New flakes of snow were still falling on the pile-up remaining from Snowstorm Stella, so the warm blast emanating from Abhaya Yoga’s welcoming studio came as a relief. Our teacher, Eduardo Martinez Diaz, was giving out tennis balls to get us started when I entered.
During his dharma talk, Eduardo informed us that the recent snowstorm had given him a chance to watch television, and one of the shows he had watched was about origami. He had observed the similarities between yoga and origami, noticing not only the idea of folding, but also of moving in two directions at once—for example, finding the backbend in a forward bend.
We were going to be working on backbends that day and Eduardo wanted to focus on easing any tension we might have in the shoulder area. “Place the balls on either side of the spine by the trapezius muscles,” he said, “and then lift your arms up to the sky, palms facing each other.” Eduardo then talked us through subtle movements turning our ribs to the left and right with our elbows bent overhead, and fingertips tented above our heads, as well as moving our arms around in circles and other shapes. “Move in a way that feels auspicious to you,” Eduardo instructed us.
Warming us up even further, Eduardo talked us through a sequence that incorporated crescent moon to ardha hanumanasana to parighasana. “We’re going to do things in threes today,” he said. And we would often repeat poses and circular arm movements three times on each side.
After going through a vinyasa flow, Eduardo asked us to keep our downward dogs springy with a bend in the knees. In warrior 2, Eduardo told us to observe the folds, as well as the peaks and valleys of the pose. From here, we would work on extended side angle and triangle, of course adding circular arm movements in threes, and eventually adding utkatasana, then bending one leg and placing the ankle above the knee of the opposite leg for an intense hip opener.
For additional backbend elements, we worked on cobra, salabhasana, and crescent moon, taking a bend to the back leg and grabbing hold of the foot while kicking it away. Eduardo offered helpful adjustments in the class, but would ask, “Is there anything I need to know?” before adjusting any student new to him.
Having warmed us up from standing poses, Eduardo asked us if we wanted to work on handstands or another inversion. Noting that the room was divided, he organized us into two groups. Those who wanted to do handstands would take their mats to the wall and those who didn’t want to do handstand would stay in the center of the room for a more preparatory version.
At the wall, Eduardo showed us how to work with all our various folds to hop up into handstand, and spotted several of us attempting to come up. After we had worked on our respective inversion, Eduardo brought us all back to the center of the room and had us work on various backbends. We started with salabhasana, but then were given the option of bow, cobra, or sphinx. Afterwards, we turned onto our backs, and worked on bridge, and for those of us willing, full wheel, although Eduardo didn't leave us hanging, but rather walked us through the steps of getting to the full pose.
Winding down from the backbends, we interlaced fingers behind the right thigh and lifted it straight into the air while being given the option to bend the bottom leg or straighten it. After holding this pose on both sides, we took our bent legs mat’s distance apart and windshield-wipered them side to side. “Make sure the pose feels auspicious,” Eduardo said.
Having explored all the folds, we relaxed into savasana, the pose that felt the most auspicious of all.
—Marie Carter for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in classes are $22, with mat rental available for $2. New students can try one week unlimited for $25 or one month for $99.
Saturday 10-11:30am Open
Abhaya Yoga 48 John St. Brooklyn, NY 11201 (718) 522-3635