Who doesn’t want to take yoga in a haunted, historic mansion? At Morris-Jumel Mansion, a centuries-old haven in the midst of bustling Washington Heights, you can. Located at the second highest point in Manhattan, the historic mansion affords a beautiful view of the neighborhood. Last year, the Mansion celebrated its 250th anniversary and, historically, it’s known as George Washington’s headquarters during the Battle of Harlem Heights. It was also the home of Eliza Jumel who was married to Vice President Aaron Burr for a couple of years and is said to be haunted by several ghosts, including Eliza Jumel.
But the mansion is put to much more peaceful uses these days with a regular schedule of affordable yoga classes as well as various theatrical and arts and crafts activities.
During the winter, yoga class takes place in the Octagonal Drawing Room with a large fireplace, a portrait of Eliza Jumel and Aaron Burr, and blue wallpaper covered in birds and plants. (First-timer’s tip: This is an old mansion. It’s good to bring extra layers in the winter months!) In the summer, yoga takes place in the spacious gardens.
Bringing the Awesome Asana (the official title of the class) is Chelsea Best, a bright and cheery, Sonic Yoga-trained teacher. Offering us mats and blocks at the beginning of class, Chelsea walked us through a relaxing floor warm-up, which included a restorative pose lying on our backs and placing a block under our necks to stretch out the neck, then a sequence that involving bending the knee to the chest, taking a half happy baby, half pigeon pose on our back, and an easeful janu sirsasana and paschimottanasana. Later, we moved onto all fours and warmed-up further with some cat/cows, thread-the-needle, and ardha chandrasana prep on the floor.
Our first downward dog did not occur until fifteen minutes into class, once our bodies were well and truly warmed up. Some of our standing poses gently evolved into warrior three, standing split, high lunge, warrior one, high lunge twist, utkatasana (chair pose), and so forth. Chelsea told us she doesn’t like to do vinyasas between sequences in her own practice anymore, but offered them up all the same for anyone who felt like they needed them.
Chelsea also gives us the freedom to be in our own practice and doesn’t make hands-on adjustments, but rather gives cues and demonstrates her sequences from her mat at the top of the class.
Backbends consisted of “superman” shalabhasana and camel. Chelsea helped us neutralize the spine with some twists and ended class with a forward fold or paschimottanasana. Lastly, we took a supine, restorative fish with blocks with the option of leaving the legs straight, bent, or bottoms of our feet together in supta baddha konasana.
Then, of course, we relaxed in Savasana. At the end of class, following chanting a single “om,” Chelsea announced that, for the first time in Awesome Asana’s history, she was taking a little break and would have a sub next week. But they were also planning on expanding the number of classes, and, hopefully soon, there would be four classes a week at the mansion, instead of just two, giving even more students the chance to make their own yoga history.
Not only are these yoga classes very affordable, they also give you access to the mansion at a discounted rate for a look around afterwards. With its rich and fascinating history and sweeping views, it’s a nice day out to compliment the yoga class.
—Marie Carter for Yoga Sleuth
Classes are $5 with free rental mats and discounted same-day admission to the museum for participating yoga students.