Before daylight savings ended, the 7:30am sunrise meant Yoga Sleuth must wake up and travel in the dark for Justin Ritchie’s Sun Celebration. With the pre-dawn serenity filling the air, I couldn’t help but bask in the possibility that it was an auspicious time to take class.
Though quiet and subdued on the streets outside, the lively Laughing Lotus is anything but that. A vibrant space filled with graffiti-style murals, it’s the kind of place where pink socks get complimented, and you may find glitter remnants stuck between your toes.
Once inside the classroom, the animated-art covered walls played backdrop for the more subtle aspects of teaching that define Justin’s style. Both physically challenging and energetically stimulating, the 75-minute class emphasized yoga from the inside out.
Starting off seated behind the harmonium, Justin led the group of about 15 students in a call and response chant. Everyone seemed familiar with the words hinting this was a bunch of regulars.
The chant concluded, and Justin addressed the class with compassion. “A lot of people I’ve talked to this past week have been saying they are very stressed out. This time of year, with the seasons changing, often causes us to lose grounding. So in this class we’re going to slow down, and we’ll start with the breath.”
We began with both hands on our bellies for a few rounds of rhythmic breathing. Justin slowly counted to eight for deep inhalations from the belly, up through the sides, and into the diaphragm. He counted to eight again for a full exhalation. When we finished we wrapped our arms around our chests – giving a loving self-hug. “We are going to make our movement slow and purposeful today,” he said before bringing us up to all fours.
As we sauntered through Cat and Cow, Justin encouraged us to move how we feel. One yogini languidly loosened up her hips from side to side. Another rolled his head and neck around in a circle. The music, a worldly blend of soothing chants and uplifting grooves heightened my awareness.
The warm-up continued with Downward Dog Split that led into a low lunge. “Feel the stretch as a result of letting go rather than pushing into the pose,” Justin suggested.
We then went into a series of Surya Namaskar variations that included Peaceful Warrior, Triangle and Extended Side Angle. I noticed most yogis in class rested their arms on the thigh for Extended Side Angle.
As we flowed through the vinyasa, I found plenty of opportunity for personal expression. Within the transitions, there were spacious openings calling for individual interpretation. Instructions like, “your way to Downward Dog,” encouraged one student to kick up into Handstand before landing in Chaturanga. While another took it as a mini-break in Child’s Pose. “Fill the back of your legs with breath so there is something to stand on,” Justin suggested once we all found Down Dog.
Tree Pose came next. “Feel your arms reach up as an asking while your feet ground into the earth as an offering. Try to take this beyond the physical, and feel what this idea means,” he offered.
After some more standing postures (Chair Pose Twist and High Lunge), we went to the floor for supported Pigeon. Everyone was instructed to use the blanket to benefit from the prop-supported pose.
“By coming to yoga you’re giving yourself a gift. You’re taking care of yourself. Enjoy this gift. Enjoy being taken care of.”
In preparation for backbend we placed one hand on the heart, and the other on the stomach. “Feel the gentleness of your hands. Feel how they’re there to heal,” Justin said. It was then he placed his finger on my third eye, and encouraged the class to soften the brow, the jaw and relax the mind.
To complement Reclining Spinal Twist Justin explained the potential of the posture. “It can provide a very deep release. Even if you think you’ve fully let go there’s usually a little more to give.” At that moment I received a pleasantly precise adjustment which gently nudged me to let go even more.
The class, themed around slowing down, culminated in the closing poses where I focused on my Ujjayi breath.
We were given two options – either set up for Headstand, if it's relaxing, or take Virasana. Everyone took Shoulderstand and Fish after.
“In order to take care of yourself, you have to be aware of yourself. You have to be aware of all that needs taken care of.”
We then went inward for a seated meditation. With my hands resting on my thighs I felt my energy settle. This allowed me to drop deeper into my body. After a few minutes there, Justin invited us to Savasana. Some stay seated while others took rest.
We Om’d to close class. Then I was out on my way, totally refreshed and ready to face the day.
Drop in classes are $20 ($18 prepaid online single class). New Customer special—30 days of yoga for $39. Mat rental $2, Towel rental $3.