Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gal Yoga: Saluting the Hoboken Sun with Chelsea Piers Free Yoga

Photos by the Galfromdownunder - mid downdog! 

Is yoga better outdoors or indoors? Beach or park? Ashram or gym?

I've generally preferred indoors, finding the outdoors a bit of a distraction.  But think of the advantages: better dissipation of neighboring sweat, no one bumping into you, and the chance to gaze up at the sky and watch clouds in that boundless blue sky slide by - something we rarely do when we become "grownups" grafted to swivel chairs and tempurpedic mattresses.

Last Thursday, lying flat on my back on Pier 64 with a piece of foam between me and the concrete, I felt strangely exhilarated.

The occasion? The free every-other-Thursday yoga class offered by Chelsea Piers Fitness Center, the massive complex just over yonder. And yes, it really is on Pier 64.

Hint: to locate the cross street, subtract 40 from the Pier number and you get 24th Street.

The instructor, Paolo, was possessed of a delightful South African/British/Spanish something else accent that sounded pleasing even through a megaphone. With a full hour and a half to burn, from 6.30-8.00pm, there was plenty of time to start off very gently and take everything very slowly.

Did anyone not want to be touched? He made sure to ask, and yes, I've had that first-time experience of having someone jump out of their skin when I approached them to adjust and they weren't expecting it ... always ask, and best when they are in a warm-up child's pose, so they can raise their hand anonymously to others.

We started out facing the river, a little challenging in the early evening summer heat, and I admit I had to put sunglasses on. Alternatively, one could do it Kundalini style - eyes closed for the entire class!

Paolo remarked how the 70-somethings in his senior class were able to stand on one leg longer than he, a great sign that Chelsea Piers is for all yogis great and small, the young, the old and the restless. I've been to several classes on its lustrous, high-gloss polyurethane floors, floors that make you feel like a star just to tread on them. And being a gym, I guess, the classes are refreshingly inclusive and low on "yogatude".  Then again, in NYC, you can find as little or as much 'tude as you want - it's all good.

Every time I attend a yoga class I learn something new that I can take back to my own students. For me, it's the subtle, fine-tuning remarks here and there that make a teacher great,  and Paolo offered several.

Above is John Boyd, head honcho of the Fitness Center programming. I'd approached John asking if he'd like a Yoga for Cyclists class on the schedule and learned that Spin Yoga was a new offering many gyms were considering. Although I'd ridden a bike for living, it hadn't occurred to me to combine the two  - and in my case seems like a natural progression. So as a result, I'm taking the Spin Instructor orientation in August as another string to add to my bow. Why the hell not!

I confess I got these shots by interrupting my downdogging to snap them upside down, then rotated them.  I made a little video too, but somehow failed to capture the passing parade of ferries, pleasurecraft with on-board swinging BBQ's, rowing teams, skywriting planes, helicopters ... all part of the Manhattan-flavored, OM-like setting.

See you in my 'tude-free Tuesday class at Chelsea Recreation Center. (I'm too geeky to have 'tude), and come roll out your mat next to mine at the next Chelsea Piers class on Pier 64.


Chelsea Piers Free Thursday Yoga (Aug/Sep) : www.chelseapiers.com/sc/pier64yoga.htm 

More cheap or free (though I can't guarantee 'tude-free) yoga classes

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gal Yoga: The Charlie's Angel Stretch

At the risk of being pacifistically (is that a word?) incorrect, I discovered a really good stretch I hadn't come across in my training or any classes to date, which I've called the "Charlie's Angel Stretch".

The term "Charlie's Angels Hands" refers to the hands clasped with forefingers pointed like a ... gun. I got that  nugget from my teacher trainer and anatomy nurse,  Joschi Schwarz.

It's a tremendous stretch involving several muscle groups. But which? Over to Joschi ...

Congrats! I hope you're having a lot of fun teaching! Answer to your question is:

  • obliques
  • quadratus lumborum (smaller muscle in the lower back), 
  • latissimus dorsi (because arms are over your head)
  • rhomboid (shoulderblades are pulled away from each other), and pretty good for the 
  • erector spinae
  • infraspinatus
  • teres major and minor. 
  • Gluteus medius I guess plays more of an activator here.

    Great pose to create space for the hips (lumbosacral fascia).
Blue skies!

This stretch is on page 214 of the book "Hatha Yoga Illustrated", a no-frills, super-clean book of yoga poses that might have been designed by engineers, the presentation is so clinical and methodical. It's probably why a yoga teacher might like it - chakras and woo-woo aside, what you really need to teach is simplicity and structure.

I've been teaching this in my Senior and Easy Yoga classes on Tuesdays. The book demonstrates it with feet together, which does give you a more intense stretch.  I've photographed myself doing it with feet slightly spread, for those who might find feet-together a bit hard to balance. Here goes ...


1. Inhale and sweep hands up.  Clasp them together as if pointing a gun to the sky.

2. Exhale as you swivel your upper body UP and THEN over to the right, keeping the lower half of the body from hips down facing the front.

"Step away from that incense!"

You may want to micro bend the right or even both knees to take pressure off them.

You should feel quite a stretch at your left hip - the glute medius and obliques on that side are really waking up!

For those with a bit of a twingy back, this will feel like a relief - your spine and hip are open up and making some much-needed space. Well, that's how it feels to me.

Inhale then ...

3. Exhale as you circle the gun down to the floor.

From here you can do a number of things, like Prasarita Padottanasana* (wide-stance-forward bend) and all it's variations, but perhaps wait til you've done the other side.

* Sanskrit interlude:
Prasarita = spread
pada = foot
ut = intense
tan = stretch

4. Inhale as you continue in the same direction to sweep the hands overhead.
5. Exhale as you reach-bend to the other side.

You can try coming into the side stretch from the floor (leaving out step 4 above), notice how different that feels - perhaps not quite as satisfying a stretch.

That's it! Try it during the day, anytime you get that twingy feeling - sitting in an office chair for hours will do it. It really feels great and is a good prep for Trikonasana and even Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose),  parivrtta = to turn around,  revolve, trikona = triangle

Someone at work who had been moving boxes of stuff mentioned he had a stiff back, so we did this in the storeroom. Instant relief, he said.

The book features it as part of an interesting routine called Moon Salutation II.

See you all Tuesday!