Stepping into Yoga 216's spa-like space always gives Yoga Sleuth an immediate feeling of needed calm. And joining my five classmates in the white-walled heated studio with Esther Palmer ensured that I would take that tranquility with me throughout my Saturday. Esther greeted me personally and asked me if I was working with any injuries; then I took a spot in the center of the room, which was already set up with mats and blocks. (Yoga 216 has a maximum of six students per class for a semi-private experience.) We began slowly and gently, staying seated on blankets and closing our eyes. "Place one hand on the upper chest and one on the abdomen," said Esther. "In observing the breath, most of us will respond with a shift, or change. If you notice a place where you want to open up more, use this moment."
We arched and rounded into cow and cat shapes while still seated cross-legged, then reached our arms to the sides, lifting across the shoulder girdle. Bending at the elbows we stretched them behind us and then closed them in of the chest for several reps. "If they're getting a little tired, I'm sorry," smiled Esther. "It's all part of it!" As we moved, the music accompanying us was trance-like, helping us go deeper into the moment. Esther is an ISHTA alum with training in Restorative/Yoga Nidra, Marma Therapy and Prenatal, and a student of the Alexander technique. She creates a playful atmosphere, and we were all chuckling and grinning together as she put us through our paces. "Respond to the desire to move in your own spine," said Esther as we came to hands and knees to raise an arm to the side for a twist. "A little movement or a lot—listen to what your body seems to need." We came to kneel and reached our arms to the side, palms facing out, and pressed so the shoulder blades slid forward and then back.
"The thing is that the tops of the shoulders stay kind of still. The work is happening beneath the girdle," Esther guided us. She cued us to down dog and suggested we take a wide stance to help us ease in, then we settled into a sturdy plank before returning to our "inverted V." "There's a spring, not only in your step, but in your shape," said Esther encouraging some down dog buoyancy. Standing and turning to the side of the room, we created an eagle wrap with our arms and squatted in a goddess pose. Coming back to face front we found a lunge and twisted, then tilted into a modified triangle with hands on hips before stretching into extended side angle, which benefited from our earlier shoulder work. "The whole girdle is lifting, and there's going to be a beautiful scrunching up by your ear," said Esther. She asked to try to drop that down and lift the whole side of the tricep, instead. Esther dimmed the lights and we came to sit, crossing one leg over the other, hugging the knee and winding into a twist. As we let the breath in, Esther asked us to create fullness in the torso, and as we let the breath out, we lengthened upward to allow more twist to happen. Lying down we brought one ankle to the opposite knee and pulled our hamstrings to our torsos, then set our feet as wide as the mat and repeated the twist supine. Esther came around to offer blankets for under our heads, and we melted into a extra long savasana as the music changed to a soothing piano lullaby. "Bring your yoga with you into every moment," was Esther's suggestion as we bade her namaste. I concurred—starting with the complimentary vanilla tea and cinnamon cookie that were waiting outside the classroom!
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth Drop-in classes are $39 with mat and towel included. New students can try 30 days for $100.
Saturday 2-3pm Open Yoga 216 511 W 20th St. New York, NY 10011 (212) 337-3530