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February 2020
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Back Care with Jon Witt
Pure Yoga East
203 86th Street
New York, NY 10128

Sat, 12:15 PM To 1:15 PM
Special Needs

Yoga Sleuth's ears perk up every time we hear of a specialty yoga class, so when we heard about Jon Witt's Back Care class at Pure, we were super curious to find out how this yogi was going to pay special attention to the spine.

Prior to class, the receptionist warned that it would be slow moving, geared toward those suffering with back pain or injury; with nary a vinyasa to be had on a Saturday afternoon, this yogi still broke a sweat in the hour-long class chock full of standing poses.

Before we took to the top of our mats, though, Jon had us start on our backs hugging our knees into our chests, extending one leg out at a time while we held the bent leg in close.

Then he had us do a hip opener that was brand-new to this yogi: Still lying on our backs, we crossed our legs Indian-style above our torso (think supported Padma Sarvangasana where you bend at the waist so that your folded legs are hovering over your face and hands are holding the knees). Jon had us grab either ankle, pressing our knees up into our elbow crease or forearm depending on the individual's arm length.

Next he had us come into Setu Bandhasana with a block between our thighs. While squeezing the block with our legs, Jon had us grab for the side of the mat instead of clasping our hands beneath us. "We really want to move our shoulders into the ground to help open the chest," he said. "I don't really think clasping the hands underneath you does anything, but that's just me."

After moving through Downward Dog and plank a few times, we all met at the top of our mats, stepping back into Warrior 1. Once completed on each side, Jon had us come back to Samasthiti, finding Cactus pose with our arms. Having us take notice of how our shoulders draw toward one another on the back here, he asked us to maintain this action while extending our upper limbs straight up beside our ears, finding a lift in the chest rather than the shoulders. "Lifting through the chest is what helps us to elongate the back," he said.

It was this lifting through the chest that Jon kept pointing out in Warrior 2, Tree Pose, even in Prasarita Paddottanasana, where folded forward us 14 yogis grew our chests toward the earth below us, releasing our necks so that we gazed to the wall behind us instead of the floor.

Any kind of command given when your head is below your hips can get confusing, but since there were no vinyasas in sight with this class, Jon gave his students ample opportunity to figure out how one lifts their chest while upside down. And he brought us to this pose multiple times throughout class as a way to release the spine.

Right side up again, Jon had us find Parsvokonasana and Triangle, giving variations of the poses so that all levels could participate. "A pose isn't going to service you if all you're concerned with is looking good. It has to feel good," said Jon. "If you're body is hurting or not liking the shape you're in, it's a sure sign that you shouldn't be in it."

This proved to be Jon's mantra as he reiterated this point just about every time we came into a pose to help us lose some of our ego, that voice or drive that pushes us to try to keep up with our neighbor or try to outdo them. "I'm not so concerned with doing a pose perfectly, but rather coming into a shape that's safe," he said.

By continuously telling students that it was okay to be wherever they're at with their pose, Jon was creating a safe and trusting environment, welcoming students to really listen to their bodies and to move into a pose that best suited them. Which was especially helpful for this yogi who couldn't seem to find her balance to maintain Tree Pose.

"Maybe you don't raise your arms today in Tree; maybe you don't come into it at all," Jon soothed. "That's okay."

These classes at Pure are membership only. Please see a yoga advisor or call ahead.

--Jessica Mahler for Yoga Sleuth

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