Located in DUMBO, it's advisable to get to Abhaya Yoga a little early to take in the awe-inspiring views of Manhattan from the park adjacent to their new studio on John Street. Several months ago, Abhaya moved across the street to a ground floor studio where the interior is just as vibrant as the views, with beautifully colorful drapes covering the mirrors, wood beams, and exposed brick and large statues of Durga and Shiva decorating the space. Our instructor Keely Angel matched the vibrancy of the room with some detailed tattoos on her arms and a buoyant spirit.
Keely was sitting up front with a harmonium as students rolled in and kundalini music played in the background. Class began with Keely tuning us in on the harmonium to chant three “om”s. Then she asked us to lie on our backs and become connected with our breath. She even suggested placing our hands on our ribs so we could physically feel our breath moving in and out.
After several minutes of relaxation, we came on to all fours for cat and cow, but Keely wanted us to do them a little faster than normal with a strong ujjayi breath. “Make your breath so audible that your neighbor can hear it,” she told us. Keely then instructed us to move freely in the pose and find all the areas of the body that felt stiff.
We got the kinks out even more as Keely instructed us into a downward dog where we pedaled out our feet. From there we started a sequence of stepping into a high lunge, extending our arms over our heads and stepping back into downward dog before going onto the other side. In between we held sphinx pose, and later, cobra.
Keely also brought elements of kundalini yoga into the class. We practiced rounds of frog pose, lifting the heels and coming down into squat then extending the legs to fold forward, over and over at a rapid clip. Then, coming into a seated position, with our arms raised, we worked on several minutes of breath of fire. Keeping a watchful eye on her students, Keely was sure to advise us not to do breath of fire if we were pregnant or on our cycle. Coming down to the ground, we bent our legs in the air and alternately kicked our own butts with our heels, then we did a cycling motion with our legs, creating an intense workout for our abs.
Coming back up to stand, we focused a little more on the hips. From utkatasana, we crossed one leg above the opposite knee in a figure four shape. We then had the option of bringing our elbows to the shin for a balance or our hands to the floor for a more intense stretch. We held this pose for a couple of minutes on each side before Keely had us move our mats to the wall where hip openers continued to be a theme.
Bringing our feet a little over mat’s width distance, we turned our toes out for goddess pose and brought our arms into eagle where Keely invited us to add some dynamic movement. She told us to keep it organic and move however we needed in this pose getting into all the nooks and crannies of the hips and shoulders before switching the crossing of the eagle arms.
Keely then demonstrated L-shaped handstand at the wall, showing us how to measure the pose in dandasana first, then lifting one leg and then the other. It was our turn to try as Keely watched, offering suggestions on how to make the pose not so hard on the joints.
Still working on the hips, we came down to the floor and took a pigeon prep that turned into more of backbend by bending the back knee and taking hold of the back foot with one hand and lifting the opposite arm in the air.
Taking hold of a block, Keely then offered a restorative bridge, but with the block on the lowest height. We held this pose for several minutes before relaxing into savasana. Keely suggested we cover ourselves with a blanket and offered to help anyone who might it.
Class ended with a single “om” tuned in once again with Keely on the harmonium. As we all prepared to leave, Keely invited us to stay for kirtan following class—devotional songs in prayer and solidarity with Standing Rock. Abhaya Yoga is a place that invites that kind of supportive community.
—Marie Carter for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $22 with $2 mat rental. New students can try one week of unlimited yoga for $25.