Leggy, sassy, and ridiculously talented Sarrah Strimel made her mark on Broadway in shows from The Producers (at age 20 with esteemed choreographer Susan Stroman, no less), Young Frankenstein, to the gorgeous and ballet-tinged An American in Paris. The epitome of a statuesque showgirl, the Pittsburgh, PA, native started dancing at three and then attended the famous conservatory of CCM before hitting the Great White Way.
Seven shows later and after a lifetime of dance (and the attached rigor), Strimel considered finding another adventure. She began studying yoga, and finding the practice balanced her body and mind in a refreshing way, she eventually gained her certification. After wrapping An American in Paris, she was ready to take the dive full-time, going from not only teaching at Modo Yoga, but to opening her own studio, BYoga in Montauk, NY, too.
Want to hear how she went from stage to studio and found a new home in her practice? Read on!
SBS: How did you start practicing yoga?
Sarrah Strimmel: When I was in Young Frankenstein, my physical therapist, Jen Green at PhysioArts, told me I needed to do something else along with the repetitive motion of the show’s choreography. I was flexible, and my sacrum would go out. She said she didn’t care if I went to the gym or tried yoga or Pilates, but I needed to do something else with my body.
Growing up all I did was dance. There was nothing in terms of health and wellness outside of dance, and I wasn’t truly healthy to be honest. I had an eating disorder, anorexia, when I was 14. As dancers, we are so hyper-obsessed with body image. As I became a professional dancer, that wouldn’t fly. Your body would break down.
So, with that in mind and based on what Jen said, I set out to try to find what would be acceptable. At first, I found Baptiste Yoga, and while I was on tour I would find Baptiste studios to practice at. That type of yoga played into my type-A performer mentality of getting pushed and being challenged. It also left my brain really calm, and soon, the things that made me upset backstage or at audition, didn’t bother me anymore.
SBS: How did you find Modo Yoga?
SS: I had been checking out a bunch of places, and I found Modo right when it opened five years ago. I had just turned 30, and I started to think, ‘Ok, what’s next?’ Broadway was getting harder; the climate is changing, and I didn’t want to be left behind.
Once I started doing yoga there, I felt like I was with my family—the coolest people in the world. One of my teachers came to me and said, ‘You have a gorgeous practice, and you’re so inspired. Why don’t you do the teacher training?’ But I had never wanted to teach dance, so I wasn’t sure.
Turns out, I had a break from a show that lined up perfectly with a training. My teachers got late acceptance for me, so I went. It was fate. I was up at five am to do yoga for 14 hours without caffeine, meat and wine—which was so hard for me!
It was a month of self-searching and learning. I hadn’t learned in so long. You train for years for Broadway, and then you just do it. So it’s hard to grow at a certain point. So learning, discovering and exploring again allowed me to grow so much creatively.
SBS: What challenges did you face moving from the dance world to yoga?
SS: At my training, the head of Moksha (which is the umbrella organization over Modo)…all he wanted to do was break me, not in a bad way but in a way to open me. But as a dancer and performer, I know how to be unbreakable. He saw that determination and that will to be perfect. But he finally cracked me open in Yin, a practice where you hold poses for five minutes. It releases energy. I had been holding so much in my heart chakra. You have to keep swimming on Broadway, so I had shoved so much down. He allowed me to see I don’t have to be perfect.
Going back to dancing from that training, being vulnerable was actually a breakthrough in performing. I came back and went to auditions. I wasn’t thinking about what the casting table was thinking of me anymore. I thought, ‘Take it or leave it!’ Yoga brought me that empowerment. It allowed me to understand what was important. At 30, I was able to see: I want a family, and I want to go on a date on a Saturday night. I don’t want to work on weekends! So I started to teach and work toward a more balanced life.
SBS: What is your personal style when teaching yoga and how has it evolved?
SS: When I started at Modo, I had to teach the set Modo sequence. I learned how to talk to clients and how to touch and watch bodies. I learned a lot about logistics, like to never walk in front of someone.
But that meant I had to reign in my creativity. I’ve never felt so restrained! I wanted to run out of the gate teaching and reinvent the yoga wheel. I was chomping to teach flow.
But my teachers told me to be patient. I was allowed to grow within a framework, and then, when it was time to teach Modo flow, I could fly because I was grounded.
Now, I love having a story to tell. For example, last week I talked about wine: I had had dinner with my boyfriend, and he explained how old vine wine has to struggle to get nutrients, which is why they produce such tasty grapes. I thought, ‘There is some dharma in there!’ So I take my life and tell my students about it. I also love to have fun. With that wine dharma, my playlist included little nods to wine like ‘Red, Red Wine.’
Then, I try to pick a focus every week. I play with the sequence. Most students say, ‘We love your class. We don’t know where you’re going, but then when we get there, it all makes sense.’ It’s a creative flow with a point.
SBS: How has the rest of your wellness picture changed since focusing more on yoga?
SS: Yoga is at the crux of it all; yoga changed my body, as well as my relationship with it. It made my body strong and stable, and now I can say, ‘This is my shape. I can balance on one hand and my head, and I’m proud of that.’ Because of that, my eating has become intuitive. I’ve always had a naturally balanced diet (when I wasn’t restricting it when I was younger). I now know to honor my body, when to pull back, or when my body naturally wants more water or anything else like that. It’s helped me find balance.
Also, the more spiritual side of yoga has crept in through the years. I don’t have a daily meditation practice, but I feel like I can meditate anywhere. For example, I was walking on the beach, and I went into a meditative state watching the waves.
SBS: How did the idea of your own studio actually come to be?
SS: Anna and I met a year ago when she came to my class. I was an ambassador for her clothing line, Tanya-B. We started sharing ideas, and we were discussing how the clothes are more successfully sold when worn by teachers. She’s a teacher too.
At the time, all of my students had been asking me to come to the Hamptons since they didn’t have a similar class or teacher. Anna and I call our style interesting, dynamic, creative and sometimes irreverent. We like to move, have fun and laugh. We maintain alignment, but we’re not super disciplined like Ashtanga. We have whimsy and spirit, and our clients were telling us that didn’t exist in the Hamptons.
But then, when Anna and I first started chatting about a studio, we started with the idea of doing one in the city in Tribeca. We got all the investors and had a real estate agent. But with rents at 30,000 dollars a month, we realized we wouldn’t truly own the studio. It wasn’t worth it, so we chilled for a bit.
In the meantime, we got a phone call that a space in Montauk, formerly Love Yoga, had opened up. Anna and I drove up and realized it could actually happen. We had to sit and think long and hard to make sure we wanted to do it. But, we kept coming back to the fact that it was our dream. So we financed the whole thing together. Now, we’re equal partners, and we truly own this together.
SBS: How did you land on BYoga as the name?
SS: There’s this quote about how in aerodynamic terms a bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, but it goes on flying anyway. I had a meditation, and it came to me that I wanted to call it Damn Good Yoga or DGY. But my partner reminded me we don’t want to turn people off! But then we thought how in yoga we always say 'be still' or 'be peace'. And so we realized, be yoga. Plus the bumblebee quote gets a nod! In our logo, the hexagon is shaped like a honeycomb. Here, no matter what you’re built like, whatever your injuries are, we’ll make you feel like you landed.
SBS: What have you learned while opening BYoga?
SS: I learned I didn’t know you had to mop so much! Teaching-wise, I’ve found that it’s fun to allow my creativity to fly. When you work at a studio there are rules and sequences you have to follow. But since we have all senior teachers, we don’t have a structure that must be adhered to. They’ve been doing it forever.
Also, I’m now teaching in a different community, versus in NYC where they know my language. Here I have to un-sequence myself a bit and step back. I’m getting to know everyone. It’s been great to hear them say, ‘You never know what you’re going to get in Montauk, but it’s always a great class here.’ That’s damn good yoga.
SBS: How are you becoming a part of the Montauk community?
SS: We’re so proud to be part of Montauk, and we hope to affect change in the community. We’re doing a benefit with proceeds to a women’s domestic partnering council.
We’re also open year-round right now because we don’t want to be seasonal or leave after the supposed money making time. The fall schedule will be based on what the community wants, and we’ll go from there. We’re learning every day.
Sarrah’s Montauk Favorites:
Healthy Restaurant: Naturally Good
Splurge Restaurant: Duryea's Lobster Deck
Nightlife Spot: Montauket
Nightlife Activity: Liar’s Saloon for Friday night karaoke
Calming Activity: walking and napping on the beach or sailing
Fitness Studio: Soulcycle
Online Resource: YogaGlo for streaming classes at any time
Books: The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz, Where Are You Going: A Spiritual Journey by Swami Muktananda, anything by Rumi
Store: Nibi MTK at Atlantic Terrace or Sole East
Athleticwear: Juja Active in East Hampton and our retail section at BYoga
Sarrah’s SBS Mantra: Be Giving. All the energy you put out to others always returns tenfold. In building BYoga, the support has been incredible because giving without expectation creates this constant circle of energy of giving and receiving. At the end of the day, the world becomes a richer place with each act of giving and gratitude.
The best, zaniest part of being Sarrah: I get to teach the coolest, most interesting, insane and amazing humans in the world everyday. And they love me for my zany free spirit. I have a yoga family that makes my life so rich.