On the weekend that April the Giraffe gave birth to her calf, Yoga Sleuth was reminded of the friendly stuffed giraffes that greet you in the studio and stairwells at Sky Ting Yoga. So I took a trip to the Chinatown location for a vigorous practice with Christopher Golden.
Christopher found yoga in his native Sag Harbor where he studied under Colleen Saidman Yee and Rodney Yee at their studio, Yoga Shanti.
Christopher had us start on our backs, elbows clasped overhead as we took our knees to the side for an early twist. Then we flipped up and reared back into a down dog, pedaled it out, and then brought our shoulders over our hands into a plank.
"Lower the right knee to the ground, turn down the heel, and sweep the left arm up over the ears,” Christopher cued. “Feel from the heel to the fingertips, the extension of the side body.” He asked us to make sure we weren’t collapsing in the shoulder blades as we returned to down dog, stepped to the back of the mat and forward folded with elbows clasped. “Create space between the intercostal muscles, which help us breathe,” said Christopher.
Soon we were off and flowing. Our soundtrack to sweat to was some sweet ‘70s soul and R&B. Christopher kept the pace brisk and invigorating, one breath-one movement style, but still found time to give our collective alignment a little verbal assistance.
“You want the center of that knee in line with the second and third toes,” he told us as we launched into warrior 2. “Make sure that the back arm is as high as the front one. Sit in the legs evenly.” We took our hands to a block on the inside of the leg and swept the other arm over the ear for extended side angle.
Coming down with hands both inside the front foot, we played with getting the shoulder underneath the knee. A few heartbeats later we were doing donkey kicks with some of us coming all the way to a handstand. In between our adventures we had the option of a vinyasa, or taking a break in child’s pose.
“Every class is a mixed-level class,” said Christopher. “Don’t overdo, just figure out what’s going to work for you.” He encouraged us to, “Respect where you’re at.”
Back in an inverted V, we added something new: Christopher had us put the big and second toe of one foot around the opposite Achilles tendon, and we maintained this shape as we toggled between plank and down dog several times for an added challenge. “Rock it forward, scrub it back,” said Christopher. “Work through the hands evenly.” This was followed soon by a spell in a dolphin, where we repeated the rock forward, scrub back motion.
Finally, we placed our heads to our clasped hands and were invited, if we desired, to pursue it all the way to headstand. The non-sirsasanas turned to the side of the room for a wide-legged forward bend, with two blocks to support our heads as we lowered. “If you feel like you’re collapsing in the inner knees, move them slightly away from each other, and roll the inner knee to the outer knee. “
We came to sit and put the heels of our hands at the temples, then made a shelf to cradle our chins, as “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” (or is that “Heart Chakra”?) mellowed the room. Then we found ourselves where we began, lying on our backs, and in savasana.
“Allow yourself to be held, and drop whatever expectations you had for class,” said Christopher. “Just watch the rise and fall of the belly.”
—Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth
Drop-in Classes are $22 with mat included. New students can try three classes for $30 or three weeks unlimited for $60.