Shape Shifting with Irina Ovsiannikova
It was a Monday afternoon and while many people are counting the minutes to the end of the work day, Yoga Sleuth was counting down the minutes to Irina Ovsiannikova's 5pm vinyasa flow class at YogaWorks Union Square. No matter what time you encounter Union Square it's always alive and hopping, and despite the crowds, there's always something undeniably special about it. Perhaps it's that all the chaotic activity reminds us so much about how our busy brains tend to get sometimes - cluttered, overloaded, going in a hundred directions at once, but still pretty darn amazing. This may also explain why Union Square is so dense with yoga studios, the much needed havens. As a staple of the neighborhood, YogaWorks Union Square provides a mini retreat into quiet calmness, which this sleuth experienced and welcomed wholeheartedly on the first day of a busy week. At an hour that's still a little too early for the 9 to 5-ers, Irina’s class is the sweet spot just before the rush. As I entered the studio, I felt the energy, lingering peacefully from the late afternoon lull. For this 60-minute class we would absorb that peacefulness and spin it into some enlivening twists and backbends. Irina began class immediately upon entering the room. Setting us up in Supported Fish with two blocks, she let us remain in the pose for several minutes as she talked about focusing on our breath and bringing our attention into the space. Transitioning out of the supported backbend, we came to lie flat on our backs and windshield wipered our legs from side to side. Rocking up to sit we came right onto hands and knees for a few rounds of Cat and Cow, moving on the breath. While Cat and Cow are very common for a yoga class warm-up, this dynamic movement set the tone for the rest of our class which was to continue incorporating a lot of shifting in and out of poses and shapes, sometimes unexpectedly. Taking the the arm version of thread-the-needle, we slid our shoulder to the ground but did not stay for longer than a breath before reaching the same arm back up to the sky and then back down through to the ground. Repeating this several times we found a rhythm and I could feel the muscles along my spine starting to warm and stretch in the twisting motion. When we arrived at our first Downward Facing Dog, Irina had us bend our knees, lift our hips high, try to keep them there, and pump out our legs by send our heels back. We did this several times and returned to it again in between a few rounds of Sun Salutation variations. Uttanasana, our standing forward fold, also included dynamic movement. Irina asked us to have our hands flat, either on the floor, or, if they didn't reach, on blocks. Here we bent our knees and worked to straighten them on the breath, with our hands pressing in the surface underneath them to aid in the stretch. As we came to some twisting, Irina continued the theme of fluid motion and had us move in and out of a twisted lunge as well as twisted Chair Pose. This is a lot harder than it sounds, as one has to to engage their core really strongly in order to keep balance and to rotate into the twist. With our spinal muscles feeling supple, Irina challenged our balance even further with a very unique take...OK, let’s call it a twist...on a low lunge, with our back knee directly in line with our front heel and as close to it as we could get it. This created a sort of tightrope sensation where our bodies wobbled to negotiate where we were in space along with, you guessed it, some dynamic movement on the breath - from lifting our arms all the way up to bringing our opposite arm from leg across into a twist. Eventually it stuck there, as we paused in this twisted highwire pose. And, almost as if it had been sneaking up on us, we tucked our back toes, lifted our back knee and came into the mega twist, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, Revolved Side Angle Pose. Approaching this difficult pose in a new way brought a fresh perspective and, because of all the dynamic twisting, it wasn’t such a struggle. Now that we’d spun our spines, it was time to bend them back into curvy shape. We finished our practice with some backbends including Sphinx Pose and Bow Pose before moving into Bridge and Full Wheel, or Supported Bridge if we preferred (and by this point, I was happy to return my body to drape form resting over the block). Wrung out and released, we settled into Savasana. It wasn’t until the next class began rushing in that I’d remembered once again how lucky we all are to have yoga as a tool to refocus and reorganize before re-entering whatever chaos lies beyond our mats.
-Holly C. Sparrow for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes at YogaWorks Union Square are $22 with $2 mat rental.
138 5th Avenue, 4th FL
New York, NY 10011