As the work-week grind raced along at top speed, Sleuth decided to take a Sunday to slow down, and reconnect to the backbone of the practice at Yoga Union, known for its emphasis on the awareness of alignment.
I rode the elevator up with two teacher trainers who spoke about the intensity of their program. At the check-in counter, a few display books caught my eye. I flipped through Iyengar’s Light On Yoga, as a brief preparation for Cristina Tarantola’s 1/2 Flow.
Cristina entered the room, and thanked us for being there. She immediately asked if we had any injuries then went onto explain her theme: the lower back, and specifically the Sacroiliac joint, or SI joint. It looked like this would be the time for me to reconnect to the backbone of my practice, literally.
I asked Cristina (after class) about her use of themes to support her teaching. “I love to look at bodies, and their patterns to create my classes. I choose something different every week, and this process is driven by my curiosity, and inspired by one of my great teachers, Alison West. Alison's classes are very often my true inspiration.”
We started on our backs - knees into the chest - for gentle circles. From there we brought our soles of the feet together, and opened the knees to the side. We pressed our hands into the inner knees while our knees pressed into our hands to create tension between the muscles and joints. Cristina told us to bring awareness into this small movement to feel the connection to the lower back.
Throughout class, Cristina’s instructions were focused from a structural perspective. She broke down each posture with such detail and subtleties that allowed us to truly examine the foundations of the pose.
In Shalabhasana she asked us to place our thumbs on the tailbone, and then lengthen it back. She continued, “Lift the shoulder heads up and wrap your upper outer arm bones in.” Once we extended our arms, she said “Keep using your intention to draw the tailbone back.”
In Standing Forward Bend, she told us to concentrate on pressing the big toe mound into the thumb mound which not only centered me deeper into my feet, it created a nice opening up through my hamstrings.
Looking around the room, I noticed it was a group of mixed levels. In our post-class conversation, I asked Cristina how she adapts her class to meet each student.
“My intention is to include every single person (in class) in the work we are doing. I give ideas for modifications to the students who are learning certain poses, or transitions. I always prepare the theme of the class with a very strong skeleton as far as the sequence goes. At times, I have to modify that sequence, but the theme and skeleton will remain intact.”
Cristina told me that she spends a few hours outside of her classes studying anatomy and deepening her knowledge of movement, breath, energy channels, injury prevention and the emotional connection between our bodies and movement. Her teaching reflected these interests as she paid close attention to each of us, walking around the room, and ensuring we explored the poses as effectively as we could.
When it was time for Surya Namaskars, we were given a few minutes to move through the sequence on our own. Cristina pointed out the mirror in the room, and said we could look at ourselves while in Forward Fold to make sure we haven’t shifted too far back.
In Warrior 1, she scooted my back foot towards the edge of the mat which enabled my hips to square more forward to the front. It was a simple adjustment that allowed the pose to come more natural.
We practiced a modified Utkastasana with our arms reaching forward. And we extended in Warrior 3 for several breaths.
After the standing series, Cristina introduced some strengthening exercises for our glutes and cores. We did pelvic lifts with one leg towards the ceiling (on both sides), and we did a Navasana variation with one knee bent while the other was extended. I definitely felt the burn!
For Bridge, we placed our feet on blocks before clasping our hands behind our back. Here I received another thoughtful assist where Cristina rolled my upper arms outward which opened up the area around my upper spine.
To settle down at the close of class, we came into Supta Baddha Konasana with blocks resting on our thighs. Some of us took Savasana like this while others went for the full Corpse.
After class, I asked Cristina to share her intentions as a teacher.
“Teaching yoga, apart from the very important technical aspect, is about human connection. Caring for the students in your class is the true key that connects them to you, during those 60, 75 or 90 minutes.
I feel that kindness, caring, a direct way of voicing things (vocal cues) and correct touch are the best ways to connect and take down barriers.
I truly hope that on any given day, I am fulfilling these principles.”
--Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
This 75-minute class is $20 for a drop-in, all props are included.