Neutralize! 3-hour Vinyasa with Steven Cheng

ASTAVAKRASANA
Steven Cheng

The new year is almost here — time to start those resolutions. For those resolved to practice more yoga, how about duration instead of frequency?

Steven Cheng (www.simhayoga.com), a student of Dharma Mittra, teaches a three-hour vinyasa class that should detox half of January. The next one is this Saturday, January 2nd.

I went last month, at Steven’s invitation. I love Dharma, and had never even HEARD of a three hour class, so I jumped at the chance. But in the days leading up I had all kinds of fears. A “Dharma-Mittra-inspired” class usually means “lots of headstands, side planks, and splits.” My back hurt, my throat hurt, I was out of shape… I came up with all SORTS of justifications to cancel. But finally it was less than 24 hours away, and we all know you can’t cancel on less than 24 hours notice, so I was stuck.

When I got to BodiBalance I was glad I’d made it. Steven is cheery and welcoming, and the studio is spacious and clean. But, it’s a dance studio, so the whole front wall is mirrored (like a Bikram studio). This can help with your alignment — oh look, my shoulders are uneven— or just stir up your self-consciousness. So, for an instant advanced-level challenge, tell yourself not to fuss with your hair or outfit for the WHOLE CLASS.

A few breaths, a short chant, and we were ready to go. But unlike Dharma, who might teach Full Splits as the third or fourth pose, Steven took a nice long time to warm us up. We did seated shoulder, neck and spinal stretches, and then a long slow series of standing poses. My legs were BURNING as we arched back and forth from Warrior II to Reverse Warrior to Side Angle III to Reverse Warrior and on. My shoulders quickly chimed in on the third vinyasa variation, involving a bent-knee swoop from Plank to Up Dog.

Be prepared to hold Down Dog for nine or more breaths (or bring yourself into Child’s Pose). I felt sorry for the self-proclaimed new beginner in the back (I do not love Down Dog even after 10,000 of them), but she seemed to know when to take a break when she needed it. The class is intermediate level, meaning you can modify up or down, but it’s classical style, with less alignment instruction than Iyengar or Anusara, so you’ll need to know the beginners’ variations.

Steven called a break at 75 minutes — that’d be a full class in many studios, but we were just getting started. I felt surprisingly relaxed and happy. My achy back felt great (my only goal was to lift up out of it for the whole class). We counterposed really well, bringing the spine back to neutral after each twist or bend.

The middle part of class offered more challenging poses: Tripod Headstand, Bound Revolved Half Moon, Side Crow, etc. Variations abounded. We did many that I’d never seen: Dragonfly, Dharma’s Twist, and a Boat / Compass variation that Steven made up. It’s always nice to have a new pose, to bring you back into the mind of the first-timer. And the presentation is friendly; you can give them a shot or stay where you are. (Like many advanced classes, the latter option is actually more difficult.)

If you have bad knees or a bad back, be sure you know how to protect them. Steven gives a lot more alignment instruction than many classical teachers, but it’s a creative class so you’ll need to listen to your body.

The last part of class worked us into some deeper hip openers and back bends. Steven offered a Shoulder Stand with legs extended; I forget what it’s called. We did Lizard variations, Full Splits, and Reclined Compass; Half Bridge, Full Wheel, and Reclined Twists. I was definitely ready for the long Corpse pose.

Three hours had gone by, but it seemed like a totally normal length of time to practice. Steven leads the class at a nice pace and progression, offering poses with humility and playfulness. It reminded me of the slow, challenging teachers’ practice led by Vanessa Sanchez at Atmananda / The Wat: halfway between led class and solo practice. You meet a couple new yoga friends, and do a bit more than you would alone. As Steven says, “I am just a passionate yogi who wants to share his love of yoga. A superyogi I am not, but I give it straight from my heart.”

Class takes place at BodiBalance on the first Saturday of each month, from 2-5pm. Bring your own mat (and/or block, strap, towel, etc) — BodiBalance is a dance studio, so they don’t stock yoga props. Or showers. (There is a water fountain.) Wear your most comfortable yoga pants, cause three hours is way too long to be fussing with your outfit. And bring the love!

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