And now for something completely different; a Yogi hanging from a wall!
Yoga Sleuth, intrigued by the thick ropes adorning the walls on his first trip to Sangha Yoga Shala in Williamsburg, had to find out how they were put into practice. This brought me back to Sangha to try out the weekly Iyengar Rope Yoga Class led by Cory Washburn.
A graduate of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York, Cory has over 10 years of teaching experience under her strap. As there were several brand new students in the class, Cory came over to each one of us individually, asking us our names, our Yoga experience and if we had any injuries. She took this information and used it throughout class, tailoring our individual practices to our own needs and levels.
We began in Siddhasana, aka “perfect pose.” Cory reminded us to sit in such a manner that she would not be able to see our toenails as they should be buried under our other knee (just as well as I haven’t had a pedicure in ages). As we sat Cory gave a talk about Ahimsa (nonviolence), reminding us that this goes for treatment of ourselves as well as others. In my experience, not many classes get into the Sutras and Yogic philosophy, so it’s always refreshing when a teacher reminds us to mind our Yamas and Niyamas. That said, the bulk of the class paid great attention to training the body, and took on an almost “gym workout” feel, giving the experience a nice balance of the physical and spiritual.
While stretching out one leg at a time Cory had us grab our thighs and hamstrings and knead them out, manually opening the fibers to settle our limbs deeper into the mat.
After a long stay in traditional down dog, it was time to go to the wall. We tied our straps to the hanging ropes and then wrapped a blanket around them to cushion our midsections. Soon we were hanging in a gravity-eschewing Adho Mukha that was a revelation.
Heading back to our mats we tried a very deep and intense supta virasana variation. Placing a rolled blanket on a bolster, we settled into reclined hero for an incredibly long time, our quads giving it all they had. Gingerly coming out we pressed each heel back into a well deserved runner’s stretch.
Returning to the wall it was time for L-shaped handstand. Cory workshopped this carefully, finding time to work with every single one of us to perfect our form. We came into it several times, balancing one leg off the wall as we rooted our straight arms and activated our core. Next was a most intense Ustrasana, as we used the wall to keep our stomach flat and hips square, opening the “eyes” of our chests and reaching back to open our shoulders. First we did it grabbing the ropes, then when we were well open, grabbing the heels of our feet.
We followed this up with a deep quad stretch, one leg with the shin tucked against the wall, the other bent in lunge position. The climactic pose of the class saw everyone lining up to hang upside down like bats against the wall. Then we took two straps and harnessed ourselves in a “hammock” position, climbing our legs up the wall and hanging suspended in the air for several restorative breaths. Finally we set up our bolsters to support our legs, as we melted into a Savasana, well-earned.
This is a must-try class for any Yogi, whether an Iyengar student or otherwise; Cory’s excellent knowledge of the body and her tough, but encouraging tutelage will make any student’s practice grow by leaps and bounds. Plus, it’s incredibly fun…they don’t call it Sangha Yoga Shala and “Yoga Playground” for nothing!
Drop-in classes are $20, with a $1 mat rental. New students can sign up for a week for $25, or try 3 classes in two weeks for $40.
-Jim Catapano for YogaSleuth