First-timers pay nothing at Yoga Sutra (501 Fifth Ave., nr. 42nd St.; 212-490-1443), which caters to Bryant Park office workers grabbing some sun salutations on their lunch breaks. Depending on which style of class you choose, you could be sore tomorrow. The Vinyasa course, with its flowing series of chest arches and leg lunges, is especially challenging. Less strenuous: the Iyengar class, filled with slow-moving spine twists and prop-aided stretches.
Newcomers also get a free tryout at Atmananda Yoga Sequence (324 Lafayette St., nr. Bleecker St.; 212-625-1511), where the crowd’s exactly what you’d expect at a Noho wellness loft: fashionable vegans, limber models, and late-rising artists. Classes flow rapidly through 69 movements, focusing on proper alignment and breathing techniques. Occasionally instructors burn incense or massage students’ temples with jasmine oil.
At Integral Yoga Institute (227 W. 13th St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-929-0586), free Saturday-morning intro classes (beginning at 10:15) draw a mix of health-conscious hippies, trendy moms, and other West Villagers seeking some slower-paced exercise. Newbies are encouraged to ask questions while learning to sit properly, relieve lower-back tension with gentle torso bends, and experiment with shoulder stands.
It’s mostly experienced yogis at Chelsea’s Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center (243 W. 24th St., nr. Seventh Ave.; 212-255-4560), with only one class open to beginners. The first class—usually filled with classic inversions and standing postures—is free. Workouts are strenuous, but there’s ample time for meditation between poses.
And though not technically gratis, classes at Yoga to the People (12 St. Marks Pl., nr. Third Ave.; 917-573-9642) are open to the public for a suggested donation of $10. Expect St. Marks–style serenity: Teachers might pop in some John Lennon during stretching and read inspirational quotes for the after-class warmdown, and classes are often packed toes to fingertips with NYU students.