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Akiko Nishijima

Just off the hustle and bustle of Flushing Main Street in Queens, Yoga Sleuth found an Oasis of Tranquility called Yumcha Yoga. I was greeted warmly by karma yogi Alice who showed me around and went through a list of classes to recommend for my intro week. Then I joined the packed Saturday dinnertime class for a Yang Yin flow with Akiko Nishijima. Akiko discovered yoga while dancing in Japan and France, and is a 200-hour alum of Yoga Works and a 500-hour grad of Ishta. (She also teaches kids yoga and prenatal.) She had us start on the floor with strap in hand, which we looped around the ball of one foot. Straightening that leg, we brought it up to the side and across our bodies before switching directions. There was no music in the class, but Akiko's gentle guidance and humor created a relaxed and playful atmosphere. Coming to lie prone, we grabbed our nearby bolsters and placed them under our torsos to open our hearts in a modified up dog. From there we toggled between plank and down dog to warm things up. Akiko noted a lesser-known benefit of down dog that we were getting as we pulled the navel to the spine: an assist to the functioning of the kidneys. Akiko then cued us into child's pose, suggesting narrow knees for a change. She asked us to place a fist at our bellies, wrap the other hand around it, and then fold over with the fist putting gentle pressure on the digestive organs. "Think about what you ate!" she joked, and fitting for just a few days after Thanksgiving! Coming to stand we grabbed blocks and soared into a supported warrior three, then opened to the side in half moon with hands on our hips; if we so desired we could raise the top hand to yearn for the sky. Keeping the blocks in position, we did several repetitions going from straight legs in pyramid pose to bent knees in low lunge. In extended side angle we dutifully framed our ears with outstretched arms. Akiko asked us to leave our mats and props and go to the wall for standing split practice. Due to the packed room, we did it in two shifts, with one group observing as Akiko coached the other. She suggested we tuck our toes against the wall to protect the hamstring. A fine stretch was had by all. "Not so much yin so far, huh!" quipped Akiko. "How are you doing?" she asked the class. We were about ready for the "chill' portion. Returning to our mats, we sat with a block under our seats for a tuck-toed stretch of our arches, which sorely needed it (pun intended). Coming to our stomachs once more, we reached our limbs aloft and taut in locust pose, then grabbed for our ankles in bow. Akiko suggested we make it playful by rocking from side to side. "My teacher says no one rocks forward and back in bow pose unless they're celebrating something!" Returning to a seat we placed the left leg on top of the right for fire log pose, Akiko assisting where needed to make sure everyone was comfortable and not putting pressure on the joints. "It's not about pushing down, but a long spine,"she reminded us. We finished up with a peaceful savasana aided by blankets and eye pillows. After class I chatted with teachers and students alike, soaking in the warm community atmosphere. "Take Lily Gore's class on Monday morning," suggested one regular. "You'll feel two inches taller!" High praise, literally!

—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth Drop-in classes are $18 with a $2 mat rental. New students can try one week unlimited for $20.

Saturday 5:30-6:40pm

Beginner Yumcha Yoga 33-59 Farrington St., 2nd Fl Flushing, New York 11354 (718) 321-8348 .

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