Chelsea’s Studio Anya offers “a system of yoga techniques that focuses on core principles of alignment, awareness and breath work to awaken your sixth sense, or ‘soul sense’ as an embodied experience.” And who is Yoga Sleuth to resist that? My debut class at Anya was the Wednesday evening Signature Class with Stephanie Sutherland. Recognizing me as a newbie, she greeted me and asked if I had any injuries or pain. I was thrilled to proclaim nay-nay, and we pushed play on my first foray into the Anya method.
“I brought in a skeleton today,” said Stephanie, nodding at the pale boney gentlemen smiling creepily from the side of the room. “Just to have a look at our bones. The formation they are in is the key to unlocking what’s going on in our bodies, and why.”
We had a look at the ribs, collarbones, the hips, sit bones, the femur balls and hip sockets, becoming aware of where they were in our own bodies and how they felt at this moment.
Coming to sit in Easy Pose, Stephanie had us wake up our bodies by rubbing our hands together, massaging our soles, and brushing our legs “to stimulate the nerve endings,” said Stephanie. We rocked back and forth to feel our sit bones. We found our ribs, noticing which were the floating ones. “Try to feel the breath as it moves the ribs. The collarbones are wide, the neck is long, and the jawbone is soft. Feel your spine very long as you take a deep breath in.”
We gave ourselves a hug and reached around for the tips of the shoulder blades, then worked our way up to the base of the skull, drawing our hands around to the brow. “Now tap the top of your head gently, as if your fingers were little raindrops,” said Stephanie.
We brought our hands in front of the heart, then came to a brief Child’s Pose as a segue to the posture sequence. “Take a moment before we begin our work, to relish in and honor your own breath,” said Stephanie. “Proof that we’re here and existing.”
Energized by the self-massage, we got to business, moving through Cat and Cow, articulating through the spine. We lifted into an inverted V, also known as Downward Facing Dog, “but let’s call it an inverted V today because I really want you to lift your hips up high, so they form the apex of that V,” Stephanie instructed. We bent our knees and pedaled the feet, shifting weight from hands to soles.
Stephanie invited us to take a moment to just feel the body, as it is now, and start to let go of the layers of the day, as we returned to child’s pose. “Ask what you can use a little bit more of. What do you need to feel more ease? If there’s a word that jumps out, hold onto it judgment free. Let it sink into the body and be your inspiration.” With that we placed our palms under our feet and surrendered into the intense fold.
“Take a moment to gaze at the left leg,” said Stephanie as we raised the right into a Down Dog Split. She asked us to try and even out the lines on the bottom leg and then the top by creating “a strong pull on the top leg and a strong push on the bottom.” Stephanie assured us that this work would set us up for the Warriors and lunges that were about to commence. “Picture those bones we were looking at earlier,” she said. “The femur’s ball in the hip socket. Are they next to each other or are they askew?” We kept this in mind as we did our vinyasa and then rose to Warriors 1 and 2.
Stephanie has a diverse background in dance, pilates, massage and Reiki, and all these skills are evident in this energetic 75-minute class. She made frequent use of hands-on adjustments, making sure our collarbones were open and our alignment was serving us, as with me in my Triangle and Warrior 2. “Don’t clench your toes!” implored Stephanie as we sat back in Utkatasana. I looked down and realized she was talking about me, and promptly unclenched to her nod of approval!
We continued with some prayer twists as Stephanie monitored our alignment. “Maintain that sense of evenly weighted feet,” she encouraged as we came from inverted V to Plank, cranking the music up to help invigorate us.
We completed the standing sequence by testing our balance in dancer and Warrior 3, and then came down to the mat to play in a half-split. Then we sat and placed our fingers between the eyebrows, massaging from the third eye towards the temples. As we melted into supine Pigeon, Stephanie had us echo that sensation by placing our foreheads on blocks. We kept square and even by propping our blankets under the bent knee.
Following a nice, lengthy Savasana we rose to sit in Sukhasana, and we opened our eyes to find a newly-lit candle in front of each of our mats. Stephanie asked us to focus on its light for a few breaths before shutting our lids to meditate. “But remember,” said Stephanie. “Even when your eyes are closed, the light is still there.”
-Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-ins for the Signature Group Class at Studio Anya are $20 and include mat rental.