Just off the red line in the heart of Chelsea, you’ll find a bustling city block lined with popular fitness names like Brick CrossFit, Fly Wheel, and for the local yogi: Nevine Michaan’s, Katonah Yoga. This rather intimate two-room studio, well-equipped with changing areas and bag cubbies, gave off an immediate welcoming vibe just as authentic as yoga teacher Phillip Askew.
The layout of the room, I cautiously entered as a new student, was set up classroom style, lining the mats around the edge of the room so everyone faced towards the center. Phillip remained seated on his mat at the front acknowledging each student upon entering with a silent smile. As more people trickled in, the room reached its max with only about half an inch between our neighbors’ mats.
Phillip instructed everyone to start standing. What seemed like a quiet stretch before the arm balancing storm, started with some rib expanding side stretches in Utthita Hastasana, which quickly transitioned into our first round of Katonah vinyasa flow.
Phillip directed us through a few flows lowering halfway to Chaturanga coming through Upward Facing Dog and back to Downward Facing Dog. “When you’re ready” seemed to be the phrase Phillip kept on repeat, reminding everyone to be present in their own practice.
Once we warmed up the body, Phillip showed us our next sequence - doing short hop-ups into Handstand and slowly (with control) lowering the feet back down to the mat. For those who found Handstand, they remained there; everyone else just continued to practice their jump-ups. Continuing on the arm balancing theme, we practiced Forearm Stand, Handstand and Headstand with our legs folded in Lotus several times throughout the sequence. With more than half the time left in this one hour and thirty minute class, my arms began to reach a shaking sensation, which I believe is the responsiveness that transforms into change.
A quick break in Child’s Pose was gifted, where I was able to tune into the tranquil music playing over the speaker. Apparently, I was too distracted to notice any sound during our sweat-drenched Adho Mukha Vrksasana practice.
A few variations of bridge pose followed, ending in full wheel for those who still held the stamina to expand the chest wide open towards the ceiling. Though Phillip remained at the center of the room for the duration of class, the expansion of his calm voice seemed to effortlessly comfort those reaching their exhaustion limits.
We finally came off our arms and back to our feet for a few standing poses including dancer’s pose with a strap, which helped deeply open my hips and quadriceps simultaneously.
As Phillip walked towards the back of the room to dim the lights, we all found a comfortable seat in preparation to cool down with forward folding. We practiced deep hamstring stretching in poses like Dandasana and Janu Sirsasana. But before we were able to let go and come onto our backs to rest, Phillip (of course) guided us into one more arm balance: Crow Pose. We held Crow for quite a while and then we were given the option to roll forward into Tripod Headstand or shoot the legs directly back into Chaturanga.
Finally, Savasana never seemed so glorious. Although it was a shorter rest, it gave me a chance to find my breath and thank my body for working so hard in such challenging arm strengthening poses. Many people (including myself) took a few extra minutes to embrace the silence before packing up and heading out into the chaos of 8 million New Yorkers. Although, in a steamy room on the second floor of a quiet building on 17th street, a vertical reality beyond arm balancing couldn’t have felt any more distant.
-Ashley Rose Howard for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $20. Free mat rentals included.