Exploring The Junction Of Yoga And Meditation With Rikki Gunton
Nestled between Avenues B and C, on the third floor of an old synagogue, Hebrew prayers have been substituted for the vibrational syllables of “Om” and peaceful observations from Rikki Gunton’s lunchtime yoga and meditation class. What was once known as the ABC Sanctuary recently transformed into Yoga Agora’s sister studio, Sixth Street Yoga Junction, with the same community-vibe and charm as its Astoria location.
Yoga Sleuth was the first to arrive at this one-room studio, on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, as Rikki greeted me with a friendly smile, sitting peacefully cross-legged on a bench, against the wall. Her serene presence made me feel calm and centered as I offered a five dollar donation and found my way onto my mat.
A few latecomers trickled in as Rikki explained how the class worked: 45 minutes of movement and 15 minutes of meditation. Wet leaves from nearby tree branches gently glided along the colorful stained glass wall of windows framing the studio as the soothing sounds of fall guided us into a relaxed start in Sukhasana.
We rolled over crossed legs and onto hands and knees for a few rounds of Cat/Cow connecting a full cycle of breath with each round of movement. "Allow yourself to take a breath with the whole body and see how that feels,” said Rikki. As I began to deepen my inhalations and exhalations, her clear and direct cues helped me anchor deeper into breath and presence.
We added onto the Cat/Cow theme with a slow moving flow from Child’s Pose to Adho Mukha Svanasana to Plank, lowering the knees and finding an arch in the spine for Cow, and then rounding the spine for Cat as we shifted back into Child’s Pose. We repeated this sequence several times before holding Adho Mukha Svanasana for a few extended breaths. The connection of each movement expanded my lungs, while drawing my awareness more inwards.
Rikki led us into standing poses with the intention of opening the hamstrings and remaining connected to our spinal fluidity. We began with Anjaneyasana into Parsvottanasana, with hands on bricks. In our second round of Anjaneyasana, Rikki threw in an utterly—pun intended—modified version of finding Cat/Cow in the spine as we drew the shoulder blades together with our arms in “cactus,” and separating the shoulder blades apart closing the arms together.
My quads began to tremble as I tried to focus on the movement guiding my ribcage forward and backwards. For someone who is generally a pro at the balance game, this playful sequence had me oscillating in the ankles, like a baby just learning to stand. "Disconnect to the stories about your body rising up in the mind and just come back to your breath," we were encouraged.
Rikki added in a creative series of Eagle Pose into Half Moon and then Trikonasana twisting open to the left and right on both sides. By the time we came into Virabhadrasana 2 to Reverse Warrior and then Side Angle, my legs felt like Jello. "Use any sensations in the body to connect fully into presence," Rikki added. With these intuitive words of wisdom, I focused on the feeling of fatigue in my legs, to remain more embodied, and less lost in thought.
We finally came down into Pigeon, followed by swinging the legs around for a forward fold in Paschimottanasana. As each exhale collapsed my chest deeper towards my thighs, I mindfully reached a steady junction of breath and body.
A final twist in Marichyasana C and we found a comfortable seat for guided meditation. Rikki led us through the three foundations of body, breath, and mind awareness before creating space for silence and stillness. Although my mind continued to wander off, I found there were less thoughts of the usual judgments and negative dialogue after practicing 45 minutes of breath expansion and muscle extension.
It seems that Sixth Street Yoga Junction is not only vibrant with charisma, but holds the magic of turning our minds into allies. Or perhaps the magic is really the ally who turns our attention to the mind.
—Ashley Rose Howard for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes: $10 (75 minutes) and $5 (60 minutes)
Saturday/Sunday 3pm classes: By donation (pay-what-you-wish)