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February 2020
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Urban Zen with Kirtan Smith
YogaWorks SoHo
459 Broadway
New York, NY 10013

Sat, 5:30 PM To 6:45 PM
Special Needs

With the holidays officially in full swing, Yoga Sleuth was in some serious need of loving care to help recover from a particularly grueling work week and claustrophobic shopping experiences. I had a hunch that Kirtan Smith’s new Urban Zen class, which mixes the practices of Restorative yoga, Reiki and oils, at Yogaworks would be just the cure I needed to recharge and and restore back to neutral.

It was.

Upon entering the studio one Saturday evening, Kirtan and his assistant Jessica greeted students with cotton swabs dashed with eucalyptus oil to keep at our mats to sniff throughout the class if we so desired, calling to olfactory nerves to help set a soothing tone. I had barely even flipped out my mat or acquired the necessary props and was already feeling much more relaxed.

Speaking of props, there were relatively few. Kirtan had us get two blankets, a strap and a block, keeping the mess and the difficulty factor in setting up the props to a minimum.

In trying to help us create an intention for the class, Kirtan shared with us the inspiration of Urban Zen, barely three months old: hospice worker Joan Halifax. In working so closely with death, Kirtan couldn’t understand how the Buddhist teacher could be one of the happiest people he knows, her positivity unending. When he asked her how she is able to stay so uplifted, her answer: “With a strong back of equanimity, and a soft belly full of compassion.”

Keeping Joan’s words in mind, we came to sit in Virasana to begin class in a seated meditation, aspiring toward long, tall spines while letting our bellies be slack before completing a series of hip openers (i.e. reclined pigeon, happy baby, pigeon, etc.) and twists to help us to loosen up the joints before coming into Downward Dog, which, according to Kirtan, was the first time in Urban Zen’s short life that he had called upon the class to come into the gentle inversion. From there, we walked to the top of our mats ever so gently as he quoted Thich Nhat Hanh for us: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

Once we were up, we came right back down to get a little bit of movement in before finding the support of the Earth beneath us again. Demonstrating, Kirtan rolled through a seated series that began in Dandasana, followed by Baddha Konasana. Our mindful teacher performed how to gently take our hands at the knees up to raise them to chest-height for Navasana before returning to Baddha Konasana, then extended the legs out wide for Upavistha Konasana. 

Concerned for our knees, he took his hands underneath the joints to encourage them to bend to come into Baddha Konasana again, then back to where we started in Dandasana, asking us to do the same. Now that we had his tips for optimal knee health, we flowed through this sequence a few times on our own, letting the breath be our guide.

Now came time to put some props to use: Helping to set up a student in the front of the room, Kirtan called us to circle round to carefully watch as he set up a blanket in an accordion fold to use like a bolster, a cushion for us to lean back and rest out spine upon. Before reclining, though, he showed us how to properly belt our legs together at the thighs to encourage inward rotation. Once strapped up, then we could lie back, creating a pillow for ourselves by folding the end of the accordion stack under itself to prop our heads up a bit higher for extra comfort.

Once settled in, that’s when the magic happened.

Dimming the lights to create a more quiet, spacious feel, Kirtan and Jessica walked around covering students with blankets to help keep us warm. Then they went around giving adjustments to ensure comfort as well as performing Reiki to help soothe anxious minds and achy bodies. With about 40 yogis in the room, I wasn’t sure if they would make it to everyone in the room and had my fingers crossed that someone would stop by my mat to help rid my anxious nerves.

Whether they worked with ESP or could just tell by looking at me that I needed some extra loving care that day, someone came by and sat with me, hovering their hands near my head. My scalp felt tingly, my body relaxed. I didn’t want it to end. But they needed to share their magic with other folks who were hoping to find some kind of healing help from the class, so after a few blissful moments under their spell, off they went to another mat.

Feeling rather rejuvenated, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d get a second dose of the special energy once we rolled off the blanket and came to lie flat on the floor for Savasana. I didn’t want to be greedy, but felt that I could benefit from a few more moments in their care. No sooner did I call to them silently in my mind than I felt that wonderful tingly sensation around my head. Jessica was back and stayed with me well after Kirtan called us to roll onto our sides and come into a seated position to end our practice.

So if you are in need of some healing, do check this class out. And don’t be afraid to send your the vibe to the teachers that you are in need of some extra special attention, because they will hear it, and you will get exactly what you need.

Free trial class for new NYC-based students; monthly membership rates available.

-Jessica Mahler for Yoga Sleuth

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