Whoever thought the East Village doesn’t rise until noon hasn’t been to Alex Cohen’s 7am at East Yoga. Sleuth climbed the stairs to the second floor, and was greeted by the bright yoga studio that was almost at capacity. After I found my spot in front of the harmonium, Alex said, “Okay! Let’s get down to business. Lie on your backs, and make sure you have a brick nearby, please.”
Our first instruction was to lift and lower our pelvis with as little motion as possible in the rest of our bodies. We placed a block in between the thighs, and pressed firmly to help concentrate the movement.
From there we went into sit-ups, first lifting our hips off the floor then lifting our torsos. Alex told us to use our breath to support the movement, and there was no need to move quickly.
“Core work done at the beginning of class is a sweet way to start your practice, and help get you into your body,” she said.
We came to stand, and before doing any movement, Alex brought our awareness internally, starting from our feet all the way up to our heads. She wanted us to use the breath to expand each area so we could rise from within.
“Expand and rise,” she said as we lengthened our arms up overhead preparing for sun salutations.
The vinyasa took us from crescent lunge to warrior three, and from warrior one to standing split.
There were times when Alex had us use our own bodies for measurement, such as place two fists between the feet. And then there were times she wanted us to feel the alignment, by closing our eyes, and stepping our feet hip-width distance apart.
Props were incorporated into the class. Blocks came into the sequence several times—in-between our thighs for a couple rounds of surya namaskar, underneath our chests in pigeon, and underneath our tailbones at the beginning of class for the pelvic work. And a rolled up blanket was used in pigeon to support our hips.
Alex walked around the room offering hands-on assists, and extra attention to those she saw needed help. Her voice was steady and matter of fact. She explained the alignment precisely while sometimes demonstrating up front.
Other sequences included side plank, rock star and fallen triangle. Several times, Alex provided options for a pose to accommodate the different levels in the class. While we were in a side bend, she said, “for those who want to play, bend the extended knee even deeper than you think.” In janu sirsasana she offered the bind to those who wanted it.
For the floor postures, she continued to have us use our own bodies to help find the poses even deeper. In a marichyasana variation, we prepped by clasping our fingers underneath the bent knee, and then used our hand to externally rotate the flesh out from the thigh.
As we sat in dandasana, Alex spoke about holding opposites in our bodies, and how we can have effort and effortlessness together.
“How we get into our own bodies to create an openness is unique to each of us,” she said. “Breathe space into the shape and allow it to expand.”
After a brief boat pose, we went down to rest. The birds chirping on Avenue B helped me stay present in the room as I felt my body release on the mat.
When we came back to sit, Alex spoke once more about being in our bodies. “Notice how it feels when we thread consciousness into our bodies, and see if you can stay with that feeling,” said Alex.
As I returned my props to the shelf, I felt a steadiness on my feet that I knew would walk me well into the rest of my day.
—Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $20, with $2 mat rental. New students can try three classes for $30.
East Yoga 96 Avenue B, 2nd floor New York, NY 10009 (646) 504-6219