It was a bitterly cold Sunday morning as Yoga Sleuth walked down St. Mark's Avenue, but I was soon to be warmed by the sunshine radiating from Shambhala Yoga and Dance Center, and owner Sarah Schumann's invigorating express class.
"Say hi to seven people!" said Sarah. The packed asana room was soon filled with the sound of enthusiastic salutations. We followed up with three cascading "om"s and then went to work. Lying on our backs, we pressed elbows into the mat, lifted our knees to the chest, curled the upper body off the mat and then lowered down. Several reps of this proved challenging, but we were a motivated bunch, the opening icebreaker having created a "let's do it" vibe.
As we flipped over and held a forearm plank, Sarah asked us each to shout out something that happened to us this week. Among many fun facts, one yogi had a birthday, I was in a web series, and Sarah had gone to a Bon Iver show. This was a clever distraction from the exertion of the pose and at the same time another welcome bonding experience.
From there we kept it moving at a brisk pace, building heat to combat the chilly day. "Receive as you reach high into the sky, release as you forward fold," said Sarah. We lowered to the ground, letting knees, chest and chin all find the mat. "Come high up onto your fingertops as if you had snowballs underneath," said Sarah as we rose into a cobra. "Drop the tailbone down, lift the belly up. Receive, open your chest...undulate the heart. Release as you exhale to the floor."
We slid our hands back to flank the lower ribs. "Plug your elbows towards one another, tuck your toes." We came into a plank. "Collarbones nice and wide, low belly in and up," cued Sarah.
We reared back to down dog and then walked the hands to the feet. In our uttanasana Sarah had us clasp hands behind our backs the "not so familiar way," as we squeezed into the midline. We then advanced our vinyasa flow—in our up dog Sarah reminded us not to lock out our elbows, but instead allow for a teeny micro-bend. In our next fold we tried another variation—threading one arm behind the other and rising up with eagle arms.
The next third of class was a flurry of warrior ones, low lunge twists, pyramid poses, and a lunging lizard that led to a grasp of the back foot if we so desired. "Get juicy!" encouraged Sarah as we lowered into devotional warrior. In standing split Sarah cued us to keep the hips square, and had us challenge our balance by clutching the planted ankle. Then we raised our arms to any variation that called to us (mine was prayer) as we soared in warrior three.
Next it was yogi's choice. We could do a supported bridge or wheel to open the heart, a restorative pigeon to open the hips, or the inversion of our choice. "It's right if it's what serves you," reminded Sarah.
We played on our own for five minutes, then melted into janu sirsasana. Sarah then invited us to put blankets over our knees for savasana; she gave us each a firm shoulder press to further ground us.
"Now the real practice begins," proclaimed Sarah. "As you step off the mat and into the rest of your day!"
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in 60-minute classes are $13; 75- and 90-minute classes are $18. Jade and Manduka mats are available for $2 rental. New students can try a three classes for $30.