For over a decade, Sleuth has relied on The Shala for Ashtanga-based vinyasa yoga. On a recent Sunday afternoon, when the weekend lazies were reaching maximum capacity, Julianna Takacs’s Intermediate/Advanced class called my name from the online schedule, saying it would set me right for the upcoming week.
Located near Union Square, The Shala is highly accessible by most subways nearby. (And a Citi Bike dock around the corner.)
To transition from hectic Broadway below, there’s a wooden stairwell, which leads to the friendly check-in desk. On the day of my visit, a fellow yogi was exiting the building, which made for an even sweeter entrance—she held the door open for me to come in!
The yoga room, a large, loft-like area, is simply designed. The soft pink walls are accented with huge windows on one side, and a row of illustrations depicting Hindu gods and goddesses on the other. Photos of Pattabhi Jois are placed near the floral-adorned altar. The prop wall is also used to store personal belongings, while blankets are neatly folded in the corners of the room.
Approaching me with a familiar smile, Julianna asked for a reminder of my name. I had taken class with her before, but it had been awhile, so her acquaintance came as an extra warm welcome.
She started class behind the harmonium with a peaceful chant—Om Shanti—in a rhythm I had never heard before. Julianna has a beautiful voice, so I asked her after class if she is a professional singer.
“I am not, but something takes over when I am chanting. I think because it has nothing to do with me. I just give myself over to the devotional aspect of chanting, which can be in any language, however I have personally come to resonate with Sanskrit and Arabic the most. As in yoga, when you and your stuff—hang-ups, fears, superficial concerns—can get out of the way, then something beautiful can come through you,” she told me.
To begin our asana practice, we were eased in with some gentle warm-ups before getting into Surya Namaskar variations. As The Shala is an Ashtanga-based studio—they offer Mysore hours every morning—I was curious about how Julianna creates her sequencing around the Primary Series.
“The way I have been most impacted by the Ashtanga practice is its focus on breath and rhythmic breathing,” she explained after class. “Before I found that within a yoga asana practice, I had been studying meditation that primarily focused on the subtlety of breath awareness. So when I found yoga teachers (Julianna studied with Ruth Lauer-Manenti primarily, and then later with Kristin Leigh and Barbara Verrochi) and a physical practice, that also emphasized that awareness, my whole being instantly knew I was in the right place.”
She referred to the Ashtanga Primary Series as a “road map” that you may veer away from by taking some side roads now and then, but you remain close to the “main road,” which “really becomes much more about the embodiment of a steady breath within the movement,” she said.
Aside from the deep breathing, which could be heard, the room was pretty quiet. (The music playing from the store below was barely there, but particularly audible when lying on the ground in preparation for Salabhasana.) After class, I asked Julianna on her thoughts about keeping a silent room for class.
She replied, “Most days I keep the room quiet. I think it's important to offer an environment that allows you to listen for and to hear the breath, and it allows your practice to be a safe place to deal with some of the everyday things that come up—especially the busy, distracted, agitated, stressed, bored, annoyed mind.”
But it wasn’t always that way.
“When I first started teaching, I spent so much time on playlists! It was fun and music can be really helpful as a way to bring people together or into their emotional bodies,” she said. “But as people progress in their physical practice, I hope to provide a space that allows them to develop their inner-self just as much. When it's just you and your breath it can be really challenging, but also very fulfilling.”
Though an hour-and-a-half was allotted for class, only about an hour is applied to vigorous asana. The rest was spent either in chanting, meditation and Savasana, along with about 20 minutes of closing postures.
Julianna said this about a well-rounded practice:
“As most of us know by now, yoga asana is one part of a full system, or science, of yoga. The physical practice is meant as a step on the way to a deeper understanding and ease with the self, found through the practices of awareness, breath, and meditation. A yoga class that doesn't touch a little on all these places doesn't feel complete to me."
“If you chant, or close your eyes, or even just watch your breath for a few minutes before jumping into the asana, you are signaling to mind, 'ok here we go—this is the track I'd like you to follow.' Then you move your body with that intention and energy, and it grows. By the end, your mind and body are ready and happy to sit still with each other so you can internalize that growing, steady, calm energy. You then get to take that energy into the rest of your life, which I am sure the world around you appreciates!”
To call us out of our rest, Julianna used the harmonium, her beautiful voice, and the Om Shanti chant.
When class ended, I felt an overall sense of calm and knowing. It was great having Julianna help guide me there.
—Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes: $20.
New Student Special: $30 (for 3 classes)
Mat and towel rental: $2 (each)
Sunday 4pm-5:30pm Intermediate/Advanced
The Shala 815 Broadway, 2nd FL New York, NY 10003 212-979-9988