watch other instructors grow during their time at the studio.
Jardel has practiced yoga for about 10 years and owns a small tea company called SimpliciTea & Co. However, when she began working at her home yoga studio years ago, she said she did not know much about the practice. She got her start after overhearing a friend talking about yoga, which prompted her to try it herself.
“I had no idea what yoga was, what it was like, how your mind works from on your mat and how you carry that out into the world,” Jardel said. “It really helped me transform myself, who I was being around others, trying to find time for myself. It’s between you and your mat. And that’s the challenge.”
Scott Moss, yoga instructor at the Yoga Loft who also underwent their teachers program, initially started yoga years ago at a hip-opening workshop with a live DJ.
Soon after his first exposure to the practice, Scott took on the ultimate challenge: practicing yoga for 40 straight days. He loved it so much that he proceeded to do yoga every day for the next four years.
Yoga allowed Moss, a Bethlehem native, the opportunity to train in New York City, India and Nepal, bringing what he learned back to his hometown community.
Moss teaches complex practices like handstands, as well as calm, restorative work. He also incorporates sound bowls and chanting into the workshops he leads. He especially enjoys teaching community classes, open to all yoga levels.
“I just like to see people being happy for and doing (what is) within their own abilities, and finding joy in that,” Moss said. “I offer a lot of variations so people can be free to be where they’re at. I used to call it freedom flow.”
Abott said the studio has seen a number of individuals come in for the first time to try yoga during the pandemic. She finds that this period has caused people to reflect internally and discover new methods of self-care, like yoga. She said although yoga is a physical practice, it goes beyond to feel like a mental, emotional and spiritual practice. As the pandemic caused anxiety and stress for many people, yoga offered an avenue through which individuals could prioritize all aspects of their health.
Abott has also found that the practices of breathwork and meditation, as well as the underlying philosophy behind yoga, have many other daily applications.
“To me, it’s something that can really help people to learn themselves better and learn to love themselves better, which is the first step to kind of loving everyone else and treating others better,” Abott said.
The Yoga Loft is holding a spring Open House on March 26 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. There will be live music and free 30-minute yoga class samples for the duration of the event, as well as a plant sale and tea tasting.