Vinyasa on a Friday is a much better way to start the weekend than one more day of desk-jockeying, especially when Yoga Sleuth gets to do it at a brand-new studio.
Five Pillars welcomed the sunshine through its front windows as we gathered on our mats to welcome the studio to Carnegie Hill.
“Anything going on in the body I need to know about?” asked teacher/owner Olga Karloutsos-Palladino. My tight right hip was the only public disclosure. And then we were off and Om-ing.
“Close your eyes and start to come into the breath,” said Olga. “Notice the length of the inhale and exhale. Feel the chest, belly, and lungs expand as you inhale, and as you exhale feel the navel contract into the spine. Breathig is one of the 'five pillars,' and is also one of the most important parts of the practice because it helps us go deeper into the poses and to relax a little more. So we want to carry that deep Ujjayi breathing throughout the entire practice. ”
We shrugged the shoulders to the ears and released them, as the sounds of Pink Floyd wafted through the studio, followed by Led Zeppelin (I was in heaven. No stairway was needed). Seated, we made circles with our torsos, brought the feet apart to move the knees from side to side, and then took gentle twists.
“Anyone allergic to eucalyptus that doesn’t want an adjustment with it?” asked Olga.
I shook my head, then realized that might have been misconstrued and piped up, “I’m not allergic!” Olga laughed, gave me a great neck and shoulder adjustment, and got to do my asanas with a sense of bliss that usually only koalas achieve.
We came to our backs and hugged our right knees to our chests, threading the hands behind the head, and then proceeded to work the core through basic bicycle crunches. We slid the right knee behind the left and grabbed our ankles, flexing the feet and opening the heart. Then we brought the soles together on the floor, brought the hands back behind the head, brought our shoulders up, and made circles.
“Relax the head and neck down. Release the jaw and the tension in our face,” said Olga. “When we start to breathe in a more calm and steady way, we start to release the tension, and allow for space to happen.”
She motioned for us to bring a block between our thighs. We brought our hands behind our heads. The options were to point the feet to the sky and spread our toes, or to keep the feet on the floor as we alternated between bringing our shoulders up high on the inhale and then halfway down on the exhale. “Squeeze the block and allow the lower belly muscles to pull into the spine,” urged Olga.
“At first I wasn’t into abdominal work during yoga,” explained Olga as we rested in a supine Cobbler’s pose. But when she returned to the method, it was a revelation. “It taught me a lot about creating heat, creating strength for our standing poses, and best of all, it got me out of my head.”
We came to our hands and knees, then reached back into our first Down Dog, toggling behind that and “Plankasana.” Standing, we grabbed one wrist with the other hand for a great-feeling side bend, and then it was time to flow.
Olga spied that it was time for a vinyasa flow tutorial, which even seasoned yogis need from time to time. Fellow Five Pillars teacher Vida Luz, taking class alongside us, demoed this key part of the vinyasa flow as Olga talked us through. “Notice that she’s pulling the heart open through the arms, not pushing,” noted Olga, as Vida showed us Up Dog. “She’s lifting everything up except the tops of the feet, which are pressing into the earth.”
Our standing poses included Pyramid and a supported Warrior 3 with hands on blocks. We twisted in our lunges to wring out our long-suffering livers (or maybe that's just mine).
“David Swenson says that there are two reasons to come out of a pose,” said Olga. “If you can’t breathe or if it hurts. Only do it if it feels right.” We played in Rotated Triangle, then came down to the mat for Locust Pose. “Try to make both legs into one,” said Olga as we lifted. After Bow Pose we were "happy babies," then Olga invited us to bring our legs up the wall, or sit on a block and bring our legs to the sky.
“Savasana is a way of giving thanks,” said Olga. “Whether there’s turmoil and hardship, or happiness, we can practice that gratitude every day. Let the practice wash over you.”