“I didn’t really have much of an interest in yoga,” Masumi says, “My mom’s yoga seemed a little mild for my taste, because I was younger and I wanted something that would stand in as a workout.”
Masumi Goldman lives in a picturesque little town in northern New Jersey with narrow streets and snow on the trees. She teaches hot yoga at a studio near her house, and posts photos of her practice online almost every day. Yoga is a huge part of her life now, but it wasn’t always that way.
When Masumi was in her mid-thirties, she was re-introduced to yoga through her friend Laura Kasperzak. Laura had been on Instagram for a few months, posting photos of her practice, and suggested yoga to Masumi as a possible remedy for her joint pain.
“I had never seen yoga poses like this,” Masumi recalls. “I always thought that yoga was simply for relaxation and for stretching, but this wasn’t just touching your toes. There were very interesting arm balances and handstands and things that I’d never seen anyone do. They were beautiful and they required a tremendous amount of strength and flexibility.”
Masumi began following Laura’s daily photos, trying to match the complicated postures and balances that she saw. Soon, a practice began to develop.
“I was using Instagram almost like a daily diary of my progress. Just getting into one pose, and then I wondered, could I get into another pose? But of course, the body doesn’t allow you to just pop into a pose. You have to do a lot of stretching and exercising and heating of the body ahead of time, so before I realized it, I wasn’t just popping into a single pose, I was practicing on my mat for twenty to thirty minutes before trying the pose.”
Masumi and Laura both got certified to teach yoga at the same time and began teaching in New Jersey, but they wanted to spread their love of yoga and fitness to a larger audience. They started Two Fit Moms to do just that, posting recipes, fitness challenges, and yoga photos to a rapidly growing audience.
“We specifically chose that name. Not two ‘ripped’ moms, it’s two ‘fit’ moms, because fit is a state of mind. It’s wellness. We wanted to empower others, regardless of age, because if we could do it, as mothers, then you could do it too. We knew if we set up a website, and we put up tutorials, maybe some videos, some articles and recipes and nutrition tips, we could reach a much larger audience.”
Two Fit Moms grew quickly, attracting people of all ages and backgrounds who were inspired by Laura and Masumi’s message that fitness was attainable to anyone, no matter their circumstances. Before long, they were posting photos of acrobatic yoga poses to tens of thousands of people.
Suddenly, in September of 2014, Masumi’s yoga practice was forced to the back burner. Her young daughter required a kidney transplant. Complication after complication developed. Masumi was in the hospital for months, sleeping on a sofa.
At the time, Masumi was dealing with her own health issues: occasionally, her joints would flare-up with severe arthritis, from what she thought was an auto-immune disorder. She had consulted with specialists, and had always been able to reduce the pain with a strict diet and breathing exercises to reduce stress.
“I was sleeping on a couch in the hospital for weeks on end, and my hands became useless, to the point where I couldn’t even open up my fingers to put my hair in a ponytail. That’s how crippled I became, so what yoga really did was it stripped my ego.”
After her daughter’s condition stabilized and she returned home, the pain didn’t go away. Masumi was no longer able to do the athletic inversions and arm balances that she’d been so interested in before. She later found out that what caused her pain was Lyme disease, not an auto-immune disorder, and the pain hasn’t subsided since.
“I can’t even use my hands. I can’t put any weight onto my hands. Downward-facing dog is a struggle on many days. And if I became so attached to my physical practice, I’d be in a state of depression right now. I would allow it to define my worth.
“So my yoga practice really, really evolved from having to be in the hospital with her, and it turned from being very, very physical, lots of arm balances, practicing forearm stands and inversions to suddenly turning to breath work and learning how to meditate. Today, I really understand what people mean when they say that yoga is a moving meditation.”
It was a harsh transition, but Masumi has embraced her new practice. She notes, with a smile, the irony of rejecting the calm relaxation that her mother sought from yoga, only to end up in the same state of mind some 30 years later.
“One thing that I’ve learned about yoga is that you’ve got to live in the present moment. If I’m having a bad day and I can’t put any weight onto my hands, I do a lot of modifications. If I happen to have a lot of energy, then maybe I’ll do all of my downward-facing dogs just on my forearms. You’ve got to do what you can, when you can, because everyday’s not going to be a good day.”
“All you can do is make a decision, right here, right now, today, about what you’re going to do. Are you going to make a healthy choice for yourself? And if not, you can’t drive yourself crazy two or three days later. You have to make a decision, what is the best thing for your body, for your mind, in this moment, and be happy with it. All you have is the present.”
When Masumi’s kids get home from school, she makes them popcorn and sets them to work on their homework. The snowy house brightens with noise. She smiles, thinking back. “I don’t think I’m the same person today as I was a couple of years ago,” she says. “I’ve turned to meditation. I’ve turned to yin yoga. I’ve turned to breathing exercises. These are all things that I probably would have never even considered doing had I never had to go to the hospital with my daughter, had I never had a flare-up of my joints. I probably would still only be interested in doing the very, very physical aspects of yoga, and that’s all changed for me now.
“And I’m actually happy about the journey, because I’m learning more and more about yoga. I’m learning more about myself. And I now see that yoga really can be a lifelong practice, because there are just so many different forms that can really fit any part of your life.”
“If I had gone to a yoga studio twenty years ago, and I’d walked into class, and they were chanting and om-ing and doing crazy breathing, I may not have gone back.”
Laura is 38, but her bubbly attitude and smiling face could belong to someone two decades younger. She wears bright colors and talks quickly, smiling and laughing throughout her classes in the small muay thai studio where she teaches yoga.
Laura’s unique style of teaching reflects her demeanor. Her studio is a windowless room with hardwood floors, tucked on the second floor of a kickboxing gym in Lodi, New Jersey. The room only holds about 20 people, elbow to elbow, with scarcely enough room for Laura to walk between mats. Once class starts and people start to warm up, everyone in the room is smiling.
A far cry from the quiet, almost reverential tone of some yoga classes, Laura’s practice is filled with jokes and laughter. Classes have names like “Dude, Where’s My Core?” and “Crows and Hoes,” a cheeky reference to its focus on arm balances and spread-legged poses. Laura’s soundtrack foregoes nature sounds or soothing acoustic music for Jay-Z and Justin Bieber, and she encourages her students to twerk in Downward Dog, mixing fun with fitness throughout her sequences.
“I like to have a pretty laid-back attitude when I teach,” Laura says. “I like for my students to just have fun in class. If they’re smiling, if they’re laughing, if they’re connecting with each other, it makes my job just so much better. I like to play rap music in my class. I like to get them moving. I like to have them dance. It just seems less intimidating than going into a class and chanting, which a lot of people won’t be prepared for if they’ve never gone to yoga.”
Even the studio itself is a break from the usual mold. There’s no membership available; classes are a flat $5 each. Most of her students are regulars, returning again and again, but even for new students and drop-ins, the idea is to keep the intimidation factor as low as possible.
Laura lives in a cozy townhome in northern New Jersey with her husband and two kids. There are toys scattered around the living room, and a small back porch looking out on to a wide swath of grass backed by tall, slender trees. Every day, Laura props her camera up against the door frame and takes a few photos of herself on the porch, usually in an arm balance of some kind, which she sends out to over a million followers on Instagram.
Laura started practicing yoga when she was 19, but at the time, it was little more than exercise to her. “When I first started, it was definitely purely physical. It was just to stay in shape, to keep my flexibility going. It kind of went with my other workouts. I was doing a lot of cardio at the time, weight training, and everything else just to stay in shape through my twenties.”
As Laura has evolved from a teenage gymnast to a certified yoga teacher and mother of two, her practice has changed with her. It’s still a workout for her, but it’s also her quiet time, helping her ground herself before the chaos of the day. More than anything, though, it’s her way to connect with her students.
Laura is also one of the eponymous co-founders of Two Fit Moms, the lifestyle and fitness site Laura started with her long-time friend Masumi Goldman in an effort to spread their love of yoga and fitness to a wider audience. “The goal of Two Fit Moms is to keep inspiring people of all ages. You don’t have to be twenty to be healthy and fit. I think that, at any age, our motto really is ‘It’s never too late.’” Now, Two Fit Moms has tens of thousands of followers, of all ages, on Instagram, Facebook, and its website. They post recipes, fitness tips, and of course, yoga poses. For Laura, Two Fit Moms is another way to make sure that yoga and a fit lifestyle are available to everyone.
“For me, yoga means community. Being a teacher at a co-op that isn’t your typical studio. Being able to bring people together of different backgrounds, of different workout areas, because I get a lot of kickboxers, I get a lot of older people, I get a lot of men, I get a lot of women. It makes me so proud that I can bring people together and that they become friends. It just continues to build onto that sense of belonging somewhere and having someone to support you.”
“I think if you’ve never done yoga, and you don’t know anything about it, and you want to get a little more flexible, yoga can be very off-putting to people. And some yogis who come into my class might not like my class, because it’s too relaxed. I think there really is a yoga teacher out there for everyone. I think there’s a yoga, a style for everyone. It’s just about finding it.”