Due to a profusion of great new studios in Greenpoint, I had not been to the lovely Awakening Healing Center in probably over three years. It is a walk for me down to the Southern end of Manhattan Avenue, on which I pondered the delicious looking donuts in the the Peter Pan window and how many of the dollar stores that sprung up around 2008 now seem to be closed (sign of a good economy?).
Awakening has a very sanctuary-like feeling as soon as you enter the lobby. It smells excellent (incense, candles, cleanliness) and is spacious and quiet. The soft light that filters into the giant studio in the back makes me forget that I’m in the middle of a bustling neighborhood, on its most bustling street.
There are several “new” teachers on the Awakening schedule since I had last studied there, and until now I had not yet had the privilege of taking Cherie Yanek’s class. As I set up my mat, she introduced herself and told me to take a blanket, two blocks, a strap, and a big bolster. I took this as a good sign. I also really liked her leggings (which featured kitties in space) and thought that that seemed like a good sign, too.
Cherie began the class with a reading by a Buddhist monk. It was about staying in the moment, even as we are carrying out mundane tasks. He used the example of washing dishes so that one can make tea. Instead of hurrying through the work so that you can get to the tea drinking, he said that in order to truly live, one should focus on the dish washing and to make that the very most important thing in the world for that moment.
I tried to keep this in mind as we began to move. It turns out that “slow flow” doesn’t mean restorative, but it does mean that you move slowly and hold poses with a focus on getting the alignment just right.
We began with gate pose in which Cherie had us take a side stretch with our arms to either side. This was the first of many side stretches that we took throughout the practice, adding to the feeling of being longer and leaner than when I started. We continued with cat and cow and moved with our breath between downward dog and plank pose.
As we moved into several standing series that included more challenging balance poses (standing split, half moon, and dancer pose), these were made all the more challenging with the longer hold time. One of my classmates giggled as she fell out of a pose and Cherie said “It’s good to laugh!” I appreciated this encouragement was lighthearted, and it reminded me that falling is just sometimes part of the pose.
The studio at Awakening features large mirrors on three sides of the room, and I found this to be both helpful and sometimes distracting. When I first moved to Manhattan, I lived in a little room off of a dance studio. This is where I started to build my own practice, staring at myself as I attempted standing balance poses and scrutinizing my alignment the best I could with my fledgling knowledge. So, it was nice to be able to glance over and see how my warrior two was looking, and how high my leg really was in half moon. The mirror behind me was less fun, as I saw the posterior view in downward dog..something my teachers have to look at but I try not to think about when I practice. Overall, I find mirrors in yoga studios both useful and humbling.
We began to slow down the practice with some hip opening, including lizard pose and pigeon. Then, we finally got to use those props I was excited about. Cherie instructed us to take a supported virasana using the large bolster to support the back. I love this pose on any day, and it felt great here. We also used the strap around the ball of the foot to take a hamstring stretch (lying on our backs) and a twist.
As we drifted into savasana, I remembered Cherie’s reading at the beginning of class and made resting my most important goal instead of planning what to have for lunch, etc. I would like to to say that I carried this theme with me for the rest of the day. Even so, it was certainly helpful to do so for an hour at Awakening!
-Abby Payne for Yoga Sleuth
Drop in classes are $15 with a $1 yoga mat rental fee. New students can purchase a drop in class for $10, one month of unlimited yoga for $55, or a 5 class card for $50.