YogaWorks is known for their well-rounded alignment and breath-focused teaching style weaved with anatomical cues and threads of philosophy. Add a lovely French accent to the mix and the class experience becomes even more magical. A native of France, Celine Antoine can be found leading Iyengar-inspired classes at yoga studios around New York City including YogaWorks, where she teaches students of all levels as well as yoga teachers in training.
There was a mix of students at this particular Level 1 Wednesday morning class at the Westside location. The front row was lined with seasoned yogis, but towards the back of the room there seemed to be more students dealing with injuries, over-exhaustion and flexibility restrictions.
Celine had us start by propping our hips high onto two double folded blankets, extending the spine long. She brought our awareness to the head and neck stacking them right on top of the spine, which became the theme of class. “Every time you lean your head forward, you’re adding 10 extra pounds of pressure onto the spine,” Celine shared. “Get long in the spine and sit taller.”
We began to warm up through a gentle flow of Seated Twists, Child’s Pose and Cat/Cow. We took a wide-legged Downward Facing Dog to focus on the action of lifting the hips up and back and creating extension through the spine. There were several modifications offered for beginner students as we continued to flow mindfully through Downward Facing Dog and Plank. “Teach the body to be strong and stable, but also listen for when it’s time to let go.”
To come to our feet, we first folded forwarded over the thighs in Uttanasana and stacking vertebra by vertebra we slowly rolled up into Tadasana. “Head and neck stacking right over the spine,” she emphasized. Celine guided us through a few variations of standing poses including Anjaneyasana, Virabhadrasana 2 and Trikonasana, while following the traditional YogaWorks formula of checking in with the three levels of foundation: feet, hips, shoulders. And, of course: “What’s happening with the head and neck?”
We turned to face the side of our mats and stepped wide folding forward into Prasarita Paddotanasana, with our hands interlaced behind our backs. Using our breath to lower and our legs to stabilize, I felt my spine elongate from the tailbone all the way towards the crown of my head. “And, breathe.” Two simple words that began to waft through my lungs and blossom my ribcage open.
Coming onto our backs felt supported and safe. Celine brought our awareness to the head placement drawing the chin away from the chest and for those jutting their chins outward, placing a blanket behind the head to find more support in the neck.
“As you deeply inhale and exhale, feel the rise and fall of the chest and the spine fully supported on your sticky mat.” With each cycle of breath, I found myself getting lost in her calming, French accent, my body softening and inner awareness deepening.
I began to think about the importance of having a healthy spine, as it is, essentially, an extension of our brains and the roadmap of our central nervous system. It takes a strong backbone to navigate this life; without it, we’d all just be lost in the deterioration of soft surrender.
- Ashley Rose Howard for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $29 and $2 mat rentals available.