Eddie Stern teaches a primary led Ashtanga class on Saturdays at his Ashtanga Yoga New York studio, doubling as a Hindu temple. When a new student arrives, a helpful regular offers a form to fill out. There is a gold painted wooden box in which class money can be dropped, and a large tray of Prasad sits on a stool by the open double door to the loft where the class is to take place.
The regular studio space is under construction, and we are in a loft one floor above, filled to capacity with twenty nine mats, and as many students. The light flowing in through the long row of tall windows brings out the amazing colors of dresses and flower garlands draped around the Hindu statues, lined up on kitchen counters for the time being. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, like the faces of the Indian Gods.
Eddie Stern walks in and makes sure all students have enough room. There is plenty of space on the other side of the open double doors, and one student puts her mat there. We bring our thumbs to our sternum and close our eyes. Eddie repeats the Sanskrit prayer preceding every Ashtanga yoga class, with intonations and nuances impossible to repeat exactly for anyone who has not immersed him or herself in the study of the Sanskrit language as our teacher has for the past ten years.
We begin the practice. From the start, it seems easier than usual. Eddie's energy is light and playful, even though he is very serious about yoga in general, and the practice in particular.
As the first New York teacher to open a yoga studio fully devoted to Ashtanga yoga, Eddie must have taught this particular sequence of poses many thousands of times. All Ashtanga students have to complete the primary series before moving on to other poses in the intermediate and advanced series, which means that, between Mysore and led classes, Eddie sees dozens of students through this same sequence daily.
He gives some precise and helpful instructions, like to keep the legs very straight and relax the neck in Padahastansana, while keeping the steady rhythm of the Sanskrit counts intact.
In Marichyasana D, his count slows to a halt as he helps a student. After we've been in this reverse sitting twist with half lotus for what seems like a long time, Eddie calls out: "One!" And laughter erupts!
I seem to be jumping into Chaturanga Dandasana too fast, before I notice (and remember) that one is meant to lift up out of every pose, and pause on the inhale before jumping back, on the exhale. My mulabanda/rootlock doesn't allow for graceful floating in midair yet! But no matter: Eddie's joy of teaching helps me get through the series with relative ease.
All poses have five counts, until we reach the finishing sequence, with counts to eight, ten, fifteen, or twenty. The frequency of collective brainwave activity drops well into the Alpha range, as a sense of deep peacefulness settles in the room. The sweet spell can't be broken, not even by some unusual decibel levels.
"Relax into the pose, " Eddie says calmly, "while the circular saw downstairs is cutting metal pipes out of the building." Laughter all around, once again, before we dissolve into Savasana.
On the way out students help themselves to Prasad. The soothing, steady counting and reminders for inhaling and exhaling have cleared my mind, and a bit of the light energy of Ashtanga Yoga New York carries me home.
--Anneke Lucas for Yoga Sleuth
12 classes in one month, $210. Drop-in for out of town students and led classes $20.