“There’s no one way to practice yoga,” Sara Walshe reminds us on her website. Yoga Sleuth agrees, and thus was excited to try Sara’s special fusion of the Ashtanga and Vinyasa styles, fittingly called The Bridge. She teaches it Monday through Thursday at the Ashtanga Yoga Shala studio on the Lower East Side, providing a continuity of practice that’s hard to come by in our city of ever-changing teacher rotations and schedules.
"Draw the attention to the present moment," Sara suggested as we took a comfortable seat. "Feel grounded and supported. Draw the energy up through the earth into the body. Sit tall, feeling as though each vertebrae is separating away from the next."
Mentally and physically ready to move, we came to stand in Tadasana to formally begin the practice with the traditional Ashtanga opening invocation chant. "Just remember, there's no perfection here," Sara reassured. "It's just a matter of feeling the sounds reverberate in the body."
We proceeded into Surya Namaskar A, which Sara cued first in Sanskrit followed by the English. "Engage Ujjayi breathing and activate the bandhas," she reminded as we took our five breaths in Down Dog.
We progressed to Surya B, adding Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana 1. "Use the five breaths to connect with the present moment," suggested Sara. "If the heartbeat is going a bit fast, use the breath to slow it down."
We grabbed our toes with our “peace fingers” and folded down, gazing at the tip of the nose, then slipped the palms underneath the feet. "See if you can get the toes to the wrist creases," said Sara, and we did! We then set up for Pyramid Pose, squaring the hips to the front of the room, chin to the shin, and Sara counted out the five breaths as we folded deeply.
We were now transitioning to a vinyasa style, as we came from Down Dog Split to bend the knee and touch the nose in Plank. We opened out into Warrior 2. "Reach actively through the front fingertips and back," urged Sara. "One strong straight line of energy."
We used blocks under our hands for a modified Warrior 3. "Feel one line of energy coming equally through the back heel to the crown of the head." From there we moved into Parsvokanasa A. "Right hand to the outside of the right foot, left arm comes up over the ear," cued Sara. "One straight line from the fingertips to the outer edge of the foot"
We progressed to Half Moon, then folded into Prasarita Padottanasana with "Chaturanga" arms, then after another vinyasa returned to the pose with peace fingers around the toes. Peace fingers were again utilized in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. "Option to either bring the knee to a 90 degree bend or extend it all the way. Find your drishti," said Sara.
Feeling daring, we all extended our legs straight. "Just try again," she said to a student who fell out of the pose (ok, fine, it was me!) "Let go of whatever may have just happened, because the other side will be a completely different experience."
We came to sit at the top of the mat, and we set up for Boat Pose, pointing the toes and drawing the knees together. "With the toes actively pointing, slowly start to draw the shins up off the floor so they are parallel to the ground.” She gave us an option to extend them all the way, and again we went for the straight leg variation. Paschimottanasana was to ground us. "Ten breaths here, which really gives us a long luxurious time to open up the hamstrings. With each inhale think about lengthening the spine, with each exhale folding over a little bit more."
After an option of Bridge and Wheel, we set up for Shoulderstand, reaching one leg up at a time. "Continue to press the hips towards the face and heels away, coming into one long line. Legs are engaged, toes are pointed, they're fired up and working."
We balanced it out with Fish Pose, and after an optional Headstand, began the traditional Ashtanga closing poses. We sat in Lotus, grabbed elbows behind the back and folded for ten breaths. With hands on the knees we engaged all three bandhas and sat for twenty breaths. Finally we pressed down through the arms and brought our bodies off the ground for ten breaths, then unwound from the lotus position and lied down for a blissful Savasana with gentle neck, shoulder and third eye adjustments.
"Keep the eyes closed and the mind soft," said Sara as we returned once more to a comfortable seat. "And as we leave our mats this evening, let's bring this stillness and calm along with us."
The Bridge class is a $15 drop-in with a $2 mat rental.