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February 2020
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Friday Night Free Style with Danielle Tafeen
Sacred Sounds
163 Bleecker Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10012

Fri, 7:45 PM To 9:05 PM

During the long winter, Yoga Sleuth was looking to asana to deliver him from the cold darkness. And he found just the place: The studio at Sacred Sounds was brightened by candles and warmed by the compassionate voice and attentive guidance of Danielle Tafeen.

The idea of the Free Style class is that the students get to be creative, requesting poses to add to the evening’s setlist. Danielle sat at the front of the candlelight-bathed studio with a notebook as we all called out parts of the body to work on, and asanas to perform. “Revolved Half-Moon,” “Shoulder Opening!” (that was me), and “Hip Work!” were among the highlights. Danielle jotted it all down and quickly and deftly fashioned it all into a sequence.

And as is tradition for the Friday night class, our customized yoga playlist would be to the accompaniment of live music: this week, Gadi Caplan on acoustic guitar. He played Beatles classics like “Blackbird” and “Dear Prudence,” giving an even sunnier vibe to the already light-hearted proceedings.

“Choose to let go of the day, the week, the month you just had,” said Danielle. “Just tune in to how you feel.” We sat quietly breathing, coming to live in the moment, exhaling the past out the mouth. Then we began a long, melodic call and response chant of “Lokah, Samasta, Sukhino, Bhavantu,” our voices gathering strength with each round.

“I was talking with a friend,” said Danielle, “who had a conversation with a woman who had just completed a 3-year silent retreat. My friend asked her how she had changed, and she said that now, when she looks at people, she sees their karma. And that karma is never separate from us, even when we think no one is watching us. So I was thinking, if we could all see our own and each other’s karmas, see the stories we all hold onto that shape us, how would that change the way we treat ourselves, the way we treat others? And, if we learn to love ourselves more, then we’re more available to love others, and from there, we change our whole world.”

Danielle asked us to choose an intention that felt authentic for us, and we were off into our customized sequence.

“This class is like a Choose-Your-Own Adventure book!” said Danielle as we toggled between Plank and Down Dog. “And our lives are too, they’re not dictated by anyone but you. You choose your life. With the thoughts you choose to keep, the words you choose to speak, and the actions you choose to partake in.”

An 800-hour Jivamukti alum, Danielle guides her students with an eye on both the spiritual and the physical.

“Feel the collarbones rising up, the shoulders away from the ears,” she said as we nestled into Down Dog. “Press into the hands, tighten through your abdomen. There should be an even foundation between the fronts and backs of your feet as well as your hands.” And she counted out our inhales and exhales so we breathed as one, then guided us to flow.

"Let go of any heaviness, any regret, any anticipation, anything that is preventing you from being content and being present right here and right now. We're overcoming being victims to our minds as we take control and transform."

We progressed to Utkatasana and Warrior 2 as Gadi's guitar cheered us on. Then Danielle had us try something different: some fancy footwork. We walked to the backs of our mats on our toes, then walked to the front on our heels. Doing this several times proved playful, and also gave a nice workout to an often neglected but crucial part of our bodies. Then it was back to our personally scheduled program with Parsvottanasana. "Use this opportunity to ground down," said Danielle as Gadi played a blues riff on the guitar ("My Baby Ground Me Down," perhaps?).

Danielle encouraged us to engage Mula Bandha, the root lock, as we worked on our standing poses like Triangle and Reverse Warrior and Warrior 3, and Extended Side Angle. We continued with prayer twists and optional binds, working the shoulders just as I'd requested.

We balanced in the promised Revolved Half Moon, which I tumbled out of to the sound of my own giggles and that of the friend on the mat next to me. Then we came down to our backs to lift into Wheels and Bridges. Danielle encouraged us to engage Jalandhara Bandha, the throat lock. (Was it all the giggling?) After Gadi began strumming "Across the Universe,"  it was time for us to attempt a little astral travel ourselves. As we melted into Savasana, Danielle came round to give us all glorious aromatherapy-aided assists. Then we returned to a seated position and bowed in gratitude.

“Is there anyone I missed during Savasana?” said Danielle. Come on up!”

Drop-in regular classes at Sacred Sounds are $20 ($25 for aerial), with a $2 mat rental.

-Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth

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