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June 2020
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Flow Into the Adventure with Johanna Bell
Sonic Yoga
754 9th Ave
New York, NY 10019

Mon, 12:30 PM To 2:00 PM

“Here’s to all of us letting go of the past and diving with open hearts into the great unfolding adventure of our lives!“ wrote Johanna Bell on the Sonic Yoga blog. Her message felt timely. With detox season well underway, and the New Year’s exciting possibilities still fresh on the brain, Yoga Sleuth decided class with Johanna would be the perfect place to let the adventures unfold.

As I made my way into the upstairs studio, the smell of burning incense met me at the door. I noticed a woman, smiling as she waved the fragrant aroma like a magic wand. Was she purifying the energy? The energy of this room felt far from needing a cleanse! Hugs, lively conversations and an overall friendliness filled the space.

Johanna, joining the jubilance, engaged in social catch-up by asking everyone how they were doing. After a cheerful exchange, she declared, “We are going to work with Ganesh today.”

With our hands rested on the palms faced up, she continued, “As we are at the gateway of the year, we are going to chant to Ganesh, as at all gateways Ganesh is invoked to clear the path, and also to place obstacles that help you on your journey forward.”

She began the invocation with a solid drum beat. Om gam ganapataye namaha.

We chanted together, in unison with the drum. When the room fell silent, Johanna offered, “It’s important that we walk forward with empty hands and a deep faith that the blossom of the new year will unfold at its proper time. Now is the time to shed what doesn’t serve. To lay down the heavy things that impede evolution.”

A group Om followed.

Slowly, we lowered one vertebrae at a time onto our mats. We proceeded with a few rounds of tailbone lifts, and Johanna asked us to “cultivate ujjayi pranayama”.

Next were sit-ups. We raised our tailbones, our shoulders and then lowered both down. She asked us to do this “not fast, but very powerfully controlled” several times.

“We are going to use a lot of elephant imagery today,” she said (referring to Ganesh) as we went onto our hands and knees. “Visualize your right arm as a trunk, and on an inhale reach it up towards the sky, and on an exhale sweep it across, in front of the left hand. Now add an energy and imagine you are clearing your path.” After a few times on both sides we threaded the arm underneath the other for a side stretch.

A lot of the yoga postures were surrounded by transitional movements that kept in theme with the idea of the elephant as a sea/land animal. In Downward Dog she had us widen our legs and begin to sway from side to side. Very slowly, we walked our hands back to our feet, and then put them in prayer to sweep them across the mat in a creature-like way. After rolling up to stand, we walked mindfully, knees bent, hips swaying, to the top of the mat.

Clearing energy showed up as another class theme, which made sense of the incense smudging at entrance. The mindful walk we had previously done was also considered a clearing exercise. And our next vinyasa began with a clearing Kriya reminiscent of an arm game I played as a kid.

Johanna demonstrated this child-like arm variation, which involved wrapping and unwrapping our arms, then releasing the wrap to bend forward, and allow the arms to reach behind the back. From here we went to Skiers Pose where Johanna asked us to step back “slow and slinky” into lunge for Devotional Warrior.

The class had many moments of laughter. Johanna’s deep insights were tempered by her light humor. When we released our heads toward the floor she said, “Some of our greatest burdens are the ones we carry in our mind space” And then added with zeal, “or maybe it’s just me.”

Within each vinyasa there were mini vinyasas – micro-movements to further us into the pose. In Warrior 2, the inhale drew our heels toward each other while the exhale led us to a fuller expression.

“Work with the paradox that every inhale is that sense of moving forward and lengthening, and the exhale is the release which leads to evolution,” she said.

Other poses in this vinyasa were Eagle Arm Lunge (we lifted and lowered here a few times), Standing Ankle to Knee, Warrior 2, Triangle, Three-Legged Plank, Rock Star, and Fallen Triangle. Eventually we landed in full prostration, arms by our ears, palms face up, so we could “lay our burdens down.”

The transitions into many of the poses were elongated for 5 or 8 counts. Once we arrived, Johanna told us to “process the pose on the inside.”

The music of the class was a devotional mix – drumming, chanting, with some  hints of reggae, even rap at times.

Birds of Paradise, Bhujapidasana and Firefly were among the more advanced postures. While the deep hip openers, Pigeon and Ankle to Knee were included towards the end.

We wound down with a supine twist, took final relaxation, and then joined together for one last drum-led chant. As I got up to gather my belongings, Johanna breezed past me with a warm smile, then headed off for her next adventure.

Drop-in classes are $20. New student monthly member: 30 days for $30.

-Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth

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