Yoga Sleuth (class review)

I got yoga sleuthed! Many thanks to Jim Catapano for the review. Find reviews of other NYC yoga classes on the YogaCity/YogaSleuth website.

Alignment and Ascension with Caitlin Casella
YogaWorks Union Square138 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor

Wed 7:30 PM to 8:45 PM

“Time for a Hump-Day tune-up,” said Yoga Sleuth to himself (yes I do both talk to myself AND refer to myself in the third person, but hey, we’re all One). I floated down to Union Square and into the beckoning arms of YogaWorks, to re-align and restore with one of its fine instructors, Nebraska native Caitlin Casella.

Caitlin’s warm presence was felt immediately as she greeted us cheerfully and made a promise of juicy backbending and hip-opening yet to come. She asked us to grab two blocks, a blanket and a strap, and had us lie on our backs with our feet on the floor.

“Start to pinpoint a particular place where you feel the breath expand initially,” said Caitlin. "Move your hands to that place. It might be your belly, the chest, the low ribs. See if you can begin to elongate your inhalation so that the breath begins to spill over into the neighboring areas, creating a little more space inside."

We reached our legs across the mat and raised our arms overhead into a full-bodied stretch, palms facing each other. Inhaling we hugged both knees close to the chest, and with the exhale let them out again. “You're almost like a Bellows, those little things that puff up fireplaces," said Caitlin, guiding our deep breaths.

We got our feet involved in our Cat and Cow, tucking our toes in the latter to give the soles a sorely needed (pun intended) stretch. Then it was time for the crucial first Down Dog of the day. Rather than just leaving us to it, Caitlin proceeded to break down the pose bit by bit, giving us a renewed understanding and appreciation that is so often lost through habit and repetition:

"Bend your knees a little, a tiny bend, and then pull your hips straight back to the wall behind you, as if you're trying to sit on that wall. Press the floor away with your hands and move your upper body towards your legs. Let your head hang,  your neck relax. Fingers wide, even pressure on your palms.

Notice the weight ratio in your arms versus the legs...often when we first come into down dog, it's more challenging to get the weight into the legs. Take a mental note of this feeling...when we revisit the pose later it should be a very different experience."

Coming to stand with feet hip width, we stretched our arms skyward. "Lift your gaze up until you can almost see your palms, and then pull your chest up towards that space between your hands. Imagine you're at the bottom of a swimming pool and you're trying to swim your way to the top." This imagery did indeed make my arms work harder and the pose more heat-building, as Caitlin predicted it would.

Our chair poses were similarly deconstructed. "Let your hips go back and down, stretching your arms forward and up to counterbalance," Caitlin cued. We lifted our gaze, but took the weight back into our heels as if sitting into a chair a foot behind us, as Caitlin suggested. “There's a feeling of ascension, of lightness in the upper body. Sit an inch lower, but lift your arms an inch higher."

From there we moved into a mini-lunge workshop with hands pressed into blocks. "Imagine a long line from your right heel to the center of your chest," said Caitlin. "And then make it longer by moving your chest forward but simultaneously pressing your heel back. So it's just a tug-of-war between the chest and the right heel."

After carefully cued deconstructions of warrior two and extended side angle, we returned to our down dogs to see how they'd evolved. "Just notice if you're a little bit more 'leggy,'" said Caitlin, and indeed I was.

Bringing our mats to the wall, we placed the outer heel of one foot against it, toes turned in, while spreading the other leg wide.  We pushed into the place where our floor met the wall as we bent our knee, "creating a little opposition in two directions." Putting the block on its highest height, we tipped to the side and brought our hands to the block.

"The game is to move the knee into the arm, turning the leg open, keeping the knee moving toward the arm, lifting the chest, and working to straighten the leg." We played with that several times, coming from extended side angle to triangle with Caitlin's (and the trusty wall's) deft guidance. And soon I was taller and twistier than I'd been for some time.

Then Caitlin asked if she could use my props and mat to demo, and I readily agreed (happy that I’d be set up perfectly for the next pose!). We were to place the blanket completely over the mat for comfort and sliding purposes. Then we put the block on the lowest setting against the wall, and tied a strap around our hips. "Knees a little wider than hips as you press out into the support of the strap. It helps you lift the hips a lot."

Hips duly lifted, we put a second block under the sacrum on its highest height.  Finally we straightened our legs, and placed our heels on the block abutting the wall. Voila! "A big, mild, but long backbend for the whole body," which we held for several blissful breaths.

Our encore was a supine twist and a long Savasana. "Go to your exhalation as a way to soften down into gravity," whispered Caitlin.

"Seeking the support of the floor." She brought blankets to those who needed support under their knees. "Find a little more ease and softness inside. Any frenetic energy at the front of your face, let it recede back into the place where your head is in contact with the floor."

As we let go of the weight of our heads and the thoughts within, the rest of our bodies followed suit, content at the end of a great class with an exceptional teacher.

Drop-in Classes at YogaWorks are $22 with a $2 mat rental.

--Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth