On a beautiful, if a bit chilly, spring morning, Yoga Sleuth made the somewhat daunting trek from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to attend Karolina Cemel’s class at Yoga Works. And for once I was not breathlessly late! Perhaps I should credit the weather. Or train luck. At any rate, I arrived at the bright and spacious fourth floor studio with plenty of time to fill out my new student form and get a little tour from the helpful desk person.
It seemed shocking, but I had never been to Yoga Works before. This worked in my benefit, as new students can opt for a week of absolutely free yoga (the other option is two unlimited weeks for $30). I decided to take the free week and will probably make a special trip to check out some more classes. Bonus!
After my quick tour, I changed in the clean and efficient locker room (with actual lockers! brilliant) and headed into Karolina’s class. The studio space was remarkably large, with several windows lining one wall. The morning sun filtered into the room, creating a pleasant and bright atmosphere.
Though I had heard good things about Karolina’s teaching, I had never taken her class before. Spotting her at the front of the room, I was immediately struck by her positive and energetic vibe. I already had a good feeling about the class, especially when she said that we would be focusing on heart and shoulder opening, which I felt in desperate need of.
We began with one of my favorite restorative heart openers: Supported Fish Pose. Lying on our backs, we placed one block lengthwise in between the shoulder blades, and another on its highest level underneath the head. From here, she had us lengthen our legs and close our eyes. After a few breaths, Karolina offered us the option of placing both blocks on the highest level, thus taking the pose a bit deeper. We closed our eyes again and took Supta Baddha Konasana from here.
Eventually, Karolina instructed us to remove the blocks, and we lay on our backs with our arms outstretched and thumbs hooked overhead. We then bent our elbows and created tension as if to pull the thumbs apart, joining the shoulder blades closer together on the back. This same motion was repeated at several different points in the class. Deeper into the warm up, we did it while in Crescent Lunge, which added a backbend element.
Early on in class, Karolina spoke about how we all are adults and we know what is good for our bodies, yet we sometimes make choices because they’re easier or yummier (in the case of food). She said that, left to our own devices, we probably wouldn’t practice poses that might be unpleasant to us such as Frog (spoiler alert: we definitely did Frog later) or Pigeon. And that’s one of the reasons why we come to class. I wholeheartedly agree with her on this. I have a fairly active home practice, but I do tend towards the same poses that generally feel good in my body. For instance, I never, ever practice Hanumanasana at home.
Though Karolina is clearly very serious about yoga, she keeps her tone light and playful. There is an open, exploratory element to her teaching that is very refreshing. Early on in class, she had us try Downward Dog off our mats, on the wooden floor -- she explained that the floor had been cleaned the night before and that we were the first class that day, which reassured hygiene freaks like me who were picturing invisible pools of dried sweat under our hands and feet).
She said that she had recently taken class at a place where her rental mat was unsatisfactory, and she had ended up taking the whole class straight on the floor. She said it made her use different muscles and feel poses in a new way, and she offered the option of doing the same for her class. I am a fan of as cushy a mat as possible, so opted to stay on my (satisfactory) rental mat, but I appreciated the fresh approach.
To close the class, we moved our mats to the wall. Karolina led us through two ways of getting into Camel with the use of the wall. We first faced the wall and kept our hips touching it as we bent back. Then we turned around and did the same pose with our feet and heads touching the wall. I found the wall a challenging but helpful alignment tool. We then used the wall to lift up into a support Shoulderstand (almost like a Bridge Pose, but up the wall). We had the option of staying there, or lifting into full Shoulderstand. Our final pose before Savasana was a simple twist on our backs.
After Savasana, and indeed several hours after class, my heart and chest felt very open. I felt ready to enjoy the beautiful day, and hoped I would make more good “adult choices,” like attending Karolina’s class!
-Abby Payne for Yoga Sleuth
Drop in classes are $23. New students can choose one week of free yoga or two weeks of unlimited classes for $30.