Normally, it's not an easy task getting this sleuth out to class on a Monday evening, but for some reason this night felt different. In need of grounding and a refreshed perspective, I headed over to YogaWorks' Eastside studio for Stephanie Carey's level 1/2. YogaWorks has studios spread about the city, each one with its own unique charm and appeal. The Eastside just happens to be the one with the most community, laid-back sensibility (in my opinion). As I checked in for class, several regulars walked by with a smile and wave, receiving a nod and the go-ahead from the friendly gal at the desk who already had them covered. The studio was already packed—not a surprise for a prime-time class—but having taken Stephanie's class several times, I knew it was more than the time slot drawing all the yogis in. Not only is Stephanie's teaching highly engaging and educational, it's heartily peppered with moments of humor, play and lightheartedness. Taking good care to acknowledge and speak with individuals who may have injuries or bodily issues, Stephanie made her way around the room before reaching the front and leading us all in a chant of three "Om"s to ground and galvanize our collective, and individual, energy. Our practice began slowly and with purpose. In a cross-legged seat, we interlaced our fingers, flipped our palms and stretched up towards the ceiling. "As your arms reach up, reach up through your arms," Stephanie guided us, with an added note to root through our sitting bones and broaden our back ribs. "Fill your body with breath. Fill the whole room with breath," she implored us as we took side stretches. The sequence progressed with a series of slow flow sun salutations and standing poses including triangle, warrior 2 and tree, accompanied by some very specific and helpful instruction. Stephanie often has a way with words to help you see things in a whole new light. "Extend through the inseam of your spine," she said, to get us to grow taller in our posture. "Reach longer than 'The Lord Of The Rings'!" she announced while we were in extended side angle with our fingers pointing to the front of the room. There are many quick-witted quips throughout Stephanie's class, and if you're not listening carefully, you might miss a few of her off-hand, dry-humored gems. (Just in case, a little wink or a nod from her are usually good clues.) But the humor doesn't overshadow her deliberate and perfectly-cued instructions. Quite the opposite, it makes it all stick that much more. Halfway through class Stephanie paused us mid-lunge for an important teaching moment. We circled around her as she demonstrated how to shift our center of gravity and step way back into a lunge for automatic proper knee-ankle alignment. "How does this look?" she asked us all as her body sank over her leg. "Sad!" said one student. "Kind of like a little too much Monday, no?" Stephanie remarked, as we laughed and nodded in agreement. Fixing her alignment, she adjusted her pose and asked us once again, "How does it look now? More like Wednesday, or Tuesday, at least!" We all went back to our mats to incorporate our new information—something seemingly so simple, but so valuable and effective. The same could be said for the sequence and for Stephanie's style in general. There's a certain ease to her approach, and as students we feel that, and yet she encourages you to dig deeper, to find the subtleties in your body and explore them for a better understanding and a further sense of clarity. The finale of our practice found us supine taking supta padangusthasana at a 90 degree angle to settle our lower back and realign our spine. Stephanie reminded us not to push or pull too much, but to take this as a restorative, calming pose—"Not necessarily a time to 'party' when we're asking our body to relax!" A happy baby and easy twists on both sides followed before we settled into savasana. There was no soundtrack during class, but Stephanie was sure to point out that our breath was serving as the music all along. She even added some herself, beautifully and softly singing a chant as we lie in our final pose. We closed practice bringing our hands to our heart and bowing our heads. We gave gratitude to ourselves and to the rest of the yogis in the room, taking into consideration that while our practice is an individual one, it's all of us that share it together. I left feeing at once lighter and more grounded, connected, my case of the Mondays long forgotten. —Holly C. for Yoga Sleuth Drop-in classes are $28 with $2 mat rentals available. New students can try one week unlimited for free.
YogaWorks Eastside 1319 3rd Ave., 2nd Fl New York, NY 10021 (212) 650-9642