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February 2020
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Clear Space with Anya Porter
Kula Yoga
28 Warren Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10007

Wed, 7:45 AM To 8:50 AM

Sleuth adores early morning yoga – the streets are quiet and the Citi Bike docks have been restocked making for an easy commute to the studio. It’s also nice when the brain hasn't yet kicked into high gear so the thinking mind is more manageable.

When I arrived at Tribeca Kula, I noticed no sign-in sheet for Anya Porter's class. "I like to save paper, and I usually know everyone who comes to this class," said the woman checking in.

I entered the studio, and Anya was on her back doing hip openers with a blanket tucked underneath her pelvis. Others were performing their own warm up which included Seated Side Bend and Child's Pose.

Anya stood up, and asked us to fold our blankets underneath the pelvis (as she did moments earlier). We went to our backs, and took figure fours  -- first with bent knees, then with the option to extend one leg long. All the while, Anya reminded us to drop our knee (the bent one) towards the floor.

When we finished both sides we came to sit, hands in prayer, and chanted Om.

Downward Dog came next. To find Samasthiti, Anya had us toe heel our feet slowly towards the top of the mat. When we arrived, she instructed us to press down into our feet to feel the energy move up through the legs, and into the hips.

This idea of connectivity in the body came up several times in class. As we stood in Standing Forward Bend, Anya said to feel the head drip down from the pelvic bowl. And in Extended Side Angle she brought our attention to the back foot giving energy to the extended hand.

After class, I spoke with Anya about connectivity in the body.

"In my experience and studies, the body is not a series of parts which function on their own. Rather, it is important to know how to isolate and be with individual aspects of our physiology, yet understand that each influence is connected to a variety of other aspects. If you study fascial connection in the work of people like Thomas Myers and his “Anatomy Trains.” His research and work indicates that what you do with your pinky toe could have a profound effect on something seemingly unconnected like your neck. I couldn’t agree more based on my own experience of my body, and my teaching echoes that thinking."

Next was Surya Namaskar A. We did the first rounds as a group, then proceeded on our own. As I did my Sun Salutes, I noticed the others in class – we were moving together, yet not in unison. The sun wasn't shining on this cloudy Wednesday, but there was a meditative quality to the vinyasa that felt appropriate for the early morning time slot.

Anya enhanced this meditative quality through her teaching. She spoke in a gentle tone with clear direction. Her language included phrases such as, "contemplate your position, and see if you can bring your awareness and attention to maintain it."  Her class pacing felt steady while her assists were firm with precision. Her sequencing started simple and gradually built-in options that ventured into more challenging terrain.

Adding to the overall meditative quality of class was Anya's background in Buddhism. For four years she studied Buddhist psychology and philosophy, and she graduated from the Interdependence Project with Shastri Ethan Nichtern which qualified her to teach meditation. She offers a 20 minute meditation, as a follow up to the asana class.

I asked Anya about the influence of Buddhism on her teaching.

“Meditation and Buddhism have had profound effects on my teaching, but I think the number one tool both have offered me is compassion in relation to myself and my students."

As the class progressed, we spent time on our hands -- Bakasana, Eka Pada Galabasana, and Prasarita Padottanasana A were just a few poses that put our palms on the floor.

"Being on our hands is playful and shifts our perspective on and off the mat. It also gives us lots of opportunity to sequence in ways that don’t load the hips and yet still find a ‘flow’ to practice," she told me in our post class chat.

Some of the more interesting transitions within class included a Figure Four Downward Dog to Pigeon and Skandasana to Extended Side Angle to Side Plank (in Half Lotus).

In our conversation after class, Anya explained, “My first intention is to make each transition a pathway that is safe and efficient, yet incredibly daring - in an “oh! I didn’t know that was possible!” way, not a daredevil way - and stimulating for the mind.”

As the hour grew close to finishing, we had five minutes to choose a closing posture. Forearm Stand in Half Lotus or Full Lotus were offered (“Since we've been working our way towards that, and your body is fully prepared for it.”), along with Headstand in a Lotus variation. Anya also suggested a Twist or gentle Backbend.

In Savasana I noticed the sweet smell of incense spreading through the room.

When we sat for our final Om, I felt a clearing of energy in my body, and a calmness within my mind.

As we left the studio, I asked Anya about her teaching, and what she hopes her students can glean from class.  “I hope that while we may be undertaking a serious practice, we can’t take ourselves too seriously as we walk this path. Also, the physical work we do is simply a gateway to exploring self and reality on a somewhat tangible level and so the work never stops when we step off the mat. Ultimately, I hope that I can offer tools to experience and interact with their lives more skillfully, and with a wide open heart.”

Following Anya's class is a 20-minute meditation class for $5 suggested donation. Kula Hour drop-in classes are $16, with mat and towel rental $2 each. New Student Special 3 Classes for $30. 

-Elysha Lenkin for Yoga Sleuth

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