When this Yoga Sleuth walked into Beginner's Club at Yoga Shanti, my IT bands were so tight they threatened to snap off and fly into the studio's interconnected ceiling fans. (More on those later.)
Fanny Oehl-Gross, who taught this 6pm Tuesday class, admitted she was a runner with her own illiotibial band issues. Fanny’s knowledge and easy demeanor promised a thoughtful sequence. What a relief!
I had been skeptical of the chic Yoga Shanti since it opened last spring on the ground floor of the Masonic Hall building on 24th Street. The studio appears exclusive, but inside the cozy boutique setting, my first impression was of inclusion, important for all students, but especially for beginners. After a long day, I loved that Fanny and a staff person set up everything for me - two blankets and two cork blocks - a procedure that reduced hubbub in an otherwise confining but beautifully stenciled room.
With my back against a movable wall shared by six students, I faced five others sitting against the opposing wall. Some clients appeared to know each other, engaging in gentle chatter. Thus, "Beginner's Club" seemed an appropriate title, suggestive of a supportive, social group.
Fanny handed me a cotton pad doused in peppermint oil, a non-intrusive way to provide aromatherapy. When a new student entered late, clearly embarrassed, Fanny and the staff member adjusted mats to accommodate her. “No apologies necessary,” Fanny said.
Then she launched into a brief meditation about imperfections followed by a standing forward bend sequence, with hands on blocks. We held the position for a few minutes while she cued muscle groups like quads, hamstrings, calves, feet, and those pesky ITBs. Moves that followed included a side bend against the wall with one leg crossed in front of the other, a pose that gently stretched tissue on the sides of the legs. Another unique pose included a Pyramid variation. With front toes on the lowest level of the block, which lengthened ankle and calf muscles, we leaned over the front leg, placing hands on a high block. Oy vey! We repeated going to the wall with crossed legs and returning to Pyramid with some twisted variations.
This sequence allowed us to find correct form in more complicated standing postures like Triangle and Warrior 2. Fanny’s movement theme was to "draw the front hip crease back with your hand," a detail that provided self-correction and ensured grounding through the feet and lower legs.
In these held postures, I heard the whir of two ceiling fans and noticed they were cleverly attached to each other through a system of moving belts. This really was a gorgeous, innovative room with gold ceilings and sparkly chandeliers.
Meanwhile, the clear sound system played Lou Reed, Tracy Chapman, and The Swell Season quietly in the background. "I love this song," a male student said when "Fast Car" came on. This exchange invited a friendly musical commentary.
Savasana included instruction of how to use one blanket as a pillow, two blocks as knee support, and the second blanket to cushion the blocks. Fanny didn’t talk down to her students, but she was clear on how to use props that most beginners might find intimidating. While the pose could have been held longer to be more meaningful, she read a sweet passage from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie that tied her one-hour class together. She had started with a dharma talk about weaknesses, and she ended with this related reading about frailty of self and others.
When the lights came up, Fanny reminded students she was about to lead an Urban Zen class, which she described as a combination of reiki and restorative. Her regular clients followed her into this next program, clearly faithful to a Tuesday routine with Fanny as their hostess. Fanny, who graduated from Yoga Shanti’s training program in 2012, has a real gift. Many instructors can talk anatomy. Not everyone can convey alignment and warmth in a sixty-minute experience.
- Ann Vatow for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $25 with $2 mat rental. Unlimited Beginners Club for introductory month: $100.
Yoga Shanti 46 West 24th St, Ground Floor New York, NY 10010