On the Upper East Side, the newly opened Medicine for the Soul Yoga offers an array of yoga, reiki, meditation, and mindfulness classes. It is a humble, cozy studio — no larger than the espresso bar next door — but its owners have big plans: to help bridge the gap between clinical and spiritual wellness.
With backgrounds in medical science and spiritual healing respectively, Krysten and Amanda Vasquez are like a millennial yin and yang — opposite yet complementary.
Krysten, 26, is a straight-talking, CrossFit enthusiast who, after graduating with her M.S. from Wake Forest School of Medicine in 2017, immediately moved to New York to practice.
Amanda, 23, is a soft-spoken marketing major turned yoga instructor and reiki healer. After graduating from Florida State University in 2016, she wandered through a series of odd jobs in search of purpose before a stress-related chronic pain condition lead her to yoga. Brought into a “space of gratitude” through the healing she experienced, Amanda was inspired to pursue her yoga teaching certification, hosting classes out of a spare room in her grandmother’s Miami home before deciding to join her sister in New York.
Together, the Miami natives opened Medicine for the Soul after their individual work revealed to them systemic shortcomings and barriers to wellness faced by many Americans. The yoga studio, which debuted on October 1, is on 84th Street between First and Second Avenues.
Krysten, who works with underserved patients at Urban Health Plan in Queens, was “struck by how unattainable wellness is for the majority of the population” after witnessing traditional medicine fail to address the underlying psychological and environmental factors of patient health.
“From a medical perspective, it’s frustrating.” said Krysten. “Sometimes patients will come in and want an immediate diagnosis. And we can run a million tests on them and just can’t figure it out. And it seems to me that a lot of these problems are psychological. And not that they are making them up, they feel pain, they feel anxiety, they feel stress, but it’s because of the way that we have learned to prioritize our lives in American society.”
Krysten said patients often aren’t provided with sufficient guidance on the basics of living a healthy life.
“It starts with the actual people who are giving the knowledge.” said Krysten. “I work in an office, and a lot of the providers are overweight, they don’t eat healthy, they don’t take care of their bodies, and yet we tell other people to do these things. These are fundamental for gaining a more positive outlook on life. So, I want to help lead by example.”
The sisters hope Medicine for the Soul — through affordable stress reduction classes, informational work-shops, and outreach programs — can act as an intermediary community, providing fundamental, sustainable wellness support long before a patient becomes ill enough to see a doctor.
Amanda recognized additional barriers to wellness while teaching at Dr. Richard Izquierdo Health and Science Charter School, a low-income high school in the Bronx.
“Today, yoga is often marketed as something for an extremely wealthy, predominantly white demographic, leaving those in underserved areas feeling unwelcome.” said Amanda.
As part of a pioneer position at the school, Amanda teaches yoga and mindfulness to 11th and 12th graders as a full-time elective.
“Initially, they were very suspicious toward me and mindfulness in general. They came in and they would roll their eyes at me, they would slouch, they wouldn’t want to lay down, they were very rebellious.” Amanda said.
But after discussing her own Hispanic heritage with her largely Spanish-speaking class, Amanda found her students to be more receptive.
“If they’re misbehaving, I’ll shout something in Spanish and they’ll listen. It’s like “well, if she speaks Spanish and she does yoga, then so can I.” Now, only a few months in they are excited and are like, “are we meditating today?” It’s great to see.”
Driven by their healing mission, the sisters decided to open a studio somewhat spontaneously.
“When I walked by the “for rent” sign, I just knew it was meant to be.” said Amanda.
The sisters pooled together their limited savings, rented the studio and hired other like-minded wellness instructors to run it when they’re at work.
The Vasquez sisters hope to create an ultra-welcoming environment at their studio and expand their outreach to neighborhoods all over New York.
“My goal is to provide a level playing field for people of all backgrounds to have access to equal care and the fundamental knowledge to sustain a healthy lifestyle — emotionally, spiritually and physically,” said Krysten.
With customers beginning to trickle in, an introductory class package at Medicine for the Soul currently costs eighteen dollars. However, the sisters hope to make their services even more accessible by implementing a “pay what you can” policy as soon as financially possible.
“Until then,” Krysten said with a laugh, “we’re just praying to the universe that we can make it work.”