Retreat In The City With Sarah Schumann
Above the artist studios and office spaces in the Navy Yard sits the beautiful oasis of Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm where Sarah Schumann teaches an all-levels weekly yoga class. Sleuth, ready to retreat from the urban jungle into one ripe with more natural elements, was eager to practice in this agricultural setting. Having never before been in the Navy Yard, I gave myself extra time to navigate the meandering streets and uniform looking buildings that make up this industrial park. When I arrived at a crossroads, not knowing which way to turn, I was happy to see another woman with a yoga bag slung over her shoulder. Between Google Maps and the Brooklyn Grange site, we were able to find our destination, Building 3. Once up on the roof, lush greenery and tall sunflowers set the scene. We followed the little white path to the tents, where a few yogis were snapping photos of the sublime cityscape views. As we acclimated ourselves to the outdoor space, Sarah came in and greeted the group. When one woman—unsure of where to place her mat—asked Sarah where she would be instructing, Sarah said with a smile “Oh, you know me…I’m everywhere!” Class began with some centering breath work. We deepened our inhales through our noses, then exhaled fully through our mouths. When my mind dropped into my breath, I became hyper aware of the surroundings—a fresh breeze blowing on my skin, the sun shining brightly behind me. It felt fantastic to be practicing outdoors. After several rounds of deep breathing, Sarah said we would focus on impermanence and that by tethering our awareness to the breath, we could stay rooted in the present. I spoke with Sarah after class about the breath and impermanence: “Flow, exchange, cycles, transformation—all reflected in the breeze and those plants on the farm—are a most natural part of life. On the mat we can play with and explore this idea of change. We can move through familiar poses, but they are never the same, always filled with a fresh breath and, depending on the day, bringing any collection of sensations, discoveries, challenges, and triumphs. With intentional awareness to the flow of breath weaving in and out of our physical bodies, we can remind ourselves of the never-ending flow of experience—the highs and the lows—and that this, too, shall end. It's a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect,” she said. To help emphasize the message of impermanence, a circling helicopter lingered overhead. Sarah calmly reminded us through the loud sound, “This too shall pass.” As part of the warm-up, she guided us to rotate our torsos in a circular motion—similar to a Cat/Cow in the spine, but seated in a cross-legged position. Though the class began gently, Sarah didn’t take long to introduce some strengtheners into the sequence. She reversed the vinyasa to add push-ups into Plank Pose before lengthening back to Downward Dog. Since it was an all levels class, Sarah provided options to accommodate everyone. In a squat, with heels lifted, option one was to put our hands in prayer and hold it. Option two was to raise our arms up by our ears and out by our sides. Option three was Side Crow, which she demonstrated with clear instruction before we gave it a go. I asked her, after class, how she addresses the range of abilities in her class. “I try my best to create a space where as many people as possible can feel welcome to move as individuals, collectively. I try to offer options and variations and reminders to listen to one's own breath and to follow one's own moment-to-moment experience. Because the outdoor locations are often so nourishing in and of themselves, it's not too hard to encourage people to allow themselves permission to take a more restorative position or slower pace, if that makes sense for them,” she explained. Throughout class, many twisting variations were explored, including Chair Twist, Extended Side Angle Twist—with the option to bind—and several rounds of High Lunge Twists. Anjali Asana was often used as a grounding point in-between the twists. I asked Sarah, who also owns Shambhala Yoga & Dance, about class themes. “There is always a theme, though the flavor of that theme—whether asana-oriented, yogic philosophy-oriented, or idea-oriented—shifts according to what's going on for me (I had a fair amount of mental clutter that I needed to wring out!), around me (I also felt the steamy heat and was ready for the rinsing rains), and amongst the group (this is easier and more intuitive at the studio, where I have more relationships with those who practice with me). Largely though, there are so many paths, so many reasons for stepping onto the mat, which, in my interpretation of the yoga practice, is just one tiny part. I hope that as we move and breathe together, I can foster a consistent opportunity to tune in, to find and re-find all the known, unknown, forgotten, and well-avoided parts of ourselves—or even just consider that there could be all these. Then, perhaps, we can nourish and refine our connections, inside and out,” she said. Towards the end of the hour, we went down to our mats for Janu Sirsasana, a long Pigeon, and Tarasana. Savasana came next, and Sarah reminded us that this was an active pose—a time to open up and receive. “Many years ago one of my teachers referred to Savasana as a pose of being actively receptive, and it has resonated with me since. Particularly in a more physical asana practice, I feel it is just as important ‘to be’ as it is ‘to do.’ I think it is an integral piece of the whole—to participate actively in one's conscious surrender, to be intentional in allowing the body to receive the breath, to receive the support of the earth beneath, to let go of what doesn't serve, and to welcome what can nourish and heal. And what a lovely continuation of the idea of impermanence. In Corpse Pose we can practice what's coming—whether we like it or not: ultimate surrender!” When I came out of rest, I tuned into the environment. A bumble bee buzzed around a nearby sun flower, and a tiny ant crawled on my mat. Remembering that this moment would soon pass, I was prepared to reenter the urban jungle below. —Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $15 and are BYOM.
Brooklyn Grange Farm Evening Yoga 63 Flushing Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11205