About a dozen of us set up for Stephan Kolbert’s Open Level Class at Upper West Side Yoga. It’s a sweet space - bright yellow with pink blankets, mats and blocks. The new studio has built an impressive following over the past year and a half and it’s easy to see why. Studio owners Kolbert and his wife, teacher Ingrid Marcroft, project warmth, kindness, and gratitude at every turn.
Stephan begins class by introducing himself to new students. Walking around the room, he asks them quietly about their practice and issues. After he takes his seat in Sukhasana, he asks us to try to let the sound of a persistent jackhammer to recede into the back of our consciousness so that it is not so present.
After an Om he asks us to observe our breath as we move through some seated Cat/Cows, twists, side bends, forward bends and spinal extensions.
It’s a nice pace. Not too fast but not too slow. There is a broad mix of ages in the room, the oldest in her mid-80s and the youngest around 25.
While sitting, we begin to open up the knees, bending and straightening them and then the hips through Baddha Konasana and Upavistha Konasana. Everything is gentle. Kolbert’s voice doesn’t push or rush. It says move at your own pace and he repeats that mantra several times during the class.
Standing, we work through Uttanasanas and Urdhva Uttanasanas. Instructions are simple as we move into Downward Facing Dog and Plank. Align the fingers, the wrists and the feet. A series of standing poses have us placing our legs in their sockets for stability. And when the front knees are bent, a continual request for us to keep our knee aligned over the ankle.
We make our way to Extended Side Angle. First with a forearm on the thigh, then with a block outside the foot and then with a block inside the foot. Stephan calls an optional bind and before we know it, we are making our way to Eka Pada Koundinyasana, a one legged arm balance dedicated to the Sage Koundya. It’s a complicated pose for the class but Stephan encourages his students to give it a try. They gamely do and many take the posture for the very first time. It’s the peak pose of the class and the students seem to enjoy their subsequent rest in Child’s Pose.
On our backs we take Bridge Pose several times before coming into a block supported Viparita Karani. A final twist precedes Savasana.
After class, several students ask Stephan questions about the positions we took or upcoming events at the studio. It’s clear this is a friendly neighborhood place where people feel comfortable and leave classes feeling happy and calm.
-B. Erica Spraos for Yoga Sleuth
Regular drop-in classes are $20 with $2 mat rental.
New students can benefit from an introductory offer of two weeks of unlimited yoga for $30.