Updated: Oct 28, 2021
The practice of yoga has long been known to hold a wealth of health benefits for everyone who participates. According to John Hopkins Medicine, “Numerous studies show yoga’s benefits in arthritis, osteopenia, balance issues, oncology, women’s health, chronic pain, and other specialties.” Yoga has been known to help with stress, sleep issues, pain relief, strength and flexibility, and heart health. According to Black Women’s Health Imperative, it also improves balance, boosts confidence, and increases energy.
" We were named one of the top yoga studios in the country in 2011. I wanted my community to have access and have options when it came to health disparities and conditions like hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. I wanted my community to have the same access that other neighborhoods in the city did."
I was always intimidated by yoga yet drawn to it. I now realize the importance of practicing yoga as an adult managing health conditions and various stressors in my life. The year 2020 was a bleak and frightening one but I managed to focus on my faith and being positive that we would turn a corner from the pandemic. During this time, I rediscovered my passion for writing. In addition, I was blessed to find a new theatre community that allowed me to feel supported and empowered enough to share my gift with others. Among those I met was the very talented renowned Broadway star and industry veteran, Stephanie Pope Lofgren. I was honored to have the charismatic Ms. Pope Lofgren also produce my play, A Woman’s Perspective.
In addition to Stephanie’s many talents, she is also a certified yoga instructor and yoga enthusiast. Yoga remains an important part of her lifestyle which has helped enhance her focus and performance level within her career in the entertainment industry. I recently had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Stephanie about her passion for yoga. Her commitment and unrelenting motivation to keep yoga an important part of her life journey is admirable. Stephanie put a spotlight on her groundbreaking efforts in this area during our discussion.
Q: First, please tell us about your industry background and how that tied to your introduction to yoga.
A: I started primarily as a dancer and I had a long career as a dancer. I was never considered flexible enough in my world. Someone invited me to LA and suggested I take a Hot Yoga class. At that time it was exclusive so I had to be invited. I took the class and I fell in love with it. On any different day in class you would see a famous person walk in like Kareem Abdul- Jabbar or Quincy Jones. This class was the Original Hot Yoga. It is a 90 minute class performed in a heated room to about 108 degrees max with no more than 50 percent humidity. I fell in love with it. I loved the discipline, having come from a dancer background. We performed the same postures over and over again. This gives you the opportunity to improve and get more benefits from the practice. My body became more flexible and stronger which ultimately allowed it to transform. It was also calming for my mindset. Yoga helped put other things in my career and life in alignment like dancing and acting. One thing you practice with yoga is stillness, which I was learning as a dancer. I was also able to learn that there is power in stillness in my acting approach which complimented the use of the Meisner approach in acting. I learned that this style of yoga was also a part of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s successful career. I practiced six days a week and took Sundays off. While practicing I got hired for a Broadway show in New York.
Q: How did you transition from student to Yoga teacher?
A: I came back to New York and could not find a Hot Yoga class. I realized then that it was only in LA. I joined the Will Rogers Follies show which was choreographed by Tommy Tune. I warmed up using yoga postures while in performances. Unfortunately as time went on I realized there were no studios in New York. This became evident around 2008 and 2009. Eventually a studio opened up in Midtown and I started practicing there. No one in the class looked like me and no one that looked like me was teaching it. I eventually decided to get trained and get certified. I got certified and opened a studio in East Harlem on 116th and Madison. We were named one of the top yoga studios in the country in 2011. I wanted my community to have access and have options with the health disparities they were dealing with and chronic conditions such as hypertension, heart disease, and obesity. I wanted my community to have the same access that other neighborhoods in the city did. I identified that some people not having access to health care and choices to engage in beneficial practices such as yoga was having an impact on achieving healthy outcomes. This was prevalent in certain neighborhoods and I wanted to give those areas an option. My sister and I opened the studio in 2008. My mission was to share this form of yoga with as many as possible. This form of yoga does not compromise faith or religion. Original Hot Yoga is based on the physical aspect of yoga and does not involve any faiths or beliefs. There is no chanting involved. It is a form of moving meditation while doing the same posture.
Q: How did you find time to teach and run the studio with such an extensive and demanding career?
A: Yoga was a part of my daily routine. I was burned out since I did my first Broadway show at 19 years old. I did about ten Broadway shows which is a blessing but I was burned out. I was no longer finding joy so I decided to leave the industry for a while. During that time I met my daughter's father and raised my family. During the entire eight years I took a break from the industry, I had the studio and I was not performing. Towards the end of running the studio, I eventually dipped back into theatre.
Q: What inspired you to take your journey into yoga and how has it transformed your life?
A: You do not realize the impact right away while you are doing it. I tend to have less or no colds at all when practicing. My immune system is stronger when I practice. It helps give me perspective and compassion when dealing with people. When I would see a new student there was almost like a mask or shadow they were hiding behind but once they started practicing I would see a light in their heart and spirit. It was like whatever weight they carried was lifted over time. It was very gratifying to see change in other people. I saw asthma sufferers eventually grow not to need their inhaler and people with hypertension being able to take less of their medication. All of these things inspired me to take the journey.
Q: What advice would you have for someone thinking about starting to practice yoga?
A: Just do it and experiment. Not every style appeals to every person. Beginners can start with basic yoga. I feel starting with basic yoga first before Hot Yoga is helpful. The heat with Hot Yoga is more beneficial as it deals with circulation. Oxygen purifies the blood stream. The glands are affected as well as the ligaments, cells, and every part of your body entirely. A person has to be willing to show up and try more than once. It can be challenging but anything that changes your life will be challenging so I say go for it.
Q: Why do you think some people find yoga to be intimidating?
A: Sometimes the crazy positions tend to intimidate most people. Whether you are an absolute beginner or yoga veteran, it does not matter because you can get something out of it. The more you practice the more you realize you can do it. My studio, even with gentrification, allowed old Harlem and new Harlem members of the community to come together and get to know each other. Yoga presented the opportunity to help build the community and offered exposure to something different and beneficial. I think all styles of yoga are beneficial.
We are grateful for Stephanie taking time out of her busy schedule to discuss such an important health and wellness topic that can be advantageous to so many. Her candidness helps to redefine what self care can achieve and how transformative the practice of yoga can be. Stephanie currently freelances around the New York Tri-State area or wherever she is visiting or working. She always finds time for Hot Yoga!
Stephanie Pope is an actress, singer, dancer, writer, producer, voice actor, performance coach, and a musical theater veteran with a career spanning over 35 years. She has appeared in over 10 Broadway shows and recently received both Connecticut Critics Circle Award and Regional Theater Award nominations for her portrayals of Camila Rosario in Lin Manuel Miranda's In The Heights at Playhouse On Park Theater and Tanya in North Carolina Theater's Production of Mama Mia!. Stephanie’s Broadway and touring credits include the revival of Pippin, for which she received an Astaire Award nomination, an ACCA Award and the beloved Legacy Robe, Chicago (Velma Kelly),Thoroughly Modern Millie (Muzzy Van Hossmere), Fosse (Leading Player), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Brenda), A Funny Thing… Forum (Gymnasia), Kiss of The Spider Woman (Stand-by for Ms. Chita Rivera), Jelly's Last Jam (The Hunnies) and The Will Rogers Follies...just to name a few. Stephanie continues to make yoga an important part of her life and self care routine. She is an inspiration to her community and has been instrumental in opening the door to ensure all have exposure to the beneficial practices of yoga. Stephanie continues to show that she is an unstoppable force both within the industry and in her own community. This is something that we can all applaud her for.