Folding Into the Practice with Michelle Barge
On a sunny Saturday afternoon, when many New Yorkers fled the city, or chose to hunker down to watch the World Cup, Yoga Sleuth decided to check out Michelle Barge’s hatha yoga flow. After walking past the soccer fans roaring wildly in the cafe, I crossed the tunnel traffic stuck on Broome street and entered the tranquility of Golden Bridge Yoga. It was clear -- I chose well. Class was held on the 2nd floor of the three-story townhouse. It was a large, loft-like room with ample sunlight, an elaborate altar and a soft hum from the air conditioner. Michelle entered with a warm hello to all. After acknowledging, “I really like your new haircut” to one student, and promising another she would email information about Turkey, she took a seat to talk about the focus of our class: forward bends. “Full forward bends are part of yoga nidra which is yogi sleep. So when you are able to do a full execution of a forward bend, it’s actually part of the deep yoga relaxation series,” she said. We began with a simple meditation of deep, cooling breaths. After a few rounds, we lengthened the breath to seven counts with a retention in between the inhale and exhale. Michelle told me after class that she uses meditation at the beginning to ground both her students and herself. She also mentioned that working with themes helps anchor her class as well. To kick off the asana portion, we chanted Om. Then we went to lie on our backs for leg extensions without the belt. “Try using yogi toe-lock, even if it means you have to bend your leg. You can hold onto the knee if it’s really challenging, but if you went forward holding onto yogi toe-lock, you’d be in a forward bend, and that’s what we’re aiming for,” Michelle informed us. Once in Downward Dog, Michelle explained that she works in threes, which meant for every vinyasa, we would do three rounds. The first flow sequence shifted our muscles into work mode with Warrior 2, Peaceful Warrior, Triangle (top arm extended over the ear, bottom arm lengthened to mirror the top) and Half Moon, where a few leg lifts were added to each side. There was an earthy element to Michelle’s teaching style. Her instructions were uncomplicated, relatable and often punctuated with a generous “please.” When she spoke to us individually (which she did often) she gave off a maternal quality which was both encouraging and reassuring. “I want class to be a place where you feel great, loved, nurtured, cared for and instructed. I try to give my students a high five, "good job" feeling. And like a mom I'll adjust when you're wrong, and praise when you're right,” Michelle told me after class. Her music selection (which she called “old school global surf”) was both thoughtful and fun. It started with some lighthearted samba -- to celebrate Brazil and the World Cup. About midway into our asanas, there were sanskrit chants (Om Nama Shivaya), and towards the end, our energy was balanced by the soulful songstresses, Ella Fitzgerald and Joni Mitchell. The class focus stayed strong throughout the 75 minutes as Michelle broke down each pose, and explained how it connected to a forward bend. (“Think about your Down Dog Split in relation to your forward bend.”) By concentrating on square hips in Down Dog split and supported Warrior 3, I could tap into the structural component which contributed to my forward bend. In addition to the forward bending postures, we took Chair Pose, Standing Twist (with option to bind), Side Plank, Tree and Crescent Lunge (“Exalted” said Michelle on the latter.) When it was time to fold forward on the floor, we did a wide legged variation. “It’s not the forward bend of calisthenics from when we were in 8th grade. You can’t round.” She told us to sit on a blanket if we needed extra support, or grab the toes in yogi toe lock for its full iteration. “Wherever you are, be where you are,” she encouraged. Plow and Shoulderstand came next, followed by Rabbit. When we came to Paschimottanasana, Michelle said, “Give into it,” and placed a block in front of my foot for a deeper stretch. Full Wheel and Fish preceded Savasana. Coming out of our rest, Michelle invited us to twist, or “move any way the body calls.” To close class we reconnected to our breath in meditation. “We do the physical practice to prepare us for meditation,” she said. Then added, “That is yoga.” -Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $20. New student special: 2 weeks for $30.