‘Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the home, Yoga Sleuth was stirring, and looking to Om. So to YogaWorks West I went for a spell, for an afternoon class with Sarah Anne Bell.
Sarah put on some gentle music (to mask the harsher music wafting in from down the street) and had us grab three blankets. We sat on the rounded edges of the first two for firm support, and rolled the third to perch our crossed shins on. She asked us if anyone was dealing with an injury, and then took the time to quickly meet individually with each student to discuss it.
“Take your hands behind you, against the blanket,” said Sarah. “Fingers pointing down, fingernails facing the back wall. Push against the blanket and bend the elbows so you get a little leverage to lift the chest. Lift from your breastbone away from the navel.” It was like waking after a long winter’s nap. “Move the shoulder bones back so that the shoulder blades lift your ribs in and up.” We proceeded to Cat and Cow, exhaling on the former and inhaling on the latter, then switching the breath to see how it would feel to change the pattern.
Sarah guided each and every movement like an expert choreographer, always with a smile in her encouraging voice. “Try to keep your spine, head and neck all in one line. Stretch your fingers longer,” she urged as we settled into Adho Mukha Svanasana. “And as you do, firm the outer upper arms until the elbows feel like they squeeze in. Lift the heels up to lift the buttocks up and away from the knees. Up and back, up and back...”
As we came into Plank, rather than having us immediately flow, Sarah made sure we remembered how it should feel physically and energetically. “Elbows are straight. Push the floor away with your hands, your lower belly lifts toward your spine.”
We built heat in Sun Salutation As and Bs, then came to stand in Tadasana. "Bring your hands into a gesture of prayer, anjali mudra," said Sarah. "Gaze into your fingertips and lift your chest up into your thumbs. As the eyes get softer, practice closing the lids from top to bottom, but keeping the eyes soft."
Then Sarah had us turn our mats parallel to the front of the room for a tutorial on Triangle. "Stand quite deep into both your heels," said Sarah. "Push the floor down, firm the leg muscles and lift the kneecaps up." As we opened into the pose for the first time, Sarah noticed many of us were looking straight up to the raised arm. "Look to the front of the room," said Sarah. "Don't put the cherry on top yet!" When the cake was ready, we came into the full expression.
Before opening up into Warrior Two we straightened and bent the knee several times until it was just where it needed to be, directly over the foot. We then came into Eagle arms while maintaining Warrior Two legs for a challenging variation. With feet back together, we stretched our shoulders with Gomukhasana arms, then folded over our legs.
Coming to stand at the back of our mats, we brought an ankle to the opposite knee, parallel to the ground. We then folded over; Sarah invited us to stay there, or bring the hands to the mat, hooking the elbows under the knee with the foot flexed. The next challenge, should we choose to accept it, was to practice balancing in Flying Crow--which most of us gamely did, twice on each side.
Sarah dimmed the lights as we wound down, giving the room a nice holiday glow. Sarah had us take the three blankets and stack them on top one another, except with each one sticking out under the other like a set of three steps. She demonstrated lying down on top of the incline, shoulders on top and head on the ground. We gripped the sides of the mat and opened up into a modified Bridge Pose. "The work is shoulders back, chest up," said Sarah. If we wanted to go further, we were invited to slide our palms under the feet and lift from there.
For Savasana, we returned to the blanket set up we had begun with. This time, the roll was placed under our knees, with one folded blanket under our heads and the other over our lower bellies. "Breathe in," said Sarah, "and let it ripple through your whole spine." The effect was so relaxing and grounding that when Sarah invited us to remain in Savasana after class was complete, many of us did!
Yoga Works Westside is $23 for a drop-in class with a $2 mat rental. Lockers and showers available.