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Make the Form, Fill the Space with Maya Ray-Schoenfeld
YogaWorks Union Square
138 Fifth Avenue, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10011
212-647-9642

Sun, 12:45 PM To 2:00 PM
Intermediate

Beginning class gently propped up on two folded blankets, Maya Ray-Schoenfeld encouraged us to keep an easy seat and not worry about lengthening our sides just yet.  As we sat in Sukhasana, Maya read to us a selection from The Pocket Pema Chodron.*  The passage she read is titled “We Don’t Need to Change Ourselves.” Maya said that she found herself returning to this passage again and again and it’s easy to see why:

“...loving-kindness, or maitri, toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. “

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, a lot of folks (myself included) start to consciously think about resolutions, things we want to improve, ways in which we want to be “better.”  While all that is well and good, I think it’s important to know that we don’t actually need to change who we are. We need to accept who we are already. It was refreshing to hear this quote before beginning practice, since I had the idea of just befriending who I am already tucked away in the back of my mind the entire class, which I think helped me practice with a little less ego and a little less judgment.  

After resting in Sukhasana, Maya lead the class through three Oms and we began by interlocking our hands and stretching them above our head. From there we moved through some Sun Salutations at a moderate pace. More or less a traditional beginning to a vinyasa class.

But from the Sun Salutations we immediately moved on to Lizard Pose, which so early in the class is way more challenging for your hips. From Lizard we moved into forward half splits, another challenging pose to do so close to the beginning of class.  I think the benefit of doing these postures early on in class, when the body is still warming up, is that it forces you to be more reasonable and gentle with your expression in the posture, something that Maya repeatedly encouraged us to be mindful of during class.  

Then we did some shoulder openings using a strap. Maya asked that we stand at the top of our mat with our feet hip width apart. Then we clasped the strap in each hand using only our thumbs to grip it. Then we raised our arms above our head, fingers spread wide, as Maya instructed us to lower our arms behind our backs, widening our grips on the strap and slowly rotating our hands so they were facing the floor until we could rest with our arms in a comfortable position.  It was a subtle shoulder opener and I loved the slow pace of it. Slowing down my movement allowed me to feel the muscles in my shoulders and back more acutely.  

After that we moved onto holding Plank Pose for a full minute. But before we held the posture, Maya asked us to find a Table Top position and instead of doing Cat and Cow, to do a modified, more subtle version, creating just a slight depression in our back and then a slight rounding. While doing this Maya instructed us to be mindful of our shoulders. She encouraged us to try lowering them away from our ears.  From here we moved into Plank and that additional preparation was appreciated. I felt like I was stronger in my Plank for having done it.   

At another point in class during a Warrior 2 sequence, which included Peaceful Warrior and Trikonasana, Maya told us that we should first make the form, and then fill in its space, meaning that we should think about actually making the form with our outer bodies first, and then concentrate on filling in that space. After she said this I couldn’t help but think of blowing up a balloon. The balloon doesn’t fill up all at once, but instead it fills gradually. Why shouldn’t our bodies (or minds or life!) respond to that same behavior?  

Drop-in classes are $22 with $2 mat rental. Free filtered water and tea are available.

-Jackie Clark for Yoga Sleuth

 

*The full passage that was read: "We Don't Need to Change Ourselves"

When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It’s a bit like saying, “If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.” “If I could only get a nicer house, I’d be a better person.” “If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.” Or the scenario may be that they find fault with others; they might say, “If it weren’t for my husband, I’d have a perfect marriage.” “If it weren’t for the fact that my boss and I can’t get along, my job would be just great.” And “If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.” But loving-kindness, or maitri, toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.


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