A 105-minute vinyasa class is a lot of time for Yoga Sleuth, or any other busy urban mat-goer, to invest. But since it was at Kula, and taught by Miriam Wolf, I knew I was in for a worthy and rewarding time.
Miriam welcomed the packed house and beckoned us to get an unbuckled strap and two blocks. Our first pose would be a Supported Fish. "If you're fairly open in your thoracic spine, place the block on its highest height between your shoulder blades, and another at medium height under your head." (I opted for medium between the scapulas, as my spine and I still have some work to do. )
We brought our legs into a choice of Cobbler’s Pose or stretched out in front of us. "I want you to be specific about your arms," said Miriam, "place them in a cactus shape. Put invisible weights on your wrists and hands so your elbows lift up slightly. Start to think about drawing your shoulder blades down your back away from your ears and roll the bicep towards the ceiling, the tricep down. Soften the face and breathe."
We sat up and placed our legs into Baddha Konasana, but with the inner balls of the feet pressed into one of our handy blocks. "Start to add a little Cobra Pose sensation into your chest. Lift your heart up so much that you're creating Jalandhara Bandha."
Miriam hails from a dance background and is also versed in Thai massage, and these inform her creative sequencing and excellent hands-on adjustments, as I would later experience when she pressed her knee into my thigh to ground down my resting Pigeon. Her cues demonstrate an expert grasp of anatomy but are also clear, step-by-step and easy to follow.
We grabbed our straps in our hands and lifted and lowered behind our backs to loosen our tight shoulders. "Come to a ‘funky’ Down Dog with the block underneath the top of your head...I want you to get comfortable with letting the head go. Put this sensation in your brain." Foreshadowing of forthcoming Headstand practice!
We rippled forward into a piked Plank, then dropped back into Down Dog, repeating the sequence four times. Coming into Down Dog Split we reached the right knee to the left elbow ("like a chicken wing!" said Miriam). We brought the foot forward and left for a cross-legged Parsvottanasana, many of us with the aid of our ubiquitous blocks, then did a cross-legged Uttanasana as well. We hopped our heels to kick our own backsides, landed with bent knees and feet apart, then hopped them cross-legged again.
We progressed to Utkatasana, then challenged our balance by bringing the right leg to stack on the bent left knee, and into Half Moon, where we were invited to grab for the back foot. We moved back into Warrior Two and repeated on the other side and then several more times on our own. We flowed ferociously in between, with the option of a lifted leg Chaturanga which I exercised gladly. Coming down on our sit bones, we used our arm strength to press into the mat and lift our thighs off the ground.
We played in Headstand (or prep) as anticipated by our earlier work, then brought our mats to the wall. "Bring the whole kit and kaboodle with you!" grinned Miriam as we grabbed blocks and straps.
We played with inversions, including bringing our legs up to the wall in a modified Scorpion, then took wheels with our blocks against the wall on diagonals under our hands. I planned to use my strap for Matsyandrasana C, but Miriam came over and eased my arms around my knee so that my hands clasped together behind my back. I was stunned and grateful as this was the first time I had ever accomplished this!
Feeling victorious I joined my fellow students as we luxuriated in the stillness of Savasana. Miriam serenaded us with the Govinda Chant, accompanied by a harmonium. When we rose to seated positions we joined in on the chant, this time in call-and-response fashion. This put us in a mood of spirited serenity as we bowed to Miriam, and to ourselves, in gratitude.
"Bring your hands to the center of your heart," smiled Miriam, "and take a deep breath from the bottom of your belly. Namaste!"
-Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes at Kula Williamsburg are $20 with a $2 mat and $2 towel rental.