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September 2019
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Iyengar Beginnings with Nikki Costello
Yoga Shanti
46 W. 24th St. (Ground Fl.)
New York, NY 10010
212-255-YOGA

Mon, 7:15 PM To 8:30 PM
Open

There’s nothing more exciting to Yoga Sleuth than the opening day at a new studio. And recently I had the honor of taking the second-ever class at Yoga Shanti with Iyengar expert Nikki Costello.

Yoga Shanti, founded by Colleen Saidman Yee, first opened in Sag Harbor, and its second branch is on the ground floor of the Masonic Hall in the Flatiron district. Walk in and turn left, and a large Ganesh painting on glass will greet you. Go through the glass doors and a second Ganesh picture above a row of shoe cubbies will tell you you’re in the right place. The studio has plenty of lockers for your stuff, and the asana room is done up in autumnal reds and browns, chandeliers hang from a gold ceiling. When I arrived, 50 brick red mats were all set up, complete with two wood blocks and an orange strap. Yoga Shanti was open for business.

Nikki asked for a show of hands to see if anyone was taking their first Iyengar class (just a few), and if anyone was familiar with the friendly elephant god who’d greeted us (everyone!)

“Ganesh is the most famous idol in the world,” nodded Nikki, who explained that he is the one to invoke when embarking on a new adventure—just as we all were tonight at the gleaming new studio.

“Allow your eyelids to close from top to bottom,” said Nikki as we sat in Sukhasana. “Bring the shades down, so that you are now experiencing that internal change, your attention is turning toward your breath.” Nikki performed a lovely version of the Ganesh chant as we listened and breathed, then responded with 3 Oms.

Nikki, an adjunct faculty member at the Iyengar Yoga Institute, led us through the fundamentals of Iyengar in an authoritative voice that kept every limb moving in precision. We stood at the top of our mats in Tadasana and simply stretched one arm to the sky, then the other, then both in unison to create length; we brought an arm behind our backs and reached for its elbow with the other hand, opening our collarbones and chests.

“See that the knuckle of each finger can make some contact with the earth below,” said Nikki as we settled into Table Top. We explored Down Dog as if for the first time, and Nikki gave my ankles a friendly nudge to urge my soles energetically towards the mat. “There’s no gap between the thumb and the mat, between the first finger and the mat. Separate your feet at least as wide as your hips. Keeping the lift in your hips, relax your head downwards.” We came forward into a modified Uttanasana, bringing our heels to the edges of the mat for a wide-legged version. “Pull on your ankles in order to get your torso to go down,” said Nikki, offering us the possibility of bent knees or straight legs. “You get to choose the intensity.” Then we toggled between Down Dog and a tucked-toes version of Up Dog several times, building some heat to combat the late-winter chill outside.

Rising up to stand once more, we were ready for Hasta Padangustasana. Except Nikki had a curveball for us: We were to hold our arm out statue-still, and kick the leg up several times to reach it! Tricky but fun. We tried again in the Utthita version on each side, then reached to grab the big toe and practiced bending and straightening the leg.

We came down to lie on our backs, and Nikki had us bring the strap around the sole of our right foot and raise it to the sky. “Now you can have a look at that gold ceiling!” she noted. We came into several bridges, gripping the sides of the mat and pulling up, and then bringing our hands to clasp our heels for a greater challenge.

Savasana was accompanied by a guided relaxation from Nikki followed by a short meditation. We were joined at this point by a few new yogis who came for the meditation portion, which will follow each Monday’s Iyengar class. Nikki thanked us for coming to the inaugural day of Yoga Shanti and we all bade her Namaste, glad to have a beautiful brand new studio to continue our asana journey.

Drop-ins at Yoga Shanti are $25 with a $2 mat rental. Go to http://www.yogashanti.com/feature/nyc-membership/ for Founders Club inaugural membership info.

-Jim Catapano for Yoga Sleuth


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