By Sophia Rosenbaum
Yoga studios in New York are as common as pizza joints, but there’s a reason Lady Gaga chose Tricia Donegan to be her yoga instructor.
Donegan, 42, is a burst of energy with a toned physique adorned with tattoos and a mess of curly, multi-colored hair. She’s the owner of Bikram Yoga Lower East Side—a walk-up studio with cases of water bottles lining the stairwell, pops of pink paint from the floor to the ceiling and people dripping in sweat from the 107-degree yoga room.
With a team of 15 other instructors, Bikram Yoga LES offers six classes a day, seven days a week. Monty Stilson, 54, has been taking classes at Bikram Yoga LES for more than a year and said the only negative part is all the laundry.
“Tricia truly has a gift to deliver the perfect balance of wit and wisdom, all the while coaxing the body into never-realized positions and undreamed feats of strength,” Stilson said.
Donegan’s yoga business is just one of her many ventures. She is also a Lower East Side community activist and a mother of a 5-year-old daughter, Lula.
“I’m here to change the world,” she said. “I build communities wherever I go.”
Donegan was born in Michigan and moved to New York City in 2001. Prior to her career as a yoga instructor, she worked as a restaurant owner in Atlanta. Although she loved the restaurant business and being a community activist in Atlanta, she feels much more at home in her yoga space at 172 Allen St.
“Everyone who comes to the yoga studio is trying to empower themselves or better themselves in some way,” she said. “This is a true well-being destination for people, so it becomes this safe haven for people to come and let go of themselves.”
For more than a decade, Donegan has been teaching Bikram yoga, or hot yoga, which is a series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises in high-heat, high-humidity rooms. While Bikram originated in the early 1970s, it has became popular in the United States in the past decade.
Donegan said the heat forces students to focus on their bodies and push themselves more than a regular exercise class.
“It’s sort of like spaghetti,” she said. “If you try to bend cold spaghetti, it breaks. But when you put it in the water, you can do whatever you want with it.”
Tamara Pollack, Donegan’s life partner, said part of what makes Donegan talented are her interpersonal skills and her deep understanding of yoga.
“She won’t tell you to blindly push into a locked knee, she won’t just coach you into a deeper backbend,” she said. “Instead she will empower you in your weakness and lead you toward your strengths. She wants to see you try, and once you enter her hot room, that’s all you want to do.”
Four years ago, Donegan created a class that combined her love of yoga with her passion for community engagement. Nite Sweats is a donation-based class that’s offered the first Friday of every month.
The proceeds go to the Lower East Side Girls Club, which counts Donegan among its board members. The Club serves girls and young women from ages 8 to 23, teaching them the importance of education, healthy eating and equality.
“We’re not just babysitting girls from the projects,” Donegan said. “We’re giving them power.”
Donegan said Nite Sweats rakes in about $1,000 a month for the Girls Club.
“Tricia Donegan’s luminous and infectious presence enriches our community in boundless ways,” said Lyn Pentecost, the visionary behind the Girls Club. “She lives, works and runs her unique business on the Lower East Side and sends her daughter to school on the Lower East Side. One can’t get more ‘community’ than that.”
And while Donegan rarely leaves the neighborhood, she frequently goes on tour with Lady Gaga as her fitness instructor. She said she’s proud of her accomplishments in life thus far, but attributes most of her success to yoga.
“I have so many ideas, I have so much energy and it wasn’t until I slowed my head down with yoga that I realized why I am here,” she said. “Once you get real precise, then your dreams come and chase you.”
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