After spending seven years in New York City, an Auburn native has moved back to re-root and launch her own fusion yoga studio and smoothie cafe.
When Erin Campagnola moved back about two years ago, she initially had an idea to open a green gym. She wanted to find a way to make life in Auburn work for her and — after living in a big city with yoga studios and coffee shops on every block — she felt like something was missing.
"It was a very cool idea, it felt super pie in the sky, but I just didn't want to let it go," she said. "I think leaving and coming back kind of gave me a perspective of, like, I get why people can get kind of crusty and grumpy here — but there is so much opportunity to make it what you want it to be. So I wanted to do that."
Zen Den, located at 16 Genesee St., combines a yoga studio with an organically and locally sourced smoothie, coffee and tea cafe.
"Having a smoothie cafe and a yoga studio, that idea was to have a duo-business where they work together to support each other to sustain in Auburn and appeal to multiple people," she said. "If you don't go yoga, you can still benefit from Zen Den being here. I just wanted to create a cool, relaxing space that multiple people can enjoy."
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The cafe's menu includes five different smoothies, a smoothie bowl, hot and cold brew coffee from Ithaca Coffee Co., loose leaf teas and tea lattes. Starting Jan. 2, cafe hours will be 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.
"I'm hoping that the people of Auburn will want to start their new year off with a healthier resolution and come down and support the cafe and get smoothies," Campagnola said.
While not a traditional green gym, Zen Den also hopes to promote conscious consumption by serving organic, whole foods and composting all the waste from food and scraps to help a Zen Den garden grow fruits and vegetables for the smoothie bar in the future.
Zen Den's first yoga class is scheduled for 6 a.m. Jan. 2. Campagnola said classes are offered at different times throughout the day and six other instructors are coming alongside her to offer a variety of classes.
"There are classes that anyone can go to — a power vinyasa to a gentle yoga or a chair yoga for an active older adult," Campagnola said. "My goal is to expand (yoga) to people that are in multiple walks of life and different stages of their health because it's beneficial for everyone to take it. People are curious about yoga, but they're also very nervous to go to a yoga class."
Some people may think they have to be able to touch their toes, or be able to do a headstand to do yoga, Campagnola said, but Zen Den will have something for everyone. People who try yoga for the first time will often tell her they feel more comfortable in their body, are less stiff and have better posture.
In addition to an array of more traditional yoga classes and children's yoga on Saturdays, Campagnola will also be offering Thai body work.
"It's like a traditional Thai massage and also incorporates yoga stretches," she said. "It works the energy lines of the body and it helps the body to relax and helps you to restore if you have scar tissue or trauma to the body at all. It's a very gentle way to help the body heal."
Another instructor, Mary Pasqua, has a dance background and will be offering a mat-based full-body fusion class that incorporates modalities of yoga, Pilates and barre, Campagnola said.
She also plans to offer a mid-day meditation class and has a space in Zen Den she is hoping a massage therapist may want to rent, which could add to what is offered.
Campagnola's journey to becoming a yoga instructor and first-time business owner began when she was working in New York City. The 27-year-old year old started to teach group fitness classes and soon found herself trying to figure out how she could make teaching fitness classes a career. She first became a personal trainer, and then went to Guatemala for a five-week intensive, immersive yoga certification program when she moved back to Auburn.
With a group of about 20 others, Campagnola lived and practiced yoga on a Guatemalan permaculture farm.
"It was a very unique yoga practice because you got to see, like, where your food was coming from, you lived on the farm, you practiced on the farm — it was very all-encompassing," Campagnola said. "So it kind of inspires this as well — being able to connect your whole foods, the earthiness and then your yoga practice."
For people curious about yoga, or who just want to check Zen Den out, Campagnola is hosting an open house Saturday afternoon. People can come sample smoothies, take a tour, ask questions, buy class packages or gift cards and more.
"I'd like to make this a very community-based studio and cafe for people that are doing local stuff," Campagnola said.
In the future she hopes to partner with local artists and farmers to sell local work and produce in her cafe. In addition to regularly scheduled classes, which can be found online at zenden-studio.com, she said that people can contact Zen Den to book a private yoga class or even a children's yoga birthday party.