“Today we are going to get nerdy on inversions and the shoulders,” declared an enthusiastic Magi Pierce while handing out straps to the remaining few who hadn’t yet grabbed them from the prop wall.
She then took a seat up front, to demonstrate the movement we would take with our arms (and the strap) lengthening overhead.
“What you’re really trying to do is make space in the upper back. Instead of tugging the shoulders down, think of wrapping. We have to learn how to properly use our arms for weight bearing. When the arm is above the head (as in downward dog or handstand), if the shoulder blades are "stuck" or out of alignment, the humerus has no support and we risk destabilizing or eventually injuring the shoulder (glenohumeral) joint.”
The warm-up continued in Gomukhasana (or a modified version with the bottom leg extended). From there we lifted into Turbo Dog (elbows slightly bent, legs straight), before bending both elbows for Dolphin. When we took a one armed Dolphin, I could already feel the burn in my arms and shoulders, and it was only 10 minutes into class!
A brief repose in Child's pose preceded Bhadrasana with palms to the heart center. Magi asked us to feel the buzz of the shoulder girdle, and then to set our intention, or dedication for the practice.
Next we made our way into Downward Dog. Magi reminded us of the previous postures and said, “See if your work in Turbo Dog and Dolphin can inform your Downward Dog so you’re not harming your neck, or shortening your cervical spine.”
We took three simple vinyasas to get the blood flowing before progressing into a more vigorous flow. And while the sequences grew challenging, the pace of the class remained steady. Magi held most poses for up to 7 or 8 breaths so just when I felt ready to come out of the posture, she would say, “two more breaths.”
By being in the postures this long, I could really settle into the shape to explore all it had to offer.
Magi spoke to me after class about her experience in holding the poses. “Learning to practice sthira (steadiness) in the asanas (or watching the pose reveal itself as I stayed) allowed me to form an alliance with my breath that I regularly take off the mat. I try to hold this space for my students, allowing the luxury of time (relatively speaking), so they can truly find breath and the sweet juice of the poses!”
Creative sequencing is tied into Kula’s brand, and Magi offered many variations to keep her class fresh. It could be as simple as using the non-dominate leg to step forward (“note which leg you would step forward with, and use the other one”) to something a bit more unexpected such as hopping into Handstand on the way to Half Moon.
All the while, she walked around the room giving hands on assists. When she came to me in Forearm stand, it felt like a private tutorial as her attention lingered on my inversion practice, particularly the subtleties that allowed the pose to take shape.
“My intention with adjustments is to first and foremost meet the student where they’re at. From there I’m hoping to open up the space for more breath. In some poses that means tractioning the spine, in others it’s a more subtle placement of my hands to bring breath to a lacking or injured area. In an inversion, fear or ego often arise which cut us off from the breath. There I might use an adjustment that wakes up the feet or inner leg-line so the student can come back to their own strength,” she told me after class.
More inversions ensued with Tripod Headstand that led to Crow. Magi gave detailed directions on how to make the transition into the arm balance.
“Reach your arm bones away from your shoulders to open the upper back. Bend your knees, and bring them into your arm pits. Move your shoulder into the shoulder socket. Push through the finger tips, reach the elbows away, and use that to lift the head up.”
And though the sequencing did often include advanced variations, Magi encouraged us to go at our own pace.
Towards the end of class she articulated the importance of not pushing too far ahead. “For those who didn’t do as many inversions, it’s completely fine. Stay connected with the stage where you’re at. It’s our culture -- we see pretty things and we just go. We want to stay, and honor the path. There’s a real honoring of the process that is inherent in a yoga practice. And hopefully you grow a deep respect for the simpler postures that give us the foundation of the practice.”
A well-deserved Pigeon came next which was held for 10 breaths.
For our closing poses, Magi gave the options for Seated Forward Bend, Tirasana, “a clean simple” Headstand, or “any closing, quiet pose” that can prepare us for Corpse and the opportunity to let go.
After the intense focus on the shoulders, my body was 100% ready to let go.
--Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $20. New Student Special 3 Classes for $30. Mat & Towel Rental: $2 each