I look forward to my first Jivamukti yoga class of each month, when a new enlightening theme is revealed. At first I was befuddled by September’s theme: founder Sharon Gannon’s newly released cookbook. Knowing that Jivamukti is too authentic for crass marketing, I inquisitively entered the capacious Krishna studio where Cassandra Rigney quickly tied it all together for me.
“We think sex is the most intimate act,” she said as we sat in rows facing in toward the center, “but really – it’s eating. You become what you eat.”
“When you get used to a recipe you adjust it to your taste,” she continued. She compared this process to the study of yoga scriptures like Bhagavad Gita. “We take what works for us and apply it to our lives,” she said. “Getting the right balance of ingredients helps us live with compassion and well-being.”
We chanted the mantra that for me vibrates with pure compassion: Lokah Samastah. “I start each day with this mantra, before I yell at my cats,” laughed Cassandra. Then she invited us to dedicate our practice to “someone who may not have the right ingredients yet” as we stood in Tadasana.
Adeptly moving us from Warriors to Chaturangas she expanded on the cooking analogy. “Just as cooking transforms the molecules of the food, breaking them apart to create energy, the yoga practice alchemically changes us into light.”
I was ‘cooking’ from the inside out with her fun and challenging sequencing which covered a wide variety of athletic balances, twists, and binds. Cassandra’s music playfully complemented the theme, with hits like Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” and Hoaikane’s “Recipe.”
I was glad I resisted my usual impulse to go to the wall for stability in Handstand when Cassandra sternly said, “going to the wall is like ordering takeout.” She demonstrated how to find our way into the pose with straight legs, lining up the long bones over the hands and connecting the legs to the body rather than my usual spastic flailing.
“Balance postures are deceptively hard,” she said. Even this felt like an understatement as I wobbled from Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana to the revolved version, and tried to stick it out for her maddeningly calm five-breath count.
“Most people go too wide in this pose,” Cassandra said as she guided us from Extended Side Angle into Bound Triangle. I felt more ease in my sacrum as I scooted my feet closer together.
She gracefully led us into Revolved Crow, prohibiting us from using our second arm to prop. Realizing I had been cheating all these years, I struggled to maintain my balance on the single arm that creates the ‘shelf.’ By this point I was so sweaty my legs would not stick to my arms for Firefly. Collapsed in a heap, Cassandra summoned me up for seated twists and forward bends.
Bird of Paradise spontaneously popped up just as I thought I had given my all. Shakingly, my leg stretched out by my ear for a few tenuous breaths before retreating into that odd half-bound Uttanasana that usually heralds its approach.
Then we lay down for Bridge and Full Wheel. “You can stay up if you want to simmer a little longer,” Cassandra said after five breaths. After twisting to wring out the tension, she led us into inversions. As we descended from a long Headstand Cassandra returned to the culinary theme and ruminated once again on her cats. “They’ve caused me some hardship,” she said, “but they’ve given my life meaning too. It’s all about our relationships with others.” She brought our attention back to directing compassion toward the recipient of our dedication at the beginning of class.
Beautifully drenched, I then splayed out on my mat for “menu planning pose,” as she jokingly referred to Savasana. “I know everyone’s hungry and figuring out what to have for dinner,” she said. Though I felt nourished by this wholesome and substantial class, I lay guilty as charged.
“Arrange yourself comfortably for meditation,” Cassandra said at the end of class. “It’s a short time but it can seem long when things don’t feel right.” We chanted OM, and feeling well done, I strode to Jivamukti’s café for nourishment of the edible (and, of course, vegan!) kind.
Cassandra’s words at the end of class echoed in my head: “It’s important to have compassion for yourself. That’s sometimes the hardest to remember.”
-Lauren Tepper for Yoga Sleuth
Single drop-in classes are $22; discounted class cards available.