Since Daylight Savings, all thoughts have turned to spring! The warmer temps and longer
days signal a new beginning, and to mark the season of renewal, Sleuth decided class with Sara Packard at hot yoga haven, Lyons Den was the call.
Clearly, cleansing was in the air. Sara began class with a warm welcome, highlighting a few front row yogis who had just finished a fruit cleanse which explained the colorful sticker chart posted on the wall near check-in. The studio was hosting a 40 day personal revolution challenge — the sticker chart and fruit cleanse were part of it.
Class started seated. Sara asked us to sit on a block, close our eyes and become present. For several minutes, she guided us in breath work that included retention at the top of the inhale, and after a few rounds, the retention switched to the bottom of the exhale.
I noticed the thermostat set at 92. It was just 5 minutes in, and I was already sweating it out despite the fact we hadn’t yet moved much. As the sweat dripped down my back, I saw one of the front row yogis also brush herself off with a towel.
Accompanying our first Downward Dog, were the first beats of music— instilling a layer of energy to the room. Throughout the hour, we heard tunes by La Femme, Ellie Goulding, Thievery Corporation, and MC Yogi.
After class, I asked Sara about her playlist.
“I like to keep it eclectic, but also spend a lot of time making sure it will flow together nicely and fit the flow of the class,” she said.
Sara’s upbeat demeanor also added energy to the room. Both encouraging and clear in her instruction, she motivated us to find our best expressions of the poses while keeping our awareness on the breath.
At one point she told us to “Feel your breath moving through the body.”
I asked her to elaborate on this when we spoke after class.
“I like the visual of a "whole body breath" to get my students breath and energy moving. As we move deeper into the practice and the sensations of the body get stronger, so should the breath. Rather than sitting in chair pose and thinking about how much your thighs are burning and creating a whole dramatic story around it, if you instead choose to breathe deeper and bigger, all of a sudden you give yourself the ability to get out of your own way and just be present for what you're feeling. It becomes a powerful tool both on the mat, and off when we learn to use our breath to keep us grounded in reality rather our heads!”
The sequence started simply, yet powerfully. From Chair to Twisted Chair, Sara then asked us to lengthen our leg back very slowly to Revolved Extended Side Angle. From there we took Reverse Warrior and Extended Side Angle. Bound Half Moon, Side Plank and Eagle were also included in the flow. Each vinyasa was rounded out with three Shakti kicks, where she welcomed us to “hang out” if we could.
After class, Sara explained her sequencing to me. “We are the only Baptiste studio in NYC! There is a specific arc within the Journey In Power flow that lends itself to such a powerful experience and works for students of all levels. In Baptiste we have a saying "Be in the now, and you'll know how" which works so well for me. I'm not a huge planner, but because I have the foundation of the Baptiste flow to draw from, I find so much freedom and creativity from then just being present, and with my students. It's very much a collaborative experience!”
Sara walked around the room offering words of inspiration. She told us to see challenges not as problems but as possibilities. And while we were bound in Eagle, she said that though we were bound in the pose, we were still free.
In our post class chat she explained, “While I want my students to have a dynamic physical experience, it's also important to me that through the experience of their bodies, they find powerful ways to relate to themselves in their minds and in their hearts, so that they take what they experience on the mat and apply it into their lives. If I can get you into a pose that really challenges you, and then encourage you in a way that lights you up while in the midst of that challenge, you are more likely going to go out into the world and start doing that for yourself and others because you have shown yourself you can do it!“
There were many long holds throughout class. Often when I felt we were finishing up, Sara had just started her count. Plank ‘ose, in particular, was held for 10 or 20 breaths, a few different times.
When I asked Sara why so many long holds, she said, “While we do a lot of flow in our classes, it's equally important to then take the time and just be in the pose. I used the idea of building a fire through flow and breath, and then stoking the fire through longer holds and breath. If you relate it to life, sometimes things move super fast and we go from one thing to the next, and other times we need to slow down, and just delve a little deeper into what's here now. I often use the words feel what you feel in those longer holds because it's an opportunity to see for yourself that although you are "in the fire" and feeling so much, you ultimately are OK and stronger than you think you are! Our minds tend to give up long before the body does, so by that 10th or 20th breath, maybe you have figured out that the old stories of ‘I can't’, ‘I'm not strong/good enough’ no longer apply to you, and instead you are feeling empowered by what you can do!”
When it was time to take it down to the mat, the long-held Half Pigeon felt well deserved.
A supine twist for both sides came next, followed by Savasana, and an Om to close.
When I rolled up my mat, I saw the thermostat was up to 94. My body, drenched in sweat, felt completely cleansed and energized for the day. I was ready to begin again.