The lights are low, the music is soft, and the sweet scent of flickering candles is oh so soothing.
Erika Ferrentino, who has luminous blue eyes and the poise of a ballet dancer, is eager to welcome everyone to the first downward-facing dogs of the day at YUG Wellness.
She’s still pretty new at being a business owner – she started the studio in October 2021.
It wasn’t as simple and as straightforward as it sounds.
Erika had to make a lot of changes and choices to create YUG Wellness, whose Sanskrit name refers to the process of uniting mind, body and consciousness.
Erika, who at one time was passionate about CrossFit, didn’t discover the healing power of yoga until recently.
Born and raised in Rockaway Beach, she aspired to be a writer.
But after graduating from SUNY Albany with a degree in English, she became a residential real estate broker specializing in rentals.
To supplement her commission-only income, she waited on tables.
“I didn’t have any money,” she says. “I was living in my parents’ basement in Rockaway Beach and doing the long commute to Manhattan. When my mom asked me to pay rent, I started saving as much as I could so I could move out.”
She ended up on the Upper East Side.
For a while, she was the manager of a small Wall Street firm.
“I was so broke that I ate cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” she says. “And I walked to work to save the subway fare – it was five to six miles each way.”
Then she got a big break: an entry-level job at Morgan Stanley, where several of her cousins were employed.
She worked her way up, becoming an executive in wealth management.
That career took her to Miami, where she lived for a year, then back to New York City, which is where she was when the pandemic locked the world in a vise grip.
By that time, she was the mother of two daughters, Francesca and Gigi, who are, respectively, 8 and 5.
“I was working from home part of the time and commuting to Manhattan a couple of days a week,” she says. “And I was home-schooling the girls. The stress got to be too much.”
Indeed, her anxiety became so severe that she began having panic attacks.
“I would get on the train and have to get off because I couldn’t breathe,” she says, adding that she also lost her vision twice. “It was so bad that my doctor put me on medication.”
Although her symptoms declined, Erika, who rarely takes a Tylenol, didn’t want to be dependent on prescription drugs.
At her doctor’s suggestion, she reluctantly tried yoga, which she thought would be boring.
The poses were easy; it was calming her mind that proved difficult.
“Yoga changed my life,” she says. “The first thing I learned was that I wasn’t breathing – I was holding my breath. Yoga reconnected me to my breath.”
The results were so dramatic and positive that Erika wanted to learn as much as she could about yoga, a quest that led her to binge-read books and ultimately take a 200-hour teacher training course.
Last year, Erika, who lives in Astoria, quit her job of 17 years at Morgan Stanley to establish YUG Wellness, which offers not only yoga classes in Italian and Spanish as well as English but also a variety of holistic wellness experiences that range from facials and body contouring to meditation and IV vitamin therapy.
“For the second half of my life, I want to do something that helps people walk out feeling better than when they came in,” she says. “And I want to create a community space where people can connect in person.”
Erika, who was used to making overseas phone calls at 4:30 in the morning when she was with Morgan Stanley, is at YUG Wellness six days a week.
“I don’t teach the classes, but I take at least one a day,” she says, adding that she does fill in sometimes as a substitute.
She usually arrives at the studio after she drops her daughters off at school.
When they come home, she takes a break to be with them.
On weekends, they sometimes visit the studio and help her at the front desk.
Like the students who are arriving for class, Erika’s taking things one downward-facing dog at a time.
“If I can help one person like me change their life, that’s important to me,” she says. “I want to be present and let go of the past and move forward and feel grateful.”
Copyright 2022 by Nancy A. Ruhling