The Bhakti Center is a precious gem in the East Village. Its café, Taste of Bhakti, serves a tasty menu of vegetarian fare. And the adjacent boutique beholds a charmed selection of beads, books and other cool collectibles. Since its First Avenue location is in line with my daily commute, Yoga Sleuth decided it was time to head up to the second floor for yoga with Jai Giridhari.
Jai was seated behind the check-in desk, ready to connect with his incoming students. We spoke briefly about the occurrences of the day, both personally and in relation to the Vedic calendar events before he offered the kind sendoff, “Have a beautiful practice.”
I walked into the yoga room, and immediately felt a sense of hominess. Perhaps it was because people actually do live at the Bhakti Center (on other floors). Or maybe it was from the warm exposed brick wall, and garden variety of greens hanging from the ceiling. Regardless, it was the kind of place that when I sneezed three people said “God Bless You.”
As Jai was checking-in the last few, I heard him say it was a full house. “We’re having our Yoga To The People moment,” he proclaimed as he walked into the room.
He sat at the front, behind the harmonium to talk about the personal space in India. “There’s no personal bubble there. Everyone is so polite. Somebody will come up to you, and ask if they can sit in that tiny space next to you. And then their wife comes, and she sits. And then their family comes, and they sit. And pretty soon you’re off the seat.”
He continued to speak about how special it was we had all chosen to come and practice on this rainy, Monday evening.
“And if somebody else joins the class, we’re not going to give them the stink eye. We’re going to honor that they showed up, and we’re going to make room for them.”
He then advised for the future it would be best to sign in ahead of time (online) to guarantee a spot.
Next the chanting began. Jai accompanied the harmonium solo, and then invited us to join.
Once the chanting concluded, Jai explained how he structures his class.
“We’ve been going through the sacred text of the Bhagavad Gita. But before that we’re going to warm up the body -- get the body back into its nature.”
He continued by describing the specific breathing exercises we would practice which led him to clarify the type of meditation that would end class.
“It’s chanting together--we all absorb our consciousness together--And that’s the process of meditation in the Bhakti tradition. You all came to the Bhakti Center, and I’m so grateful that you came, and I have an opportunity to serve you.”
From there, we laid onto our backs to deepen our breath. On an inhale, we dropped our knees to one side, and on the exhale, we brought them back to the center. We moved through this a few times on both sides, and then extended our legs long on the mat.
We continued with the deep breathing except this time with an emphasis on the belly. On an inhale we pushed our bellies up to the sky, then on the exhale, we pursed our lips and pushed the air towards the ceiling. We continued for several rounds while Jai said,
“This is what we are going to come back to over and over again as we get into the different postures, and we try to settle the mind. If you don’t get the breathing down, a lot of the asanas will have very little effect.”
When we came to our first Downward Dog, Jai instructed us to “Push the front of the mat away so your arms can get straighter, and your chest can drop naturally.”
After we walked our feet up to our hands, we were introduced to Chair Pose with 25 rounds of Kapalabhati breathing. More warm-ups ensued with head circles in both directions followed by arms, legs, and hip circles. This led us to Namaskar variations which included the Kapalabhati breathing in Chair.
As we moved onto the traditional Surya Namaskar Jai inquired, “Is it hot in here?” He then explained, “This is the energy of the sun. We should link our consciousness to something higher, salute the sun, and humble ourselves as yogis.”
Jai kept his tone conversational throughout class. So while he was sharing stories, or interpreting texts or imparting lessons– he was never talking at us. He always tried to engage us, with questions: How’s my breathing? Am I still breathing into my belly? To everyday references (It’s easy to put your attention on Facebook, it’s easy to bring your energy out—but bring it in for a moment.)
He encouraged us to participate – not just in the asana--but in the entire yoga practice.
The evening was humid so my body grew quite open after several sequences of Sun Salutation variations which included Warrior 3, Half Moon and Standing Split.
“If you get overheated, take a break. Nature is moving through, we are sweating, there is heat in the room. Breathe. Use the breath to cool your body.”
We took a break in Child’s Pose, and Jai chanted once again with the harmonium. He asked us to come up to sit, and then read from the Bhagavad Gita.
Alternate Nostril breathing came next. And then we took Pigeon, Seated Spinal Twist, Bridge, Plow and Shoulderstand.
As we arrived near the end of class, Jai said, “The yogis of the past gave us these asanas to move our body, the pranayama breathing to fix our mind, and the chants to reconnect with the heart.”
We then took Savasana and kirtan followed. When it was time to leave, I re-entered First Avenue feeling calm, cool and completely connected.
--Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $16. New Student Special: 2 weeks unlimited for $30.