Mala Yoga is a friendly, local Cobble Hill studio well-known in the neighborhood for its skillful yoga teachers. When I walked in for this late Monday night class, Blakeney Schick was checking in with each of the students she didn't know, asking about injuries and whether the person had done yoga before. Blakeney has a ten year yoga practice and is a veteran of Mala Yoga, having started practicing at the studio in 2007 and completed her teacher training there soon after.
Blakeney urged us to grab a blanket and two blocks before starting and to find a seated pose, either Sukhasana or Rock Pose. She instructed us to use some padding to make the pose comfortable and then for several minutes we focused on our breath for a short seated meditation. Remaining in our seated pose of choice we then interlaced our fingers up above our heads, brought our palms down to the crown of the head and simultaneously pushed the hands into the head creating length at the back of the neck. Our spines lengthened, we then took a brief seated twisted taking our hands to the back of our sacrums.
Next we moved into some gentle Sun Salutations with knees, chest, chin to Cobra, taking Plank all the way to the ground in the next round. This was a music-less class with emphasis on the breath and Blakeney would count out the inhales and exhales for a five count. Sometimes, Plank was even held for five breaths as Blakeney walked around the room and offered corrections to our alignment. Coming into high lunge, we lengthened then bent the leg. Taking Lizard Pose we had the option to come down to our forearms and keep the knee up or down on the floor.
Other standing poses included Prasarita Padottasana, Extended Side Angle, and Crescent Moon. In Crescent Moon, Blakeney suggested putting a blanket under our knee and encouraged us to pull the navel in toward the spine to let the backbend come from the upper back while lengthening our cervical spine. "These are great poses!" Blakeney said, cheering us on.
At the end of holding the lengthy backbend, Blakeney had us put a block between our thighs in Downward Dog to help neutralize the spine. For Gate Pose, Blakeney suggested putting a block under the heel of the foot of the extended leg so that we wouldn't hyper extend the knee. We held Parighasana on each side for five long breaths.
We then took our mats to the wall for a shoulder opening twist with one arm extended up the wall in a Cactus arm shape. Blakeney told us to put a block between our thighs and start to turn our torsos and feet towards the center of the room without disconnecting from the shoulder. "The block should be able to keep us correct in our alignment," Blakeney advised as we moved into a deep shoulder opening while maintaining Tadasana.
Next came Headstand, only we wouldn't be going into the full inversion -- that might be a bit too overstimulating, explained Blakeney. Also, for this one, we would need a partner. One of Blakeney’s regular students helped demo the pose first showng how one partner would take Dolphin shape at the wall with the head on the floor as though they were going into Headstand, but instead, the second partner would jump in to place a block (or two blocks depending on flexibility) between their partner’s shoulder blades. The one in the inversion could then to relax into the pose for ten breaths, which felt great at the end of a long and busy first day of the week. After our turn at this shoulder-informative version of Headstand prep, we thanked our partners and headed back to our own mats for some final back bending.
Our options were Bridge Pose, Restorative Bridge with a block under the sacrum or Full Wheel. For those who were practicing Full Wheel, Blakeney encouraged us to slowly take down the backbend in increments -- so after Full Wheel we were to take a restorative Bridge with the block on the lowest height. We then took a Happy Baby to help neutralize the spine.
Our final pose of the night was Savasana, but Blakeney, skillfully scanning the room, also gave the option to take Legs Up the Wall. After a five minute Savasana we regrouped for a short meditation, then dreamily put away our blankets and blocks ready for sleep.