When Yoga Sleuth arrived at the warm and welcoming Atmananda Yoga Studio and requested a mat, he was surprised with the special Atmananda Yoga Mat designed by founder Jhon Tamayo. I felt like Harry Potter getting his Nimbus 2000 broom—the mat, designed in three sizes, has places for your hands and feet for down dog, spots to plant your back foot in warrior one, and marks to keep you in perfect alignment. I giddily set up with my new toy as Dustin Gregg greeted us in the softly lit, spacious asana room. Dustin's Interstellar Yoga is described as a "gentle, intuitive flow infused with meditation, breathing, visualization, aromatherapy, and sound healing." It's a series-style class based on the chakras, and this week's theme was the solar plexus. "We'll be focusing on chest and hip opening," noted Dustin, "opening up the emotional body." The soundtrack softly chanted "Om Namah Shivaya" as we settled in. "Summer's coming, and it's a great time to try a new experience," suggested Dustin. "Start a journal, try a new class," she said, for example. With the promise of new beginnings, we began with seated neck stretches, bringing one hand to the side of the head and loosening up the SCM (Sternocleidomastoid Neck Muscle). Coming to all fours we sent the shoulder to the floor and threaded the needle on each side. Then up and back into down dog our hips went, and I had my first go at placing my hands and feet where my mat indicated. We sent the right foot to the right fingertips and lunged, reaching the chest up towards the sky, then reversed, folding forward into humble warrior. "Bring the hands to the small of the back," said Dustin as we stood in tadasana. "Fingertips face down. With an inhale bend the knees and push the hips forward." We folded, then lowered to the mat. We interlaced the fingers at the sacrum, and lifted into bound locust, then freed the hands to sit under the shoulders for cobra. We bent the right knee and, with an inhale, lifted up. "Feel this all the way through the psoas and the hips up to the chest," Dustin said. We upped the intensity by swiveling into "wild thing," then straightened into side plank before coming up into warrior one. Again, I got to test my foot placement via my helpful mat guide. Dustin likes to schedule free time for anything students like to work on. The consensus tonight was shoulderstand, and Dustin assisted mine by helping me reach my feet as close to the ground as possible in plow, giving me a little more stretch in the back. "Even if you're here, this is so good for you," she said when I reached my edge. "As you begin to open and your feet drop down closer and you're going deeper, eventually you'll come straighter and straighter," she told me, encouragingly, before instructing me to inhale my legs up and "really bring the hips forward." With Dustin spotting me I emerged into a straighter, more stable sarvangasana. "That pose will bring up a lot of stuff," Dustin told us. "We store so much emotion in the hips and the shoulders." With that, she suggested we make plow and shoulderstand a regular evening thing, to build strength in the back, stretch the neck area, regulate the hormones, and reset the body for sleep. We wound down with pigeon, again giving attention to those emo hips. Then savasana was long, lovely, and modified with our feet in cobbler's pose. Dustin gave us some terrific head, neck and shoulder assists with a touch of citrusy-scented aromatherapy. As we returned to a seat, Dustin had us place one hand facing down and the other up, heels of the hands pressed together to balance the left and right side of the brain. "Know that you are confident," she said softly. "You are creative. You are loving and you are loved. You are calm and you are at peace. You have enough, and you are enough."
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth A single drop-in class is $17 with a $3 mat rental. New students can try one month unlimited for $99. Wednesday 8-9pm Beginner Atmananda Yoga Studio 67 Irving Place, 2nd Fl New York, NY 10003 (212) 625-1511