"There are two things that distinguish Abhyasa from other approaches," said founder and teacher J. Brown as Yoga Sleuth and his fellow students sat in a circle at the start of J.'s Saturday morning basics class.
"One is the very specific breathing we do throughout the practice: ujjayi pranayama or ocean sounding breath," he explained. "We want to see if we regulate our breath, make it longer and smoother by making sound."
J. then did an uncanny imitation of the ocean, and asked us to follow suit on both inhale and exhale. "To do this, your mind has to come away from other things. All the attention is on the breath, and everything your body does is organized to the breathing," he said.
J. explained a second difference in the Abhyasa approach: "Other schools are about taking the body farther—'Here's a physical edge, and I have to see if I can go past it, because what's on the other side is what I'm hoping to get from my yoga.' I want to suggest that in this practice, that is not the case. That mentality is good for many things in life—running marathons, climbing mountains, gymnastics—but in this practice I am only interested in seeing if you can feel well enough to enjoy life today. To only do the right amount for who you are today."
Our practice commenced in that spirit. We were welcomed to chant along to "Om Shanti," then rounded gently over our cross-legged seats. "Try ocean breathing and see how you can move and release your body in this position. Maybe you can feel a dispersal of musculoskeletal tension. Doing your breathing is doing your pose. Patience and gravity are taking care of the rest," he assured us.
J. came around to give us all adjustments to the neck and lower back, always asking permission first. As we progressed to down dog, J. assessed my pose and suggested I bring my feet wider and allow my knees to bend as much as I needed to best express the posture.
We took some gentle sun salutations, continuing the oceanic breathing throughout. "The idea is to find the amount of work that makes you feel balanced and supported by your breath." We progressed through warrior two, triangle and extended side angle. "Smile for no reason!" suggested J. as we held the standing poses and gave our best grins.
Our balance pose was vrksasana. My drishti was one of the potted plants on the windowsill, framed by the morning sunshine. "The reason I'm asking you to do this is not because I want you to get good at standing on one leg. It's not that useful a skill!" J. joked. "It has to do with what's happening in your mind as you do this. It's an internal mental practice that we're after," he offered as a reminder. "It's about letting go of whatever you need to, so you can fall over a million times and not feel the least bit annoyed!"
We lied down and took several breaths in bridge (or wheel, but only if it made sense for our bodies today), then were rewarded with a nine-minute savasana.
"This practice equals a relinquishing of physical effort," J. explained as we continued to relax. "You are more than just the effort of the last hour and 20 minutes. Sometimes if you can just do some breathing or moving in a way that settles your system, encourages a balanced state, you can let go of that broader effort."
"There's a wondrous phenomena that's taking place, and it's that you exist," J. added, as our ocean breath calmed to a gentle wave.
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $18, with $1 mat rental. New students can try one week unlimited for $27.