In 2014, Andrea Petterson was in a dark place. The Sound Beach resident had recently left her job as a landscape manager at Stony Brook University, just months after she accused her supervisor of sexual harassment and discrimination. At the time, she was in the beginning stages of filing a lawsuit against the school.
“I was at my lowest,” Petterson said, looking back. “That job was my life, my identity and everything I was. Suddenly, I felt very unsafe.”
That was, she said, until she found herself inside Gentle Strength Yoga studio, after a friend suggested she try and heal herself there. Owned and operated by John T. Mather Memorial Hospital nurse Christine Cirolli, the yoga studio opened in Mount Sinai in 2013, and moved permanently to Route 25A in Rocky Point in 2016.
Aside from offering regular classes, acupunctures and massages, the studio was designed to be a community-oriented refuge where “people can band together to help each other,” according to Cirolli.
“The second I stepped in, it just felt like home,” said Petterson, who was a student for two years before graduating from Long Island Yoga School in Great Neck and eventually becoming an instructor at the studio. “Christine really gave me an opportunity here to learn more about myself. She was the one that told me that ‘helping heals’ and that has stuck with me.”
This past Christmas, Petterson raised close to $3,400 by making and selling holiday ornaments in the studio, and then donated the funds to several families in need. She routinely teaches classes at Joseph A. Edgar Immediate School in Rocky Point and within Shoreham-Wading River school district.
She also said the studio has motivated her to start an organization that helps to empower young women.
Melissa McMullan, a longtime regular at the studio and a teacher in the Comsewogue School District, said the holiday fundraiser at the studio helped provide a happy holiday for one of her students, whose family lives in poverty. She referred to the studio as “a special place.”
“Christine really gave me an opportunity here to learn more about myself.”
— Andrea Petterson
“It’s the kind of place where people can come in and talk about what’s going on physically or mentally and everybody sort of works together to help each other,” she said. “At the studio, we learn that yoga is really the beginning of a lifelong practice of being connected with, and kind to members of our community.”
Cirolli, a Queens native and Suffolk Community College graduate, said she has been practicing yoga on and off since she was in high school, and always aimed for her studio to be inclusive for everybody.
“I feel blessed that people would trust me, that they are here in a place of caring and love,” Cirolli said.
She added that Gentle Strength hosts a free 12-step recovery yoga program for those affected by alcohol addiction.
“It’s just providing people with another tool to help in their recovery,” she said of the program. “It doesn’t require anyone to sign up or register, either, so if they wanted to come here and be completely anonymous, they can. I thought that was a really nice way to try and welcome people in here who might otherwise be steered away.”