Located in Astoria, Queens, Yoga Agora was founded in 2010 by our teacher for the evening, Nick Velkov. Nick opened the studio to "make yoga accessible and affordable,” and by anyone’s standards has succeeded as being such. Classes are only $5 and are always packed.
Every class I have taken at Yoga Agora has held somewhere between 30 - 40 people which not only speaks to the studio’s credibility but to the neighborhood’s growing yoga community. It's also a beautiful space, cleanly-kept, with floor to ceiling patio windows that overlook the diverse restaurants and coffee shops of Astoria's Broadway. This particular evening it was the week leading up to Christmas, and I could also view the twinkling Christmas street lights.
Expecting an easy class for a Tuesday morning, I scoured the room and found my fellow practitioners were practicing Forearm Stand, Flying Crow and Eka Pada Koundinyasana - and this was before class had even begun. Nick, however, commenced class with something relatively simpler, having students stand in Tadasana and then talking us through the nuances of Tadasana, advising us to roll our shoulders back, to check our weight is evenly balanced in our feet, to relax our face muscles, and so forth. "When you become aware of these small things it takes your attention away from the outside world," he reassured us.
Nick then began playing classical music and walked us through many rounds of Suraya Namaskar A and Surya Namaskar B. We then quickly moved through a series of Standing Poses that included Warrior 1, Warrior 2, Trikonasana, Pyramid, and Extended Side Angle (and on the second round with a bind).
Next, we practiced Utkatasana followed Utkatasana Twists. Then the class took a difficult turn. Staying folded, we were to bend and cup our right knee with our hands and come up to standing with our knee remaining bent. This took a lot of core work and challenged most of the class who wobbled through it. With encouragement and support from Nick we felt free to give it a try. From here, we held Vrksasana (Tree Pose) for about thirty seconds followed by Vrksasana with a bind.This was all in preparation for the arm balance.
After taking us carefully back out of the steps that got us into Tree, Nick then walked us through a vinyasa and had us shoot our legs through to sit in Dandasana. As we were seated, first, Nick had us hold Janu Sirsasana, then Paschimottanasana, which then morphed into the same Vrksasana bind we practiced in standing earlier.Leaning over to one side, Nick then encouraged us to use our core to lift up into the side arm balance with the bind. This pose is more classically known as Kasyapasana - Side Plank with bound half-Lotus. For those struggling with the pose, Nick suggested we, "just try it without the bind" first, as if we were first planting our roots, and grow from there. He also gave assists to several students close to achieving the full pose.
Following these challenging arm balances, Nick then walked us through backbends which included Bridge Pose followed by three Full Wheels for those not too tired to attempt it. To cool us down, we held Shoulderstand for about ten breaths, then Nick gave us the option of holding a Headstand followed by Savasana or going straight to Savasana.
After our final relaxation, Nick walked us through a brief meditation to end class. "The only reason to do that silly, difficult pose," he said, "is to unlock energy in the body that allows you to be still and meditate."