It was a full house of Yoga Shanti regulars after work on a mild Thursday night
evening; we were all lying on our backs at the suggest of teacher/co-owner Joyce Englander Levy. "Bend your knees and let them fall together," she said. "Is this pose familiar to you? Is it comfortable, does it help you feel an ease in your mind, or does it reveal to you that it's wandering? Does it ground your thoughts in the present moment or make them wander away?"
We drew the right knee in and grabbed hold, first narrow toward the ribcage, and then experimenting with bringing it a little wider. "Notice the place where your knee folds the deepest and your hip opens the most." This set the table for a most mindful practice.
We brought our arms to a “T”, or cactus shape, brought the right knee bent to the side, and slowly brought the left knee over to join it. Then we brought the left knee to the left and slowly let the right follow, and continued several times in that fashion. "You're only moving your thigh bones, don't swing in your pelvis," Joyce instructed as we worked intently to isolate the movement.
We stayed on the floor for a while, bringing head, neck and shoulders off the mat; lifting straight legs up in the air and forward to the wall ahead; rolling off our mats to lie prone, and then rolling back to supine. "The most awkward thing you've done all day, I'm sure!" said Joyce. "Maybe now you'll be able to do what you don't usually do, and go up to 'that' person and introduce yourself! Be awkward, see what happens!"
We interlaced thumbs behind our backs as we lay prone and reached up through the front body, bringing up our head, collarbone, and shoulders. "Notice if you're straining. Is it your low back, is it your neck, your breath? Lower down, but not to the ground. Don't give up, you're still in the pose, with balance, with centeredness."
We brought more attention to the legs by keeping the pinky toes pressed to the floor and letting the big toes and inner heels touch. "All the while you're breathing and creating the Salabhasana with endurance," noted Joyce. With her words, we did our best.
Finally we reared back into our first Down Dog, and Joyce came over to help me pike my hips to find my best expression. Soon we were up standing for Surya Namaskar. We did Triangles and Warrior 2s to the front of the room, swiveled to face the side wall for Prasarita Padottanasana, and faced the back wall to do our standing poses on the other side.
We workshopped Chaturanga with blocks under our torsos, then did an intriguing variation on the yogi pushup: Joyce had us bend our legs behind us, crossing at the ankles and pressing the front body into Chaturanga from there. It was a challenging and fun variation on a key posture.
"One of the secrets to flowing is to almost give the illusion that you never reach the stopping point," said Joyce. "That you go to your edge but actually never meet it. Don't reach your edge and just stay there; try to demonstrate pure transition."
We got some airtime in Standing Split, Crow, and Side Crow. Joyce cued all of these step-by-step with the utmost clarity, mirroring us in each pose.
We finished up a supine Baddha Konasana with props. We brought a strap around our torsos and ankles, set blocks under our knees, and reclined back onto a folded blanket. Joyce invited us to stay there for Savasana if we were comfy. I and several others complied.
"It's important when you come out of Savasana that there's a feeling of moving like water," said Joyce. With this in mind, we slipped out of our straps and rolled up mindfully to sit.
"Let's take a moment to acknowledge the quiet. There are so many things that distract us from leading a peaceful life," observed Joyce. "But what if that construction noise, that horn, that train rumbling, what if it was that itself which called you back into the present moment? What if that was the call to wake up?"
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes at Yoga Shanti are $25 with mat rental available for $2.
Thursday 6:30pm-7:45pm Intermediate
Yoga Shanti 46 W. 24th St. New York, NY 10010 212-255-9642