BambooMoves' Forest Hills location is housed in a high-rise building a hop, skip and a jump from the E/F/M/R subway on bustling Queens Boulevard. Not that the noise is noticeable in this tranquil studio.
Sleuth was greeted by a friendly front desk person who asked if I was new to the studio or just hadn’t been in a while. (This intimate studio tends to attract familiar faces.) I hadn’t been to the studio in about a year so I was given a helpful reminder tour of where everything was.
Yoshio Hama arrived, and noticing I was a new face (to him) he alerted me to the difficulty of the class adding that he tended to push his students. He also said since I was new to the class that I should take it easy on myself.
We began with Ujjayi breathing, except Yoshio wanted us to focus on keeping the breath in the chest area. This class was going to revolve around backbending and, as Yoshio told us, it was difficult to breathe from the belly when holding a backbend.
Instructing us into downward dog, Yoshio encouraged us to rock back and forth with the chest, trying to get the head to touch the floor and opening our shoulders. We then held a crescent moon while Yoshio emphasized the backbending component of the pose followed by downward dog to knees-chest-chin and cobra. A Dharma Mittra-trained teacher, Yoshio tended to use Sanskrit for most of the class.
Also reminiscent of Dharma Mittra—ten minutes into class Yoshio asked us to practice forearm stand (we could use the wall if we preferred). After several minutes of working on forearm stand, we came back into downward dog and flipped the pose into urdhva dhanurasana.
We then proceeded to attempt some more advanced backbends, often taking a vinyasa in between. First up was a chin balance with only one leg in the air but we were to take one arm off the floor and catch hold of the back foot, pressing hand into foot, creating an intense backbend. This was followed by forearm stand but with the variation of sitting our lower backs on the wall. Later we would practice scorpion and then alternate between these two variations of forearm stand.
Once again we came back to the chin balance with one leg, but this time we caught the back foot with a strap and increased the intensity of the backbend. This was followed by a bow pose utilizing the strap. Yoshio asked us to hold the strap with our hands facing upwards.
We also practiced a variation of galavasana binding hands by bringing the back elbow under the back foot and bringing the front arm up and overhead. Yoshio gave some sage advice showing how the pose was more attainable if we twisted while backbending and kept pushing the hips forward.
Our final intense backbend of the evening was to take our forearm stands a leg’s length away from the wall then come into forearm stand extending our legs towards the wall and walk our legs down the wall so we’d end up into a combined forearm stand/urdhva dhanurasana. Yoshio walked around the room offering helpful suggestions to each of us on how to make this seemingly impossible pose possible.
We wound down with some unwinding twists. First we held a janu sirsasana twist, followed by the same janu sirsasana twist but with a half lotus binding the arm and foot. Our final pose before savasana was a full lotus twist, binding our back hand with our front foot. Sleuth hadn’t done lotus in a while and couldn’t find the bind, but Yoshio came to my aid and offered useful advice that helped me find the full expression of the pose.
In savasana, Yoshio walked us through a visualization that we were to imagine our bodies were filled up with muddy water and could only be purified through stillness. He mentioned each body part and had us imagine that body part becoming purified. This was a really powerful exercise reflecting the work of our physical practice.
Our savasana was followed by a ten minute silent meditation in which Yoshio invited us to “just be a witness.” Class concluded with a soft “om shanti” chant. After the challenges of this class I was ready for the challenges of the hectic city outside.