Last week I took two great classes at a cute little studio in Williamsburg, Namaste. They have been around for a year or two now, and I’ve been meaning to go by; classes are by donation and I’ve heard good reviews. Finally, the return of my shoulder pain overrode my normal vinyasa class, considered a jog instead, but finally opted for something new. Qigong!
Erin, the qigong teacher, has studied it for eight or nine years, and did her teacher training with a senior teacher who’s since moved back to Japan and named Erin as her East Coast heir. She gave me a great overview of its principles. (I knew it was something like tai chi… slow movements focused on moving or storing energy… but didn’t know what actions to expect. She said they’re similar; tai chi is supposedly a bit more active.) Qigong is the basis of all martial arts. You’re gathering energy from the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west), each of which relate to an organ, and a secondary organ, and the elements (earth, water, fire, metal). For example, when we face south, our kidneys face north, which brings water to the kidneys. Studying qigong, you’ll learn these relationships in more detail, but for my first class she suggested just following the movements — they’re healthy even if you don’t know what you’re doing.
We started with a short meditation, and then a nice self-massage of our arms, legs, hands, feet, and head. Brisk strokes down the outsides of our legs/arms, and up the insides, cleared any energy blockages. Thumps across our muscles and joints did the same.
We began the exercises in a wide-legged stance, dropping the hips back as if a primordial tail were our third leg of support. We circled the hips in figure eights, bringing focus to the primary energy center three fingers-width below our navels: the Dan Tien. Throughout class we returned to this spot in name and with gesture, letting its energy flow down to the perineum, run up the spinal cord, and split across the arms, or condensing energy into the belly with a movement of the palms.
We practiced two main exercises, with ten or twenty movements each: soft steps to the side, arcing arms, tucked tailbones, flexed fingers, fixed eyes. I felt clear and graceful, as if I were walking on clouds. Gazing into my palm, I felt it tingle, and smiled as I turned it back to my belly.
By the end of class, the headache I’d walked in with had GONE. My shoulder was feeling much softer, too. It was a very satisfying meditation in movement.
That same week I went to Restorative Yoga with Debbie, the owner of Namaste Williamsburg. (Leaflin’s post on restorative yoga fired me up, if you can be fired up for restorative yoga.) I’d just received an intense email from an ex-boyfriend (note: DON’T OPEN THOSE) and thought maybe I could process it better laying on my back. With two bolsters. And a block. And two blankets. And an eye pillow.
(Restorative yoga makes me feel like Steve Martin in The Jerk: “I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff… Just this ashtray. And this paddle game… the ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this remote control… The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need. And these matches…”)
We started in a seated meditation, butts on blankets against the wall. Pressing our lower backs into the wall gave a supported, elevating feeling to the spine and breath. (No one can sneak up on you with your back against the wall, and the ribs have concrete support from which to expand.) Debbie calmly led us deeper into our bodily sensations; her voice could launch a thousand audio books.
Our first pose was supported Half Bridge, with a blanket under our head and back, and a block under our sacrum. She encouraged us to use the first or second height of the block; the third is too intense when holding the pose for ten minutes. We rested in the pose, focusing on the breath, letting the blood reverse its downward flow through the torso. The eye pillow really helped to calm the mind, which follows any dancing — or resting — movements of the eyes.
We held two other long poses in the 90-minute class. Legs Up The Wall was great for my achy feet, pounding from the miles of city pavement I’d walked that day, and soothing for my lower back. Reclined Butterfly, our hip opener, added a bit of intensity and vulnerability. Relaxing into those feelings was challenging but ultimately rewarding. By the time we hit Corpse, I had melted into the floor. This was meditation on stillness.
I don’t know if I “processed” any of my confused emotions that class, but it was definitely therapeutic to relax as they flickered across my mind. A cup of tea and a nice chat with Debbie afterward sealed the session with bliss.
The studio also offers several Hatha classes, tending towards the classical style I think. They’re great for beginners — full of alignment instructions and patience. The studio has a cute, friendly spirit, and I look forward to more meditations there.