“The Opportunity to Rise Above”: Annie Isaacson, Rise Power Yoga
Annie Isaacson, 47, yoga teacher and founder in 2014 of Rise Power Yoga on the second floor at 80 Nassau Street, believes in balance. She realizes that Rise Power Yoga is a successful business, but more important to her is leading a balanced life and providing a service to the community. As she explains it, “It becomes a space for a lot of people to show up and discover their radiance and deal with whatever they’re going through, whether it’s physical or emotional.” Annie lives in Princeton off Mount Lucas Road with her 13-year-old son. Here, in her own words, she talks about her journey to Rise Power Yoga.
I was born in the Philippines and then my parents migrated to the island of Guam where I grew up. My family has always owned small businesses, and I’ve always worked for these businesses so it’s already in me. I kind of knew that at the end of the day I would own my own small business. I was also exposed to a lot of charitable opportunities that my family was involved in, and I found that in opening this studio it became more of a service than a business. I know that a business has to sustain itself, but the main idea, the core purpose of this studio is a service to the community, a giving back to the community.
From Guam I went to college in Hawaii and after college I got a job with Continental Airlines in their service department training flight attendants how to provide better, more detailed customer-oriented service. That job brought me from Guam to Houston, because Continental’s base was in Texas. Then I married someone from New Jersey, and now I’m here.
Introduction to Yoga
We had a baby and I took a two-year leave of absence from Continental, and I wanted to get into something that was more related to fitness. I’m not a runner. I’ve never been really athletic. I don’t go to the gym, but my sisters on the West Coast introduced me to yoga. I would bring the baby, and they had a babysitting room, and I would take the class. That started it all. When I visited them they took me to their yoga studio and I loved it. Then, back in New Jersey, from my house in Branchburg at the time I would travel 45 minutes to Summit for yoga three times a week.
Yoga is a collection of physical and spiritual together. Most people choose the physical, but I like to embrace both because there’s a dynamic strength that comes from embracing the physicality and the spirituality of yoga, and that’s what it’s intended for.
That was 13 years ago when I started, and I decided to proceed and train to become a yoga instructor. I trained with the world renowned Baron Baptiste, Levels 1 and 2 Baptiste Power Yoga. My first teaching job was at Yoga Above, in this same space where Rise Power Yoga is now, and I’ve been teaching ever since.
In 2014 I was given the opportunity to take over here. I had been a teacher here for the prior studio. I just have such a great connection with this studio because this is where I started my yoga career. Then I moved on and taught in other studios in town and elsewhere in New Jersey. I was managing a studio in central Jersey, and the owner of this building was able to work out a deal for me as sole proprietor so that I could open this studio.
It’s on Nassau Street. It’s not cheap, but he also wanted to give back to the community so he was able to give me an affordable rate because he wanted to see this continue as a yoga studio. It’s his way of giving back.
So I decided to take it over and change it to Rise Yoga instead of Yoga Above. To me “Rise” is this opportunity to rise up. When you wake up in the morning it’s the opportunity to rise above, and it also signifies in so many ways what yoga is all about. Yoga is not just physical exercise but an invitation to be the best person you can be. There’s a lot of awareness and mindfulness, so organically you start to have self-inquiries and it starts to open you up more to what’s happening inside of you
Where do I need to tune in more? Where do I need to be more forgiving? Where do I need to be more patient? It starts to show up in your body. A lot of the yoga poses exude what’s happening to you mentally. I can look at a person, and if this particular student is struggling with a specific pose and if it’s a balancing pose, I can tell that she needs a bit more balance in her life. The hips store a lot of our emotions, and negative emotions in men are mostly in the shoulders.
You become a therapist sort of. I give each student an experience within their body. My responsibility to those students is to give them the experience they need, physically and mentally.
A Day of Teaching
I wake up at 5:30 and I do 30 minutes just sitting still and meditation — not so much meditating but I just sit still and reflect — 30 minutes of grounding and being still. At six o’clock we begin our day. We leave the house by seven to take my son to school, Gill-St. Bernard’s, a 45-minute drive each way every morning. I return to town and start my work here by nine a.m. I have an average of four or five group classes each day, in the morning and in the evening. Between the group classes are private classes with couples or individuals.
There are three kinds of classes here: Vinyasa, which means flow, Ashtang, which means eight limbs (your four body limbs plus breath, mind, focal point and intention) and restorative, which allows your body and mind to relax. You allow your whole body to relax, which is so good. I love it. You just kind of melt.
I get a ratio of about 70-30, women to men in my classes. There are a lot of athletes, especially runners and tri-athletes in my restorative classes. Many of my clients find yoga to be a sense of release for them. The sweating, the moving helps to de-stress them. You can imagine how full we are during exam week at the University. A lot of students are now embracing yoga for that reason. It’s a release for them.
The idea when you teach, and with everything else, is to deliver an experience to the person without putting yourself in between. Teachers are the most intuitive people. You cannot be a great teacher if you’re not in tune with the individual needs of your students. There’s always a way to penetrate through those busy resistant minds. There’s always a doorway.
Energy, Calmness, and Belonging
Yoga is becoming more and more popular. Here in Princeton, it’s like Starbucks. You have yoga on every corner. I don’t want to create a sense of competition and distrust with other studio owners nearby. They are all my friends because at one point we all taught together and I respect them. They have their own niches. That’s the beauty of yoga. We create a specific energy based on the classes we give. We’re strong here because we have a dynamic combination of spiritual and physical factors.
Other studios might be a lot more physical, and then you might have another studio which is a lot more spiritual. I’m finding the vibrancy between the two. That’s how I practice. It’s based on energy. The energy of the owner becomes the energy of the studio. That’s what clients gravitate to.
When people walk into the studio they feel right away that it’s so calm here. They feel a sense of belonging here. Whether they’re new or not, they feel that they can be themselves without having to perform, because a lot of times yoga becomes a performance, and everybody starts to perform, and it becomes competitive, but it’s not like that here.
Here it’s about holding space for each individual’s personal need or intention. One of the main ingredients that a lot of people are missing in their lives is service. You get so much reward out of giving back. I don’t know if it’s the Dalai Lama who said that when you start to live a life of purpose and that purpose is doing what you love, your mind does not recognize what you’re doing as work or duty. It becomes more of a service to the community, so you’re constantly giving back and feeding yourself. I’m never tired.
I’m not making a lot of money. I’m surviving and I can lead a well balanced life, where I have a community that I work for and a community that also helps me. I have this connection with people, and I kind of feel safe because I know that I have this community and connection.