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February 2020
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Sleuth to Sleuth with Alison West
Yoga Union
37 West 28th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001

Thu, 9:30 AM To 11:30 AM

Yoga Sleuth had just seen the newest Sherlock Holmes movie. As she sat in Alison West's Thursday Level 2/3 class she recalled the scenes where Holmes envisions how a whole sequence will play out, move by move in high def 3-D. And, how at the end, Holmes will be as relaxed as a Zen Master for several minutes or at least until the next adventure begins.

Sleuth decided that's just how West must think. She's got a restless intellect and investigates an idea fully until the case, or in this instance the class, is closed.

We begin by sitting in Sukhasana with our legs crossed at mid-shin. We chant Om and then start the Gayatri Mantra. West begins to lead the chant in a lively pace then stops after the first verse and tells us in her staccato-like English accent (I think she must have been a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan as a child) to get on the same beat. Already she's attentive to the precision of our output.

This week she is focusing on doing strong abdominal work to lead us into backbending.

Like any good investigator, West starts with deceptively simple clues. They are the poses that set her plot. Bridge variations to sensitize and stabilize the lower back muscles and simple leg extensions to begin alerting the abdomen to the task at hand.

We roll back and forth on our mats from Paschimottanasana to Halasana with our arms overhead to add difficulty and then move on to full legs lifts with wide legged variations.

Each time West gives us a variation she invites us to think about the differences that those variations bring about. In Jathara Parivartanasana we proceed with bent knees and then straight legs to our palms and then straight legs out to the side. Each pose works the abdominal muscles in different ways. The leg to palm variation taxes our hamstrings more than the others.

Throughout our work, West offers cheery information about muscle lengths, gravity, difficulty and alignment. She's looked at all the angles as we take Navasana straight up and then with twisting variations. As the class goes on we take Lolasana with leg variations and Vasithasana and Plank with arm and weight distribution variations. While she joins us in many poses, her keen eyes still see my derriere hiked up in a forearm plank.

The plot now changes pace and we stand to take Parsvottonasana and Virabhadrasana III. Once again, we go in and out of the poses in different ways. My mind is completely absorbed as I face these difficult personal explorations. West watches each student deep in his or her own mystery and then calls for Handstand to lighten the room, give a pause to her students and start a new chapter.

We've been working on abs, lengthening them and strengthening them.Now it's time to enjoy the fruits of their labor. The climax happens in rapid succession…Standing Bhujangasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana, Standing Dropbacks, Setu Bandha in Sarvangasana and then Parsva Sarvangasana.

Then a rest in Savasana to absorb the story.

Yoga Sleuth has been a regular student of West's for many years now. While her themes remain constant, her classes are never the same. There is always a new way to look at a pose, a mudra, a muscle, an Om. Each moment brings a new clue, each day brings a new case to be solved. I realize that West is not only a genuine educator she's a damn good Sleuth herself, one that all of us can learn something from.

--B. Erica Spraos for Yoga Sleuth

Yoga Union is located at 37 West 28th Street on the 4th Floor. The studio has been named by Well+Good as one of the city's most beautiful. Drop in price for West's 2 hour class is $22. Mats and props are provided by the studio.

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