Located behind a black door just a little north of Houston Street on the Bowery is the new Katonah Yoga, opened a couple of months ago just after having left their Chelsea location. The new space has a large kitchen and plentiful props, including some props that are unique and familiar to the Katonah practice, including poles, sand bags, chairs, blankets, wooden blocks, and foam blocks.
I took a black mat down from its hook and set up a spot by the large and bright windows. It was a late Monday afternoon and there were only three of us which was perfect for getting lots of attention. Our instructor, Alex Sharry, immediately instructed us into downward dog.
“It’s a good way to find out what’s going on in the body,” she said. “Ultimately, we want you to find the archetype of the pose.”
In classic Katonah Yoga style, Alex advised us to bend our knees, lift our heels and stick out our butts, finding the backbend in the pose in downward dog. We would then take the right hand to the lower back and then the left. Alex came around and adjusted each of us with a strap, helping us get the weight and pressure out of our wrists and shoulders joints in the pose.
After several heady minutes exploring downward dog, we moved onto cat and cow with our wrists facing forward. Alex wanted our legs and arms at a 90 degree angle, and we measured this with a block. We then moved through cat and cow at a very rapid pace.
I’ve always found I sweat a great deal in a Katonah Yoga class, but it’s a different kind of sweat from what I’m used to—it feels like I’m ringing out toxins, and that feels fantastic.
“When you build heat in the body, that’s when you create the conditions for change,” Alex said. “We do these poses not so you can avoid getting sick or stressed or sad. We do them to give you the tools to work with the challenges.”
Staying with the theme, we turned our wrists backwards and moved through a fast paced cat/cow followed by moving shifting rapidly from down dog to plank and back for about a minute. Then we moved swiftly from down dog to upward dog keeping the toes tucked at a fast clip.
Having created a lot of heat in our bodies, we then held crescent moon and aligned the forearm with the front leg. Alex had us turn our wrists backwards and fit our knees into our armpits. Then we lifted up into crescent moon and took hold of opposite elbows. Alex came around to elevate each of us into a higher and fuller backbend.
“There’s a forward bend in the backbend. You have to move forward in order to lift up,” she said. “Beautiful,” Alex would often call, giving us confidence in our poses while also offering sage adjustments.
Next we practiced a series of dolphin variations with blocks. First, we came into dolphin while clasping our hands. As with downward dog, Alex advised us to stick our butts in the air and create a backbend in the pose. We then tried dolphin variations with blocks.
Since we were a small class we were in for a treat—Alex was going to walk us through the Katonah pole sequence. She handed us each a long wooden pole which we used in a series of exercises, like lifting the pole up and over our heads to land behind our backs and then to the front. This is quite the shoulder workout and, as Alex said, since we live in a culture that hunches over desks and phones, this is a particularly good sequence for us to practice.
We used to pole again in a kind of milkmaid position with the it placed behind our necks with our arms wide as we twisted forward and down, bringing the pole down to the floor on each side. We moved this into a triangle twist, and Sleuth felt that special Katonah detox sweat, as though my organs were getting a good wringing out in the twists.
Our poles now to the side, it was time for pigeon. Alex recommended blanket padding to even out our hips and provide extra support. This was followed by ankle-to-knee while Alex offered assists with the strap. We then worked on Katonah Yoga’s special style of frog pose. With our knees wide in a child’s pose, we put two blankets under the backs of the knees and sat back down. Bending forward, we put blocks underneath the armpits and a block underneath the head. With our arms forward, we tented the fingertips. Alex put a sandbag on my sacrum which was a great addition to this delicious pose.
When it turned 5:45, Alex told us we could stay as long as we liked or we could practice plow if we wanted. She also helped us put our props away. Savasana is not part of the Katonah Yoga practice. “You’ll have plenty of time for savasana when you die,” I heard Nevine Michaan, the founder of Katonah Yoga, once say. It was good to bask in the aliveness created by the class.
—Marie Carter for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $25 with free mat rental. New students can try three classes for $30.