On the second day of the new year one usually hits the hot vinyasa flow classes to tighten up and detox after the shenanigans of the holidays. Not this time for Yoga Sleuth, who resolved to do things differently by exploring subtle movement and back-to-basics proper alignment. And luckily, Align Brooklyn, in South Slope, does just what it says on the marquee.
The class was wall to (rope) wall with many regulars greeting each other and our instructor, YogaWorks and ISHTA alum Sadia Bruce.
"Today we're going to do a little shoulder and hip stabilization," said Sadia. "And the purpose of these exercises will be to work towards a handstand away from the wall. We'll work on getting the upper arms to be stabilized in the sockets and the pelvis to be neutral; getting the muscles of the hips to be active but not tense."
We sat with eyes closed, "observing and surrendering to the cycle of breath," as Sadia suggested. We brought hands to heart center, drawing thumb knuckles to the breastbone, and lowered the head to the chest.
"See if you can let the brightness of your chest meet the depth and quiet of your head," said Sadia.
We sat on our heels and placed fists on the floor for a wrist stretch before coming to all fours to measure optimum shoulder and hip distance, and practicing bringing the creases of our elbows to the front. We then sailed up and back for one of our first down dogs of 2016.
We proceeded to flow in earnest as Sadia guided us with precise alignment cues at every step.
“Really try to activate the back leg as you lift your torsos up,” Sadia said, as we came into high lunge.
“Let’s all bend the back knee. Neutralize your pelvis. Try to engage your lower abdomen, triceps firming,” Sadia said, offering explicit alignment instructions.
We came down to lie on the floor, arms next to our bodies, and scooped our tailbones forward to lengthen our lower backs, feet parallel and “hip-joint distance apart, a little narrower than you think,” said Sadia.
“Can you firm your triceps all the way so that your arms are incredibly straight and active? Can you imagine engaging your triceps and your biceps? It’s super subtle.” We brought our fingertips to the ceiling, plugging the arm bones down into the sockets, then brought them back to hover by our ears.
“It’s a little exercise to stabilize the shoulders,” said Sadia, “and that work is what helps us to bear weight in our hands.”
Next was the sequence we had been building up to. We took our mats to the wall and came into down dog with feet pressing into the wall. We lifted into an L-shaped handstand, then practiced playing with lifting a leg at a time, straightening it to rest the front of the foot against the wall. For our peak pose we practiced bouncing (rather than kicking) into handstand.
Coming down to our backs we did one turn in bridge followed by happy baby, then came down into a supine baddha konasana. We were invited to stay in the pose or come to a traditional savasana with a blanket either under our heads or our knees, wherever we needed the most support.
"We did some funky things today!" smiled Sadia as we came to sit. "Let your practice be a lab. Think of that saying, 'If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten.' Step outside of the familiar." And that we did. Stepping outside the lines to be aligned for the new year.
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $20, with $2 mat rental. New students can try their first week for $20.