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February 2020
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Sweat and Samadhi with Rebecca Cheeks Soule
Ishta Yoga Upper East Side
1026 Third Ave
New York, NY 10065

Fri, 6:30 PM To 8:00 PM

Yoga Sleuth knew there was only one way to segue from a week of desk jockeying to a weekend of fun and rest, and that's with the right Asana class. And there was one just up the street that would fittingly go from an energizing yang to a calming yin: Sweat and Samadhi at the cozy Ishta uptown studio with Rebecca Cheeks Soule.

Spying the newbie, Rebecca introduced herself to me and asked about any injuries or issues. (Later on in class, she would check in on me in any pose she thought might compromise me.) We placed our bolsters, blankets and blocks to the side of our mats, and went right into Savasana. (Guess we all had the same week!)

When Rebecca appeared at the front of the room, she invited us to stay there for a bit. "Take in a really deep breath, release it completely. Don't try to change it," said Rebecca. "Stretch your arms up ahead; stretch your body from one side to the other, get familiar with your space." From there we urged our bodies into action, coming to sit on blocks in Virasana.

"We have three sizes for our blocks,' said Rebecca. "single family, co-op, and skyscraper! You're going to put yours on the co-op height." Glad that I could finally afford a co-op, I rolled my calves gently out and rubbed my thighs towards my knees as Rebecca suggested. "Now rest your hands open as if you were holding something precious in a bowl." She then encouraged us to become aware of our spines, giving a quick tutorial going from the lumbar, to the thoracic, to the cervical.

We came off the blocks and into a Cat-Cow flow. As the Ujjayi kicked in, it soon became a very calming rhythm. "We're starting to quiet the mind and draw our senses in--Pratyahara,” said Rebecca. "Connecting the mind, the body and the breath through movement."

From an active Child's pose we went up and back into our first Down Dog. "Slowly come to stillness, let your knees be a little bit softer while you reach the heels towards the floor." On the next inhale we came forward into Plank and proceeded to do a mini flow between that and Down Dog. We soon graduated to knees chest and chin and Cobra, with an option for post-grad work with Chaturanga and Up Dog.

"Your modification, for your body," Rebecca reminded. Spotting some of us having shoulder issues in Plank and Chaturanga, Rebecca deduced it was time for a workshop. She had us place our bolsters length-wise on the mat and we lied down prone upon it. "Take your hands next to your chest, elbows directly above the wrist, shoulders pointed forward," she said. "The bolster is giving support to feel what the body is like in Chaturanga."  We kept the bolster in place when we came back to down dog, giving the head a nice place to perch.

The sweat portion of the class was capped with standing poses including Warriors One and Two, Wide-Legged Forward Fold with twists, Triangle and Extended Side Angle, which Rebecca helped me open up into. Rebecca was going to have us do some of them facing the back of the room, but then decided the mess of props and people's purses, bags etc. made for a bad drishti!

"You can always decide where you want to turn your gaze," said Rebecca. "And the same thing is true of your thoughts. Where you want to turn your thoughts, just like your gaze, is where you're going to end up. So every time we choose to kvetch about the weather being too hot or too cold, or we choose to instead say, 'oh, what a glorious day to wake up to!' whether it's rainy or sunny, that's a choice. So when you're in class you can choose to focus on your stance, to let your mind rest on your breath and become a little more still."

After a modified Malasana with blankets under our heels, it was time for Samadhi. We set up our bolsters on an angle, propped up by one block at skyscraper height and the other at co-op. We then rested our torsos back on it, our soles pressing together and knees splayed out in Baddha Konasana. Rebecca had us wrap a rolled blanket around the ankles to urge the knees down. This made for an utterly blissful restorative pose, augmented by Rebecca coming around to adjust our shoulders. From there we were invited to sit in meditation and then melt back into Savasana, literally transitioning from work week to weekend.

"This bit of heat, the fire, getting the tapas going, is part of the discipline of helping us to quiet the mind,” said Rebecca. “When you can have a quiet mind and just be still, that's what yoga is."  

Ishta Yoga Upper East Side classes are $22 drop-in with a $2 mat rental.

-Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth

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