On a cold and rainy Thursday, Yoga Sleuth made her way to Laurel Beversdorf’s Hatha Yoga class at YogaWorks. Having visited almost all of the YogaWorks locations in New York City, I’ve started to become accustomed to the luxurious spaces they inhabit, and I have to say that 2:30pm is an excellent time to attend yoga on a weekday. Rain pattered on the large arched windows of the studio, and I felt very thankful to be indoors practicing yoga.
As Laurel entered the room and greeted everyone, she asked us to grab a strap, two blocks, and a blanket. She also passed out her personal therapy balls, which were about the size of racquetballs and were encased in a cute mesh bag. Laurel is a trained Yoga Tune Up teacher which is a fitness therapy method focusing on self-massage with yoga therapy balls. As she spoke to a few individual students about various injuries, no one could resist playing with our new toys a bit, and I had to toss one back to a student behind me who had lost control of his.
Laurel explained that she likes to begin class with some “myofascial release.” The website www.myofascialrelease.com defines it as “a safe and very effective hands-on technique that involves applying gentle sustained pressure to the myofascial connective tissue restrictions to eliminate pain and restore motion.” This is what the therapy balls were to be used for.
Our first foray into this technique had us on hands and knees. Laurel told us to place the therapy balls between the back of the knees and the shins (the “knee pit” for any Ally McBeal fans out there). We sat back gingerly to put a little weight into the balls, moving side to side a bit as well. After a bit, Laurel told us to move the ball an inch further back down the shins, which we did a few times. The pressure could be a little intense, but since I was the one applying it I could always back off a bit.
When we were finished with that, we lay down on our backs with our knees up in the air. Laurel told us to place the therapy balls at the top of the shoulder blades (she used the example of where backpack straps would be). Then we lifted our hips into Bridge and moved the shoulders back and forth on the mat. (Laurel told us to “chug” like a train.)
Still on our backs in a Bridge Pose, we then placed one ball at the inner shoulder blade and bent the corresponding arm like a “goal post.” Then, we moved back and forth in a crescent shape, reaching the arm and the hip in a curving motion.
Lastly, we placed our hips back on the mat and stretched the arm straight with the fingers curled in, “like holding a magic marker,” Laurel said. Keeping the arm straight, we drew an imaginary circle in the air, effectively massaging in between the shoulder blades.
I know very little about myofascial release, but I know that it really feels wonderful. Though much more active than getting a traditional massage, my body reacts to it pretty similarly. Places I didn’t even know were tense are suddenly relaxed. And Laurel is excellent at explaining how to do it, and how it’s working; it’s clear that she knows a great deal about what she’s teaching. Throughout class, she spoke often about articles or books she had read or was reading on stretching, massage, and the human body. She puts her knowledge and research to good use.
After we finished with the therapy balls, we continued with a fairly traditional and well-rounded vinyasa flow. Laurel continued to break down and instruct each pose in her precise and clear manner. Some students asked questions, and she seemed very pleased to answer them. Her curiosity and interest in the practice (and in movement in general) is infectious. She suggested looking at our asanas as “movement with inquiry.” In other words, noticing how a pose or a movement feels without labeling it “good” or “bad.” I like this very much, and I think it is such a healthy and useful way to look at a yoga practice in general.
One of the last poses we did was a standing stretch. Laurel had us roll up a blanket and place it on the mat. Then we placed our toes on the blanket (the heel down on the mat) and stepped the other foot in front of the blanket. This was a wonderful stretch for the calf muscle. After doing this on both sides, we took Down Dog, where Laurel asked us if it felt any different. My heels were visibly closer to the mat! It was quite satisfying to do a stretch and actually see its positive effects immediately.
Class ended with an easy seated forward bend followed by a blissful Savasana. My body felt a little lighter as I stepped out onto the rainy Soho street.
-Abby Payne for Yoga Sleuth
Drop in classes are $30, plus $2 for mat rental. Locker rooms and shower facilities available.