The bright blue storefront of House of Jai was a welcoming sight for Yoga Sleuth as he dashed down First Avenue in Yorkville. I was just in time for class with Cait Morth, expert vinyasa instructor and sought-after Corrective Exercise Therapist. It was “Tadasana-room only” but I found space for my mat near the front as Cait asked us to begin in Child’s pose. We started where every good asana practice should: breath awareness.
As Cait told me after class, “People tell me they have anxiety caused by breathing problems, and their anxiety causes breathing problems, and it becomes a vicious cycle.”
To begin our escape from that cycle, we looked for existing constriction and breathed into those areas, with the intent of creating a completely relaxed airway, with no pause between the inhale or exhale. For me (and I suspect for the majority), that involved releasing the jaw, throat, and my ever-troublemaking sinus cavities. We also focused on the connection between the throat and the lungs, opening up that specific area. “It’s all behind the open throat,” said Cait. “Get it to relax, and a lot of that tension and anxiety goes away.”
After relaxing and opening, only then did we go into our controlled Ujjayi breathing. We lifted into Cat and Cow, linking the breath to the motion and adding on a little fluid movement to the feline portion (“cat and catnip!” as Cait called it).
“Take your right heel and place it down on the mat, so the toes point towards the right side of the room,” said Cait. “Your left foot is going to kick behind you and point toward the left side, and bring your right arm up to the sky. It kind of feels like a Warrior II. Pull the shoulders out of the ears, and drop the abdominals in just a little.” From there were flexed our right foot and lifted it up from that mat, like an Ardha Chandrasana, just from the knee. “One of my favorite things about that pose is the outer thigh strengthening that we get,” Cait said. To that end, we exhaled the right foot back to the mat, and then inhaled it into the air three times.
“Tap into your body and see what you need in this moment,“ said Cait as we returned to Child’s Pose. Cait reminded us to still keep our attention to the breath cycle -- “the inhale leads directly into the exhale, the exhale directly into the inhale” -- but instead of linking it specifically to a motion, we can keep the breath going despite our motion, she advised.
We came into our first Plank Pose. “You should be strong enough that if I were to step on your lower back, I would just stand there!” said Cait. She instructed us to get our stomach really involved, to pull our collarbones forward, and to send the heels back. We toggled between Plank and Down Dog, then settled into the latter. From there we brought the knee to the right elbow, then the left, and finally to the nose before stepping into Extended Side Angle as a jazz instrumental version of “Ain’t No Sunshine,” played softly.
Cait then suggested we take a Side Plank of our choosing -- knee down or top leg rising were both fine. Later when we returned to the pose, we tried a Tree variation, keeping the leg in that position for Plank and Chaturanga. We also spent a little time in Rock Star. “Go ahead and sing ‘Panama!” said Cait as we channeled our inner David Lee Roths.
“Let’s have some upside down time,” said Cait, offering us a choice of legs up the wall, Viparita Karani on a block, or Shoulder or Headstand. Cait helped several students in variations of the latter, including tripod Headstand against the wall. Then it was time for a long Savasana, and Cait gave every single person in the packed studio a welcome head and neck adjustment.
“Feel the lightness of your mind floating upward,” said Cait as we sat comfortably, then brought our palms together for a resonant Om. “Inhale a loving wish for yourself for someone you know,” whispered Cait. “And exhale a smile for the rest of the world.”
-Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in Classes at House of Jai are $25, mat and towel included.