Once the city lifted the travel ban and the subways were back in service, Sleuth was ready to emerge from the blizzard-induced oblivion and hit the mat. Kula Yoga Project, known for its sweaty flow, seemed like the perfect destination to warm up. And, apparently, many others thought the same thing because Peiling Junek’s 11am class was packed.
After entering the room, Peiling told us to grab a block and blanket. She then demonstrated how to fold the blanket so we could place it for protection underneath our knees; we would be standing on our knees for the next several minutes.
“I’m going to show you how to do this movement because it sucks,” Peiling said through a smile. And, from there, she demonstrated the exercise of standing on the knees, palms to the chest in prayer, and leaning back in a straight line towards our untucked heels. It required strength from the quads and the core, and Peiling spoke about our tailbones and pubes as we went through the motion. She was 100% right—it did suck! She had us do it 10 more times.
While some studios refer to their teachers as guides who lead you through their classes, Kula’s teachers are instructors—they instill an educational experience within the class. Peiling, clearly schooled in alignment (she’s studied Iyengar), offered plenty of anatomical descriptions and suggestions throughout our practice. And while her vocabulary was quite specific when she referred to body parts, it was never confusing or overly scientific. She found a nice balance of anatomy and accessibility. This also played out in the names of the postures. She broke it down in English and often would follow up with the Sanskrit term.
The subtle gesture from the introductory exercise of dropping the tailbone and lifting the pelvis without jutting it forward was something Peiling kept coming back to. As it turned out, it was key to backbending—our class theme.
The vinyasa portion came next. First, Peiling had us hold each pose for a few breaths, and after, we flowed through with just one breath per pose. It was a creative sequence that required the blanket to stay on the mat for knee protection as we took crescent lunge to ardha hanumanasana along with several other variations that took us back up to stand in pyramid. And while my body was new to this particular series, the moves eventually came naturally as the sequencing felt intuitive. I didn’t have to think so much while going through the vinyasa; my body knew what to do because Peiling had prepped us by allowing the poses to settle in beforehand.
Surya namaskars led into more vinyasas where we continued to move one breath per pose.
“It’s more about the transitions here,” said Peiling. “Just touch the pose before moving on to the next.”
Triangle, extended side angle, chair pose, revolved warrior, and skandasana were a few postures included in the vinyasa.
Peiling spent the entire class walking around the room offering help. She referred to many students by first name, but everyone (including newbies to her class, like me) was on her radar when it came to assists. Her touch was gentle and precise. She knew exactly how to guide my back leg in warrior one so my hip could roll forward even more. And I saw her giving a shoulder massage to a man resting in sukhasana.
Our back-bending culminated in camel where Peiling spoke once more about the relationship between the tailbone and pubis.
When it was time to slow down, we brought our mats to the wall for marichyasana where Peiling asked us to sit on the block. We used the wall to help deepen the twist in seated spinal twist. And legs up the wall was used for savasana.
“I want you to have a well-rounded practice so I’m giving you this inversion for your rest,” she said. She also suggested to take a pigeon on both sides after class if we had time for hip-opening.
While we rested, Peiling came around with a head rub and oil on the forehead. Again, her touch was firm and knowing.
After an “om,” we were instructed to gently come out of the pose, and to be brave while heading back into the blizzard aftermath.
—Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $20, with mat and towel rental for $2 each. New student special: Three classes for $30.