Alyssa Snow, owner of Mind Body Soul Yoga in Washington Heights, exudes warmth. Greeting each member of the class individually before the start of our Friday lunchtime Hatha/vinyasa class, she asked each one of us how we were doing and if we had any injuries she should know about.
This cozy gem of a studio is brightly and beautifully decorated with a large mural of Indian Goddess Tara up front. It's in a great neighborhood, too. It's not too far from the stunning United Palace Theatre, The Met’s Cloisters, and Inwood Hill Park, if you're looking for other excuses to visit.
Alyssa recently took the new step of offering membership programs at the studio, a change from the class card model. Instead of offering class cards, students who attend on a regular basis are invited to sign up for monthly auto-renewal membership packages, which allows the the studio to offer classes at a low cost and, at the same time, sustain itself.
As Alyssa moved towards the front of the room, she asked one of the students if he had any requests for any part of the body he'd like to focus on. "The brain," he quipped. "Yes! Nailed it!" Alyssa joked back.
On that note, we began class with a lengthy, gentle meditation on the breath, noticing the sound and quality of each inhale and exhale, allowing ourselves to be soothed and quieted by it.
Alyssa also took a lot of care to warm us up. Starting in Sukhasana, we took a gentle seated twist followed by a seated side bend. Then, interlacing our fingers, we stretched our arms up to the ceiling. We then tented our fingers behind us, and those who were feeling it lifted their seats and brought their hips slightly forward, while Alyssa advised us not to throw our heads back. Bringing our seats back down, we tented our fingers in front us and folded forward. The warm-up was repeated on the other side.
From Downward Dog we moved into Plank and back again, then walked forward to hang in a forward fold. The slow-moving sequence included a high lunge to Warrior 2 and a Warrior 3, in which Alyssa coaxed us to even out our hips. With each vinyasa sequence, our Baby Cobras were allowed to grow a little higher, then a little higher, although Alyssa cautioned us not to let our Cobras grow so high that the hips would come off the ground.
In Parsvottanasana, we had the option of holding opposite elbows behind our backs or bringing the hands into reverse prayer. Coming all the way to the floor after one sequence, we practiced a couple of rounds of Salabhasana and Alyssa gave us the option of interlacing our fingers behind our backs or allowing our arms to float, if it felt more spacious.
Remembering that one student had requested hip-openers, Alyssa then had us hold Malasana or squat, advising us not to get tense in this difficult pose, but to soften. We then held a Pigeon Prep for a couple of minutes on each side, releasing into this divine hip-opener. Getting out of Pigeon Prep, Alyssa had us hold Table Top, but, again, advised us not to throw our heads back, and to keep length in the neck.
For our forward bend, we took a wide-legged straddle, with variations. First, we folded forward on one side, then took a twist to that side, and then walked our hands to the other side to repeat the sequence. For our last variation, we folded forward in the middle.
Moving on to backbends, we held a brief Bridge Pose with the option to interlace our fingers or keep the arms straight underneath us. Lastly, we held a Supine Twist on each side.
Finally, we relaxed into Savasana. "The floor can feel pretty good after all of that," Alyssa noted. After a sweet Savasana, we stretched our arms up above us. "You may encounter feet," Alyssa joked, as we extended our reach towards our neighbors.
We exited class on that bright fall Friday, our brains soothed and ready for the weekend.
Drop-in classes are $20, with mat rental available for $2.