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August 2020
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Move in Meditation with Sangeeta Vallabhan
The Shala
815 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Sun, 12:00 PM To 1:30 PM

With the holiday madness bubbling into a steady stream of distractions, Yoga Sleuth needed to bring awareness back to the practice. Sangeeta Vallabhan’s class where “students are safe to explore their own boundaries of song, thought, and physical expression,” sounded like an ideal opportunity to get grounded in some asana.

I left the hustle and bustle of Broadway below to enter the light and airiness of The Shala where fresh flowers adorned the alter, and soft pink walls enveloped the space. Sangeeta came into the room, and proceeded to hand out chant sheets to the group of about 10 yogis.

She took a seat in the center to speak about the first Yoga Sutra, Atha Yoga-Anuśāsanam. Her translation, “now the teachings of yoga begins,” was followed up with an interpretation: “This sutra helps us see that within everything there are teachable moments, and a lot of times the biggest teachers come in the most difficult situations.“

She paused for a moment then asked us to sit up tall and close our eyes. “And without too much instruction, I want you to find the space physically and mentally,” she added.

After leading the class in three Oms, she went right into the call and response chant. When the chant concluded, she said, “Think about a teachable moment you recently encountered that initially irritated you, or disturbed your balance and just allow yourself to be forgiven for anything you may have said, and allow yourself to begin again.”

We then made our way to Downward Dog, and found our Ujjayi breath. In addition to naming each pose in Sanksrit, Sangeeta used the breath to determine how long we held each posture -- usually for five counts, sometimes eight.  Her voice, while encouraging stillness of the mind, created an anchor for my inhales and exhales to latch onto. After the brief warm up,  I realized that this methodical rhythm of breath counting had created the space for a true movement meditation practice.

The pace picked up slightly with several rounds of Surya Namaskar A and B variations.

Sangeeta moved around giving personal attention to everyone. At times I’d hear her say, “press your left hand firmly into the right,” to someone across the room, and I’d implement this instruction into my own practice.

Though it may have sounded incredibly simple, her guidance to, “pull the right hip back” enabled me to refine the pose into my highest expression. Another example of Sangeeta’s subtle instructions came in Dandasana when she said, “You want to feel that you’re lifting your heart more than dropping your chin down.” And then on a lighter note she encouraged us to "turn up the corners of your mouth."

Every verbal direction was complemented with a physical adjustment for somebody in class. While in Chair Pose Twist, she supported me on her thighs which enabled me to spiral deeper into the posture.

Sangeeta’s sequencing was intuitive. After moving from Warrior Three to Warrior One then into Extended Side Angle (hand outside the foot) – my body was longing for  Parsvottanasana…which is exactly what came next.

Other sequences included Chair Pose to Standing Ankle to Knee Pose, and then up to Tree, before landing in Revolved Triangle.

The pace of the class was steady (it was completely dictated by the breath) and stayed  strong at an intermediate / advanced level. Poses were held longer than I’m used to, and inversions like Forearm Stand were practiced in the middle of the room.

Bridge Pose was given a slightly different variation by bending the arms so our palms faced each other, and our fingertips pointed up to the sky. After trying that variation, Sangeeta instructed us to take three more back bends of our choice.

From there we brought our hands to prayer with our thumbs touching the forehead. She then said, “reconnect with your teachable moment that you chose at the beginning of practice. There's a feeling of coming back to it as a reminder, but there's also the sense of beginning again.”

A few more seated poses were offered – Cow Face Pose, Seated Forward Bend and Table Top (or Inclined Plane) before we came to the closing sequence. I happily opted for the  restorative Viparita Karani while others went into Shoulderstand or Headstand.

After a long Savasana we came back to sit for a final Om. Though the hustle and bustle was still happening on the streets below, I had a sense of renewed energy that encouraged me to begin again.

Single classes $20; mat rental $2, towel rental $2. New-student special: 3 classes for $30 (valid for 1 month) or 1-month unlimited for $130.

- Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth

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