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June 2020
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Warm Up Inside and Out with Aarona Pichinson
YogaWorks Soho
459 Broadway
New York, NY 10013

Tue, 6:15 PM To 7:30 PM

The frigid temps, stuck in the teens, had caused some serious stiffness in Yoga Sleuth’s bones. Aarona Pichinson’s class, a mindful mix of breath, movement and music seemed like the perfect prescription to warm up both inside and out.

When I went into the yoga room they were already chanting Om with Aarona seated at the front. I stashed my stuff along the wall, and made my way to the mat.

We sat quietly absorbing the after-effects of the group Om. Then Aarona asked us to think about the one quality we could invoke into our practice, and put it into a word to draw into our awareness. I thought about warmth. She gave energy and softness as examples of this type of quality.

Before fully getting into the “vigor of the practice” we took a few series of gentle openers, pedaling out the feet from Downward Dog, lengthening the legs into Down Dog Split, and then stepping one foot forward for a side stretch lunge (using a block). Our first vinyasa--focused on the head and neck--began in Downward Dog (feet wider than the mat). On an inhale we bent our knees, sunk the hips and curled our neck and gaze forward. On the exhale, we pushed the heels down, and dropped the head and neck in line with the arms.

"The neck and throat are like a bridge between our head and our body (or our mind and our heart),” she said. “Many of us can carry a lot of tension in the neck which directly affects our jaw, our mental space, and may even travel deeper into our shoulders, spine or hips. I love including neck release and neck awareness poses into my teaching,” she continued, “because it feels great, and will ideally shed some light on the above issues and guide students to make changes in the quality of their attention towards their own body day to day."

We did that first vinyasa several more times throughout the class with Eagle Arm variations and a complete release of the head and neck towards the floor. As our bodies warmed up, the music shifted from barely there string chords to beat and bell inflected down-tempo grooves. Aarona kept the pace steady, and paid close attention to the transitions.

When moving to High Lunge, she asked that we slowly find Warrior 3 on the way.

"Transition is a really important aspect of a flow class. Particularly in a vinyasa class, it is not just about the poses themselves. It is also about how we move from one pose to the next, one moment to the next, one breath to the next. If we can learn to transition mindfully in our yoga practice the quality of our practice changes tenfold, which leaks out into our lives. We can remember, through artful transition, that change happens and it's okay. "

She guided us through our vinyasa with subtle instructions on alignment (“wrap your right hip down, and your right ribs telescope up,” in Standing Lunge Twist) and she kept a continual focus on the breath.

"The breath of a yoga practice is what separates it from so many other physical practices out there," she said. "When we breathe, we slow down inside a little, soothe our nerves, calm down our mind, and feel the body in a way that is deeply nourishing and strengthening on so many levels."

The breath work intensified in Horse stance where we practiced Uddiyana Bandha and Agni Sara by pumping the belly on the breath retention (similar to Kapalabhati).

Aarona reminded us of the benefits of Uddiyana Bandha stating how “we become more connected to the powerful feeling of being empty as we create a vacuum in our belly and chest and suck up our abdominal organs and diaphragm.” Agni Sara also helps us develop core strength and the both combined enable us to stay centered and grounded as well as help us understand the internal 'lifting' energy required in many poses, she said.

Her set up for Forearm Stand was incredibly helpful. From Downward Dog she had us place our elbows right underneath the shoulders, and then wrap our hands around the biceps for a good grip of the upper arm. We extended our arms out like the number 11, then straightened the legs into Dolphin and stayed there for a couple of breaths before we pushed the floor away to lift our right leg up into Forearm Stand.

Sun Salutes came towards the end of class, and I asked Aarona (after class) why she introduced Surya Namaskar at the end when usually it shows up as an earlier sequence. She explained, "I prefer a dynamic, longer held warm-up sequence that moves into a similar yet stronger flow, lands us in the mouth of a warm and joyful Sun Salute series, and then takes us into a deep standing sequence until we bring the energy back to the ground again.” But then added that it really depends on the class because her teaching is impacted by the season, environment, and students in the room.

The last moments of class were steeped with deep releasing Pigeon variations to the tune of sweet piano chimes. Final relaxation followed, and then we ended class with one Om.

YogaWorks Soho classes are by membership, but drop-in classes for new students are $22. Class package options and new students deals available. Mat rental $2.

-Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth

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