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Serenity Now: Isabella Channing’s Yoga Studios Bring Calming Presence to the Hamptons and Beyond

Tuesday, August 23, 2016
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Between the vines of Channing Daughters Winery, the modern world with its cars, noise and overdevelopment gives way to silence and nature. Hidden here is a yoga studio and retreat created by Isabella, one-fourth of the Daughters for whom the Bridgehampton winery is named. Like her sisters, Isabella Channing’s story begins in these fields with her family, playing in The Shack, a hideaway on the property that inspired Channing’s yoga practice.

“The Shack is the synthesis of my life. It is about healing, beauty, nature, feminine strength and bohemian elegance,” says Channing. The grounds of the winery offer a look back in time. Here, visitors can still get a glimpse of the original Hamptons, a tranquil haven that is disappearing fast. Channing, at the center of the sanctuary, is focused on preserving this part of herself and her family.

“I am a country girl who was raised in the city,” says Channing, an internationally recognized yoga instructor who first fell in love with practicing while living in her mother’s native Uruguay. Now, the Shack operates in both of Channing’s home bases—outdoors at the winery, and on the beaches of José Ignacio, on Uruguay’s southern coast.

Channing’s father is the late Walter Channing, an artist and business magnate who was once famously married to actress Stockard Channing. Her mother, the former Rosina Secco, was Walter Channing’s second wife. The two met in New York in the early ’70s. Her father moved there from Boston after graduating from Harvard University undergrad and business school. Her mother’s nonconservative ways and gypsy style made her restless in her native Montevideo, Uruguay, where she grew up during the South American Belle Epoque.

Together, the couple traveled the world, spending time in the south of France. They settled on the East End of Long Island, where they fell in love with the land, ocean and small, sleepy villages.

“My father was a lover of art, wine, and nature, and he found an opportunity to buy failed potato crops north of the highway in Bridgehampton in the mid-’70s,” says Channing. “It was atypical at that time to venture so far from the beachfront homes, but his fervent need to be close to land, trees, soil and things that grew was undeniable and steadfast,” she recalls.

Over the course of the next five years the family acquired 120 acres of farmland. In 1982, inspired by their time in France, they planted the first grape vines. In 1997, the winery opened as an official business under the name of Channing Daughters Winery. It was a place where her father worked on his statues, as well. Today the garden is home to a large sculpture of an upside-down tree, the rainbow pencil fence and a 50-foot-tall piece of a woman’s legs.

“My father placed all the land in the sculpture garden under preservation through the Peconic Land Trust so that it can never be built upon and its essence can never be destroyed,” Channing explains.

When the family first acquired the land, the only structure on the property was an old bunker-type shed out in the thick of the woods. They named it the Shack. “It was my sanctuary,” Channing recalls. “I grew up as a child taking long walks out to the Shack with my sister, where we would spend endless summers playing magic and make-believe games within its walls. As I got older it became my compass, the only place I felt truly at home in the world. We’d take guitars, firewood, candles and bottles of wine and with a small group of intimate friends spend summers and harvest seasons creating magic and love and art. It was a coming of age for everyone during that time. The Shack was a legend and we were nothing short of a tribe. And the Shack was our secret—our world away from the world,” she says.

When Isabella was in her 20s, she went down to Uruguay. She ended up staying for three years, becoming a yoga teacher and working with a healer in an intensive training program, as well as studying traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and Eastern bodywork.

After returning to New York City, Channing enrolled in Columbia University’s undergraduate program in psychology. She studied integrative nutrition, continuing to look for the common thread among all healing practices. Four years later, she decided to go back to Uruguay, settling in José Ignacio, the last small town of Punta del Este. With a stretch of pristine wild beach, the small, rustic seaside town comes alive and its population swells during the high season of December to March, the South American summer.

“When I happened upon the old surf shop in town that had been cleared out, I knew I had found my spot—a wooden shack two blocks from the beach with raw wood floors and enormous windows. I had no doubt in my mind that this was where the new Shack would rise from the ashes like the phoenix. I would create this sanctuary, this rustic beautiful space in the Southern Hemisphere,” she says.

The enterprise was an immediate success, and this winter marks its fourth season. “I’m always surprised at how many Hamptonites I see in the studio year after year,” she says. “But it is usually this special breed of Hamptonite, someone who enjoys a slightly more off-the-beaten-path experience of life,” she adds.

Today the Shack Yoga continues to evolve in both hemispheres—half the year on the beautiful beaches of Uruguay, and half the year right on the vineyard in Bridgehampton.

The Shack Uruguay offers open-level vinyasa yoga classes as well healing sessions and retreats year-round. The Shack Yoga Bridgehampton partnered with John Seelye at One Ocean Yoga to create a sanctuary to practice yoga under a beautiful all-weather tent overlooking the expanse of green vineyards and the sculpture garden.

Hosting yoga among the vines is a trend that has taken root on the East End, with wineries across the North and South Forks offering the tranquil experience. “We were definitely the first ones to do wine and yoga,” Channing says. “I can’t help but think we had a golden idea all those years ago.”

photographs by Neil Dawson

hair and makeup by Liz Olivier


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