At the corner of Mack and Fischer, the tiny yellow building that houses a new yoga studio reads "Car Wash," the first clue that this isn't your average namaste spot. It's pouring outside, and Samantha Jameson, founder of Santo Santo, stands in the studio’s black stucco entryway, flashing a giddy grin as she throws her lanky arms around each new guest.
Today’s 9:30 a.m. class is called Buti. It’s the first trial run of DJ-enhanced practices at the studio, which opened on Nov. 25. Jameson promises the unconventional offering will be wild and communal, and that participants will sweat their asses off. It’s the only class at the studio that’s done in front of mirrors, with the teacher letting loose alongside students.
The class space at Santo Santo is cocoon-like, cozy, and full of light — a tiny house for yoga. Twelve women and their rubber mats just fit comfortably inside, fingertips brushing briefly during cool-down stretches. The high, industrial ceiling is painted bright white to match the walls, and long, red LED color therapy feeds a little fire into the room. Two garage doors, despite the rain, let in outdoor rays. In warmer months, Jameson says, they’ll be thrown open and folks can practice both inside and out.
“Nobody wants to spend a beautiful summer day inside a yoga studio,” she says. “I don’t want to, if I’ve got to teach class.” Having this seasonal option is something she’s surprised there isn’t more of at daily-run studios. For a girl who grew up in Troy, she’s got a surprising amount of beach-town blood. This comes from years spent living, working, and learning in Tucson, Mexico, and L.A.
There are familiar terms to seasoned yogis in the class schedule at Santo Santo, such as vinyasa and slow flow. And then there are offerings like Kirtan Mash-up and Buti. The latter is all about letting go. It mixes tribal dance, yoga, and plyometrics. Class-goers stomp the floor and clap their hands. When they get brave, they whoop aloud. They sway, jump, and flow in unison to the pulsing DJed beats.
“What a way to start the day,” says Buti rookie Ashley Flohr. “It’s very like, primal and intuitive, and fun. I didn’t realize I wanted to yell so much. When her voice carries (Jameson), it reverberates through your body.”
Jameson’s voice isn't the only sound participants feel. Live music is a part of Wednesday classes and the feature of Friday nights at Santo Santo, courtesy of Rocksteady Disco’s Peter Croce.
Today he wears a carefree air and a T-shirt that reads, "God came intot he world through a vulva." He says, at the end of class, not to sweat how hard it was because Buti is the most challenging class at the studio. He’s excited about the full-on dance parties the studio will host on Fridays from 7:30-9:30 p.m. That’s when the bare feet get off the mats, the space goes black, and the colored lights are everywhere.
“We are literally a dance house as much as we are a yoga studio,” Jameson says. Friday nights offer both a high-energy early stop-in to club hoppers or the main event for those who want to “go ham” and still get up in the morning.
This hard-core pairing of dance and yoga is a unique aspect to Santo Santo. Jameson, who teaches 15 of the 25 classes held a week, says she incorporates dance in every single one. Whether it’s 5-10 minutes of freestyle movement in the vinyasa class Move, or Kirtan Mash-up, which mixes movement with chanting, song, and meditation.
Creating a space for free and unpolished movement is also key.
“In yoga, it’s become all about perfectionism,” Jameson says. “We have to be perfect before we even step into the studio.” Whether it was Instagram or designer yoga gear, the distraction of appearance has stolen what the practice is about, she says. “There’s no good and bad in yoga. Yoga is your soul, your body talking. No one can say anything is right or wrong. Nobody. Just you.”
“We use the physical practice of yoga as our vessel to get to somewhere else, somewhere deeper,” she says. “That’s kind of what we're missing here, at least in Detroit. If you want to explore a different realm of your soul, your body, how do you do it? Unless you've got a shaman and an eighth of mushrooms, we don’t know how to do it.”
“So I'm really trying to teach people how to tap in, listen, explore, and just find out that there's a whole ’nother body and realm within them.”
Just like there was a whole ’nother life for the little yellow building that was formerly a car wash. Jameson collaborated on the vision for the studio with partner Philip Kafka, the developer known for reimaging spaces from raw materials, industrial shops, and abandoned lots, as seen in the restaurants Takoi in Corktown and Magnet in Core City, which is also where his True North Quonset hut community is located. Santo Santo was designed by Ishtiaq Rafiuddin of Undecorated, who was also involved with Takoi and Magnet designs.
When Kafka brought her to see the tiny building in West Village, Jameson knew immediately it was the one. She didn’t need to look at the other nearby and Core City options. There was something about the yellow and the bubbles, the easy parking, and the grassy field surrounding it. It was playful and too bizarre to not work.
“There's a church across the street, and every Sunday you can just hear them singing and getting down. It’s so amazing,” she says. Every other Sunday, at 11 a.m., “church” is held at the studio through the nonreligious Kirtan Mash-up class; its vocals, singing bowls, and sermonic drums pair with movement.
Soon the studio plans to open its medicine cabinet, offering ayurvedic medicine consultations, reiki healing sessions, and human design readings, the latter which Jameson describes as “if your Myers-Briggs (personality type) and your horoscope had a baby.”
Ayurveda, one of the world’s oldest holistic healing systems, is based on the belief that key elements found in the universe also make up the body: space, air, fire, water, and earth. Through the body’s five senses, these elements require a delicate balance for optimal health. Aromatherapy is one part of that balance, while color and music therapy are others. Jameson creates herb-infused oils in small batches, which will be a signature and client-tailored part of Santo Santo’s medicinal offerings. The studio has no intentions of selling retail.
The name Santo is Spanish for saint. And “santosha is one of the niyamas of yoga,” she says. “It means ‘contentment from within.' So whatever I need I already possess, and I don't need to look externally for anything.”
In terms of yoga instruction that’s focused on form and alignment, Santo Santo won’t be for those who seek a more traditional practice. But that's not what Jameson is going for.
“We really are a studio that is for music, movement, and medicine,” Jameson says. “We’re here to give you a space to feel free, to dance and sing, and just get wild.”
Memberships are $120 a month, single classes are $19, packages range from $160-$280 a month. Friday night dance parties are open to the public at $20, and $10 for members.
Santo Santo is located at 8700 Mack Ave. For more information, go to santosantodetroit.com.