Mala Yoga is a staple of Court Street in Brooklyn for the last six years. It’s located on the sunny second floor of a three story building where Sleuth caught sight of some trees starting to change color for fall.
"Get two blocks and a strap," Christina Hatgis called out to her packed class as we settled in. Christina is one of Mala’s three co-owners, with Angela Clark and Stephanie Creaturo. These renowned yoga teachers have been teaching around the neighborhood for a decade and have watched many of their local students grow to an advanced level. Naturally, Christina was familiar with the many students in the room.
"Find Tadasana on the floor with a block between your thighs and make a loop in your strap that's shoulder width," Christina instructed us. She also advised us to imagine that our feet were in Tadasana. That meant flexing the feet and making sure they were not turning out. "Engage your navel and draw your ribs in toward the floor," Christina told us.
We were then to place the strap around our arms. Christina told us she found it more effective to have the strap around the forearms rather than the upper arms. We were then to lift our arms overhead and to the floor behind us, all the while keeping the navel engaged and not letting the ribs pop out even if that meant the arms did not touch the floor.
Coming up to standing we were then to stand in Tadasana and imagine we still had the block between our thighs and the strap wrapped around our forearms. We took a few quarter Sun Salutations lifting the arms up and down while keeping that awareness in our bodies.
We then did a short but difficult sequence involving Parsvottanasana putting our hands on blocks. "Even if you're flexible you're going to need these blocks," Christina warned. From Parsvottanasana we took a Low Lunge. Then "catting" the back and lifting the front leg about an inch off the floor, we held the foot up for five breaths before moving back to Downward Dog, then back to bending the knee. We hovered the front leg off the floor again before stepping forward into a Low Lunge and then switching legs. Point taken. Blocks were most certainly needed for this difficult sequence.
Christina moved us next through some slow sequences of standing poses starting with Low Lunge to Crescent Lunge followed by a vinyasa, holding each pose for five breaths during which Christina delivered careful alignment information and gave firm adjustments to each student. Christina's class is slow moving but is hard work. Having no music allows her students to focus on their breath.
Christina kept building on her sequencing going from Warrior I to Warrior II followed by Extended Side Angle. A vinyasa brought us from Plank all the way to the floor and into one-legged Salabhasana on each side.
Next up was a Lunge Twist followed by Utkatasana Twist and Utkatasana itself. Coming to the top of our mats Christina then led us through Vrksasana to Warrior III to Standing Split. Christina was firm in her focus that her students not allow their hips to hike up and get out of alignment but rather we keep them level when lifting a leg.
By 10 am we were taking our mats to the wall for a pose Christina called "Ninja Death". True to its name this torture pose was Crescent Lunge at the wall but with the back knee bent and the back shin pressed up against the wall. (It’s also often referred to as King Arthur Pose.) Blankets were naturally needed to cushion the back knee. From here we were to allow the hips to sink forward but keep the tailbone tucked under.
After much classroom groaning we then worked on our L-shaped Handstand but with a Warrior III leg, building on what Christina had taught us earlier. We then turned the other way and took some hops up into Handstand, again with a Warrior III leg. For those looking for a yoga challenge, Christina offered them the option of being a leg's length away from the wall, coming into Handstand then walking down the wall into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Full Wheel).
Building on the backbend component, we then took a couple of rounds of Camel pose followed by Urdhva Dhanurasana. Classroom daredevils had the option of walking up and down the wall in Spiderman fashion.
We finished off with some gentle twists, a forward bend of choice (Paschimottanasana, Tarasana or Janu Sirsasana), and Viparita Karani or Salamba Sarvangasana. Christina had us take a slightly early Savasana so we could meditate for five minutes at the end. Finalizing our practice with several Oms, we refreshed-looking students quietly put our multiple props away.
Drop-in classes are $18 with $1 mat rental. New student introductory special: 3 classes for $30.