Category Archives: Classes

Beginners Vinyasa with Leigh Evans at Greenhouse Holistic

Leigh Evans
Leigh Evans

Whew! I headed to a 60-minute pilates class at Greenhouse that turned out to be a 90-minute vinyasa class with 20-second holds on most poses. It was “basics”, but I left with wobbly legs and a happy head.

Leigh taught this class, and I was really impressed with its arrangement.

First of all, she had everyone practice the beginners’ variations of poses as a warm up (e.g. Side Plank with one knee down) so that later, when she called out the full pose, she could just say “or do the beginners’ variation we did earlier.”

Secondly, she stayed really focused and used several different poses to illustrate a major principle of alignment. So we did Lunge, focusing on tucking the tail, rotating the back thigh in and up, straightening the back leg. Then, Warrior I with those same adjustments. Later, Dancer with the same adjustments. It was a really good way to ingrain a proper habit: slowly, repeatedly, in varied contexts. At a slow pace everyone, no matter their experience level, can do some work.

The steady, intense class turned out to be just what I needed. And the alignment details were great. Thanks Leigh!

Kundalini with Siri Sat Kaur at Golden Bridge New York

Kundalini teacher Siri Sat Kaur at Golden Bridge
Kundalini teacher Siri Sat Kaur at Golden Bridge

Today I finally went to Golden Bridge, the kundalini studio in SoHo that I’d heard so much about. It’s a branch of the hugely popular studio in LA.

The space was less immense than I expected; it’s a cozy townhouse with one classroom per floor (and retail on the ground level), fireplaces and couches skirting the classroom. I felt really at home.

Siri Sat Kaur taught a great class, peppered with a lot of information. Kundalini tends to give you a lot more of the WHY behind the poses. I’ll paraphrase her comments.

We started off with sithali pranayam, a cooling breath where you roll your tongue into a U and inhale, then exhale with closed mouth through the nose. It’s good for the hot season, or amusing children.

Then we did a spinal warmup similar to the one I do in the mornings:

  • seated breath of fire with arms in a V above head, fingertips curled (ego eradicator)
  • seated spinal flexion with hands on ankles, then hands on knees (stretching lower, then middle back)
  • seated spinal twists with hands on shoulders (sitting on heels)

Next were the pelvic exercises. The major triangle is formed by our root, sacral and navel chakras. When this part of the body is in balance, the whole body can balance.

  • long deep breathing in reverse table top (hands facing back, torso parallel to floor)
  • breath of fire in wheel (surprisingly difficult, I ran out of breath a lot)
  • breath of fire in stretch pose (on back, stretch head, hands and feet towards the front of the room)
  • long deep breathing with alternating forward bends (standing with feet medium wide, hands together over head, hinging from hips to touch hands in front of each foot)

Then we did some heart opening poses. The heart is the center of love, but also of fear, compassion, and right action. When you move from the heart, you will never go wrong. The heart is connected to the thymus gland, which regulates your immune system.

  • long deep breathing in cat-cow, with leg extension on the inhale and knee-to-nose on the exhale (burned like the Buns of Steel I did as a teenager)
  • sitting with arms at 90Ί out to sides, clenching fingers like a cat, with breath of fire

Finally, some relaxation and meditation:

  • five minutes in corpse
  • ten minutes sitting with hands in front of heart, palms facing out, index fingers touching and thumbs touching to make a triangle, other fingers folded to the center of the palm

I’m forgetting some poses, but it was a well-balanced class. I love how kundalini integrates asana, prayanama, and meditation into one. It doesn’t give you the stretched-out-workout feeling, you have to keep up vinyasa for that, but I get a serious happy buzz the evening or morning after a difficult class because it balances the glands and hormones. Strange but true.

The founder of the LA studio, Gurmukh, is teaching a couple workshops this weekend. Then she’ll be in LA until October. I want to go, but they’re $55 each, so I’m on the fence. Which is not so comfy.

Why Do You Practice?

Yesterday I took Julianna’s 10am class at Greenhouse, and only three people showed up. It was probably the fewest students I’d ever seen in a popular teacher’s class; her Monday night class is always completely full. The vibe was completely different. It was not as warm or energized, but it felt so personal, since she had time to adjust each one of us freely, and you knew that she was watching you. Plus, it was so nice not to worry about kicking someone in the head. It sucks that studios are forced to squeeze as many students as possible into each class, since it’s so hard to keep a studio afloat. (One place I knew in SoHo, with 3 practice rooms, had rent of $17,000 a month — and that was 4-5 years ago.) They do it in a kind way — wanting to allow as many students to practice as possible — but I definitely feel like the teachers who give up group classes altogether are justified. There’s no way to keep 30+ students safe, or pass on the individuality of yoga.

Anyways. Her opening talk asked us, “Why do you practice?” This stirred my brain, as I’m constantly persuading myself to practice more, in remembrance of the clear perfection I felt after 7 semesters of rowing practice 6–8x/week. Many, many mornings I did not want to get out of bed. I would be so tired that I had to hold onto the bookshelf by my alarm clock to prevent myself from bailing. I slept in spandex so I could go straight into the car. The whole team was crazy. We had multi-layer blisters on all fingers, stopped our periods cause we ate so little, and watched the best of our rowers vomit from exertion. Your body and mind scream “NO!” but there is something deep down underneath that pushes on. It’s part masochism, and part meditative addiction. Because after you’ve rowed for about two years, and you’ve memorized the physical motion so the “hands up hips back arms in” monologue disappears, you are focused only on the effort of each stroke. And when the boat is in sync, and you’re focused, it is such a feeling of energy and drive that you can’t get over it.

Anyways. I don’t think I’ll ever be in that condition again. The addictive feeling now is clean and clear, a tunnel of breath. A few times while sitting, I must have had perfect positioning, because my breath seemed louder, and I could feel it from the top of my head to the tip of my tail. Hissing like a snake, pushing downward through guts and hips. Whooshing out, pulling the stomach and ribs in and up to the sky. Sizzling like a sparkler floating down and up. That feeling, more than any words or rationale I can think of to describe it, pulls me to practice.

So how do we turn that attraction into habit? It’s hard to have the iron discipline to practice, yet maintain the softness required to get the benefits beyond miscellaneous exercise. I’ve been thinking that yoga studios should have semester-long classes, where you sign up for the Monday night class for three months, instead of just that night. I committed to crew, and they forced me to show up and pushed me to go further. On my own, I would make it to the track a couple times a week but that was it. With yoga, I’ve learned to relax and enjoy myself a little more, and then the frequency of practice goes up, all by myself. But again, I felt most clear and relaxed when I was forcing myself to practice yoga every day. Why is that?

POSTSCRIPT: My yogi tea fortune said “Where there is love, there is no question.” Reminder to love the work.

Breathing with J. Brown at Abhyasa Yoga

J. Brown in his Vinyasa days

This morning I got up early (9:15) and went to J.Brown’s class at Abhyasa. It’s the new studio on Metropolitan and Leonard. I really liked the essays he posted on the studio’s site; like me, he’s looking for something more than just acrobatics and athletic achievement of poses. (I should say for me, in addition to the athletics — see previous entries on the value of sweat.)

That something is breathing. Even if you’ve mastered the practice of keeping ujayi breath through each and every pose and transition — not an easy task — I learned today that you can still adjust the breath itself. It’s like practicing internal alignment: feeling out the strength, location, duration, and aftereffects of the pressure from your diaphragm/lungs.

This clarifies the infuriating phrase “go deeper into the pose.” (What does that mean??? I always wondered. We’re not spelunking…)

For example: as we lay in a Simple Reclined Twist (on the back, knees together, twisting to the left with both shoulders on the floor), J. had me inhale and hold for a brief moment. I felt the breath gathered in front of my shoulder blades, creating a slight tension. As I exhaled, I felt the tension release along with the breath. This was new.

He explained that stretching does not always release tension; many people are very flexible but still very tense. (Ahem.) Breathing releases tension. Approaching the poses halfway, and allowing room to breathe, will lead to a more transformative pose than going 110% with every muscle and nerve.

Alignment instructions were very good, although different than most classical classes. (e.g: Shoulders slightly up and back, instead of back and down, to wring out the upper back. Elbows slightly bent out in Chaturanga, for the same reason.) You can tell he has studied Vinyasa and Iyengar. He talks a lot; if you like instructions you will surely get them.

I am curious if this approach can be applied to a faster class. I feel that there’s this neo-Hatha slowness going around, όber-Vinyasa sticking around, and a big chasm in between. Today’s class was Open level, but it was the same speed (and basically the same sequence) that he taught in the Beginners’ class in the park. (This might have been for my benefit, as he really rolled out the red-carpet-welcome-mat new student treatment for me.) My guess: eventually, by starting slowly and achieving breath awareness at each level, the pace can eventually pick up to cardio level. Crew and dance have taught me that it’s better to memorize something slowly and correctly, rather than quickly and wrong, so that’s kind of the approach I’m going for with deeper breathing.

Prana Yoga with Shana at Greenhouse Holistic

Tonight it was Prana Yoga at Greenhouse. Strange class — we chanted a chakra mantra 1–3 times at the beginning of each pose. As in “stretch your arm out and down into Triangle, exhaling ‘Lam Lam Lam’ as you go.” Each pose is supposed to activate a chakra along the spine, so I assume we were saying the mantras corresponding to the chakra activated. (For more information, look up “seed mantras.”) I read yesterday (in Jill Camera’s Yoga Fan) that there are basic correlations, I hope I remember them correctly:

  • Standing Poses activate the Root Chakra
  • Forward Bends activate the Sacral Chakra
  • Twists activate the Navel Chakra
  • Back Bends activate the Heart Chakra
  • Arm Balances activate the Throat Chakra
  • Balance Poses activate the Third Eye
  • Inversions activate the Crown Chakra

From tail to skull, the chakra mantras are Lam, Vam, Ram, Yam, Ham, Om, Om. Sound vibration is also supposed to help your glands — according to Beth Beigler they prefer gentle touch, like the landing of a fly — so the chanting could also help the neuroendocrine system.

In any case, I had a very deep final relaxation. Shana, subbing for Julianna, had us hold each pose for 7-8 breaths, and only then do the chanting, so it was a slow, muscle-burning class at times.

Good Classes

Last night I went to Amanda’s “Sweat & Flow” class at Greenhouse. It’s appropriately named, but not nearly as vacuous as the name might seem. (Honestly, sweating is one of the reasons that vinyasa is such a valuable form of yoga — it gets the junk out of your system, and heats your muscles up enough to stretch properly.) She has a few unique transitions that she uses frequently:

  • Warrior I —> turn 180Ί to Humble Warrior —> turn 180Ί to Warrior II
  • Down Dog —> right foot forward to Lunge —> right hand up to Revolved Side Angle variation —> left foot and right hand forward to Forward Bend

Her classes are usually quick, but not rapid. Meaning, the poses are held for 5 short breaths maximum, but she’s not calling everything auctioneer-speed where you are racing to keep up. She’s also pretty good about calling the breathing with consistent and realistic timing. I always feel great after this class (I’ve been twice).

This morning, still sore, I went to the first of the free/by donation yoga classes in McCarren Pool, taught by J. Brown of Abhyasa Yoga (a new center on Metropolitan). It was a beginners’ class, and he talked a bit much for my taste, but I liked how he made us practice Ocean Breath (ujayi) at the beginning of each and every pose. His focus is on the therapeutic value of yoga, when it’s done with mindful breathing, kind of a reaction against the uber-athletic step-aerobics-style vinyasa that’s so popular in New York.

We started late, going for maybe an hour, and did:

  • Reclined Breathing, with knees bent, arms raising up and down w/the breath
  • Easy Reclined Twist, with knees together
  • 5 rounds Sun Salutes, stepping back into Down Dog and then straight forward into Up Dog
  • Warrior II
  • Triangle
  • Extended Side Angle, with arm on knee
  • Forward Angle, arms and torso raising up and down w/the breath, before holding
  • Tree Pose, focusing on smiling/chuckling if/when you fall
  • Single Leg Lifts
  • Half Bridge, 2x, with Wheel as an option on the second
  • Reclined Spinal Twist
  • Corpse

It was a nice class for my sore muscles, the breathing really helped, and perfect for the stiffness of the morning. They gave out free class cards, and I’ve been meaning to check out the studio, so I will be there soon.