Sunday nights are the perfect time for Netflix-bingeing restorative yoga—finding a peaceful transition back into the workweek, with a calm mind and relaxed body. Who wouldn't want to end the week with 75 minutes of support from a kindhearted, grounded teacher, and a stack of comfy blankets? If you’re willing to find your way east to Yo Yoga!, on 59th St. and 1st Ave., it will be worth the journey for Nichelle William’s Candle Lit Yoga Nidra class.
Dimly lit candles softly flickered, and smells of incense wafted through this one-room studio, as students made their ways to the back shelves, grabbing plenty of props for class, including a bolster, several blankets, and two blocks, each. As everyone began to surrender to the gravitational pull of their spines toward the earth, Nichelle glided into the room, with her joyful presence and bright smile that naturally enhanced the surrounding flames of light. She began class by introducing herself, followed by a brief, yet informative, explanation of what a Yin practice consisted of before having everyone find a comfortable seat, propped onto a folded blanket or bolster.
“Find your center,” Nichelle said, as we brought our hands together in front of our hearts. We opened the practice with one invigorating Om, and, as the last silent syllable drifted into space, we brought our feet together in Baddha Konasana and walked our fingertips forward until we met our thresholds of openness in our inner thighs. “There’s a difference between tension and pain,” Nichelle explained. “Tension is learning how to breathe through discomfort, while pain actually causes a harsh, physical response.”
After about three minutes of inhaling and exhaling deeper into the pose, my inner thighs felt like they were on fire. I found it nearly impossible to remain present for another minute, but just when I was about to give up, Nichelle’s philosophical teachings pushed me through. “When we learn to be still in our bodies, and remain present in the face of discomfort, we start to gain more control over our bodies, and more importantly, the mind.”
We moved into a few more deep hip-openers, including Lizard, Pigeon, and low lunge, for around five minutes, each side, before returning back to forward folds, including Janu Sirsasana and a modified version of Paschimottanasana, with a bolster under the knees.
Nichelle held the space beautifully for those of us who struggled to find our breaths in these long and intense periods of—literally—sitting in stillness.
To keep our minds present, she shared personal stories about overcoming obstacles by leaning into stillness, and wove-in encouraging philosophy from some of her favorite teachers, including Pema Chodron. Throughout each pose and mindful transition, she offered opportunities to come out, but challenged us to try and remain connected to our breaths until we reached the calm that lay just beyond our anxiousness.
The final few poses brought us onto our backs, twisting to each side to flush out any last bits of residual tension from opening up the floodgates of issues that we held in our tissues. “Be gentle with yourselves,” she emphasized, “and find the space to let go.”
As we brought awareness to our senses, elegant melodies of calming music continued to swirl through my eardrums, and the smells of lavender filled my nostrils. We slowly moved into Savasana by letting one leg come forward and down, then the other. A bolster was placed under my knees, which released my low back, along with my legs. My breath remained natural, my inner gaze soft.
“Find a place where silence expands into the mind chatter,” Nichelle softly whispered, “and breathe.” A sense of weightlessness took over my body, and gaps of quiet filled my thoughts. As I continued to fall deeper into the calming surrender of Yin, I felt the ground beneath me, like a frozen river of reflection, solid in form, but fluid just beneath the surface.
—Ashley Rose Howard for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $20 with $2 mat rentals available. New student special: $59 for one-month unlimited.