House of Jai is the place to be after a weary Monday, because Meg Carlough is there to make sure you end the day energized and happy. Yoga Sleuth took his spot in the packed downstairs studio as Meg went around the room to say hello to all the new faces. She then asked the class what we wanted to do tonight.
“Twists!” I called out, doing a Chubby Checker impression.
“I’m happy to give variations on anything,” assured Meg. “And if there’s something that you need clarified, just call me over!”
A founder of House of Jai and Director of Special Programs, Meg received her 500-hour Vinyasa training at Kaya Yoga. A new mom, she is also certified in Prenatal. And she has a joyful ring in her voice that encourages as it soothes.
“Use these first few breaths to take a little inventory of what you have happening tonight,” said Meg, “noticing the stuff that might need a little patience. Try not to judge it. Nothing good or bad—just honest. Start letting go of your day, and whatever’s going on after, let it wait.”
We started on our backs, bringing our legs into our chests and giving ourselves a much-deserved hug. We brought our elbows into cactus with palms to the sky, breathing deep into the belly. We brought our arms into Eagle formation and tapped elbows to our knees, lifting the head and chest for some early ab work.
“Come to a cross-legged seat, and put the leg you don’t like as much on top,” said Meg to giggles. “Create a Sankalpah, an intention for your practice. A reason why you came out tonight. If the mind gets challenged or frustrated, just remember that intention.” I dedicated my practice to friends in need as our Oms echoed. “Remind yourself it doesn’t need to be perfect, you just need to breathe.”
We came to Malasana on a block on the second height.
“Make sure your knees and toes go in the same direction - that’s a great rule of thumb to protect your joints. Press your elbows against your knees. See how that lends itself nicely to a lengthening through the spine? Spread your toes and even out between all four quarters. Really try to feel what you’re doing.” We walked the hands forward and dropped our heads, some of us lacing our fingers at the base of the skull for an extra stretch. Then we came to luxuriate in Uttanasana with hands cradling the opposite elbows.
We began our salutations, toggling between Plank and Down Dog a few times before dropping knees, chest and chin to the mat and then emerging into a Cobra. Meg encouraged us to stay with this variation or move on to Chaturanga and Up Dog if it served our bodies. “Make sure your elbows point straight back, and not toward the side wall,” we were reminded.
We put our hands on blocks and turned our torsos to the side, our legs crossed and feet on their outer edges for an intense IT band stretch. “If you’re leaning forward into your blocks, walk them a little closer in,” said Meg.
Our reward was a lengthy stay in prone Pigeon, as we got in touch with our feelings (if any) through our hips. Meg then gave us ten breaths to play in whatever way we wanted, and most of us took Head and Shoulderstands. The head-ers then took Child’s Pose and the shoulder-ers took Fish. Then Meg cued us all into supine twists, knees to the left first.
“If you were to look down the side of your right knee you’d see a straight line from your shoulder to your hip rather an angled one,” she said, providing even more specific alignment cues. “So you probably need to move your bottom to the right more than you think. Otherwise the lower back will be arched and the opening won’t be as true.”
We switched to the opposite side and breathed into the twist. “Left ear turns down because your neck is very much a part of your spine and we want that to open, too,” Meg instructed. We then had a few more breaths to wind down, in Happy Babies, Supta Baddha Konasana or anything we wished. “And if I can do anything to help you, please let me know,” smiled Meg.
Blessedly blissed out, we all tucked in for a lil’ Savasana. “Breathe sweetly in through the nose and out through the mouth,” said Meg. “Letting go of all of your work. The body is still, the breath effortless as we look to encourage the mind to a place of quiet. Surrender. Let it be enough to just be.”
Drop-in classes at House of Jai are $25 with complimentary mat and towel.
-Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
House Of Jai 1456 First Avenue New York, NY 10021 646-861-3659