There are very few yoga studios in the Bronx, but with the opening of Sweet Water Dance & Yoga a couple of years ago, yoga is starting to thrive there. This studio is a short walk from Yankee Stadium but the Yankees were playing in Toronto the night Sleuth visited so the streets were rather quiet.
Sweet Water provides an oasis for the Bronx community with a play area for children, and secondhand books for sale on its book shelves. The dance part of the studio includes pole dance, capoeira, salsa, Egyptian belly dance, ballet, tap, Tai Chi, and so much more. There's quite a packed schedule.
Aya Jane Saotome was coming from teaching a Sweat & Sculpt class in the room next to ours. “I’ll be right with you,” she said in an English accent, beaming at us as she exited the hot room to get changed and join us in the cooler, carpeted room. Petite and bubbling with energy, Aya also has a delightful giggle and exudes warmth. On top of her yoga training, she’s a London Contemporary Dance School trained dancer, and has also trained in contemporary African, jazz, swing, and Zumba, all adding to her strong sense of the body and movement.
“Lie down in savasana,” she instructed, entering the room all freshened up. “And relax,” she added, which we happily obliged. “Any requests?” she inquired as we settled in. Sleuth requested a focus on hips. While remaining lying down, Aya told us to pull one knee to the chest on the inhale, then stretch it back out on the floor with the exhale. As the leg went back down, we were to stretch our arms overhead. After a few rounds of this, Aya told us to do the same action but with chin towards chest this time.
Coming up into easy pose, we warmed up with a side stretch and a forward fold, switching the crossing of our legs on the second round. On all fours, Aya advised us to take our knees wider than our hips, and move the spine and head up and down and all around, freestyle. “It’s fall,” Aya said, “which is crisp and dry, but you want your movements to be the opposite of that. Make them oily.” After this, we narrowed our knees to hip width and took a round of cat and cow.
Aya walked us through a series of sun salutations at a brisk pace, and then a few rounds of standing poses that included warrior one, warrior two, peaceful warrior, and peaceful with a straight leg. All the while, Aya made her way around the room giving thoughtful adjustments. When she came to Sleuth who was new to her class, she asked whether she could adjust me first before going ahead.
Not forgetting my request, Aya then began to focus on hip openers. First, we worked with lizard. Because of the carpeted floor, this pose felt so much more tolerable on the knees. We then held pigeon for several minutes and Aya offered adjustments and extra padding. We also held half cow face pose while stretching forward. Here, Aya encouraged us to keep our chests open while we melted forward. Our final hip opening pose was ankle-to-knee. There was no music in this class but in the quiet we could hear the rhythm of Middle Eastern music from the belly dance class next door.
We closed with a couple of backbends, bridge and fish, and then took a couple of floor twists before settling into savasana. Once class was over, we cleaned our mats in a zen-like mode, while listening to bellydancers and pole dancers sweating it out in the other rooms.
—Marie Carter for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $15 and mat rental is free. Dressing room and shower facilities are available.