You may know Mel Russo as the face of Yoga High, the Lower East Side studio she ran for seven years before closing its doors last winter. Without the stress of running a business, Russo continues to lead vinyasa flow with a strong focus on breath and healthy alignment. Warning: Her classes at YogaWorks and The Three Jewels may contain hip hop.
YogaCity NYC: What pose did you chose and why do you like it?
Mel Russo: I chose vrksasana, tree pose. I love this pose for so many reasons; first and foremost, I’m obsessed with balancing. Years ago during my training, my teacher Max Strom really emphasized to us how important it is for everyone to be able to have good balance. Loss of balance is one of the leading causes of death in people over 65, according to NPR. Since then I’ve taught vrksasana—or some other balancing pose—in every single class. Secondly, I love how it forces you to be fully present. You can’t “phone in” vrksasana. I also love that it can be taught to complete beginners (see figure 1), and then to more seasoned practitioners (see figure 3)
YCNYC: Describe the anatomy of the first pose and body parts engaged.
MR: The anatomy is pretty much the same in all three variations. The placement of the limbs (arms and foot) is all that changes throughout. Start by standing in tadasana; crown of the head reaching upward, feet grounded down with all 10 toes spread wide. Glutes relaxed, quadriceps engaged, core engaged, hips facing forward. Even though this is a very beginner version, you are still working on muscle memory so that gradually, maybe, you’ll be able to move into the second and third variations. Keeping hands on hips to help stay centered and feel grounded, the feet lift slightly up the inner calf. Be sure to keep the toes on the floor for stability.
YCNYC: What body parts are engaged in the second pose?
MR: In the second pose, the standing leg and the foot of the bent leg have a stronger connection to each other. There’s more of a “hugging in” feeling to help with balance. You're a little more challenged here so the standing leg has to be really alive. Hands in anjali mudra (prayer pose) also add a tougher element to this pose.
YCNYC: What is the overall effect of the third pose on the body, and what does this one add to the understanding of the pose—and mind?
MR: The final variation is the ultimate challenge—balancing on one leg! It requires steadiness of breath and mindful concentration. Once you’ve worked up to balancing on one foot, you must be present, focused, and aligned in order to maintain the pose. Though your muscles are working hard, there needs to be a softness that allows you to stay present. The two work in tandem, giving you the ultimate feeling of freedom in this pose—which is really what yoga is all about.
To catch Russo in action, visit her for Level 2/3 6:15pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays at YogaWorks Soho. After December 23, try her Level 1/2 7:45pm, Mondays and Wednesdays—same place. To get into her Saturday class at The Three Jewels, write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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