I am in New York for a few days of shopping and decide to try out some of the most talked-about Manhattan yoga centres while I’m here. With the New Year detox on the horizon, I feel the need to set my physical and spiritual compass for the year ahead.
Three different approaches are on the agenda. First up is Derek Beres’s class, Transitions: Exploring Yoga’s In-Between Spaces. Part journalist, part yoga instructor, Beres has a degree in religious studies, has written six books and is a regular on the speaker circuit. He is also the creative director and music producer of the Tadasana Festival of Yoga & Music – a Santa Monica festival incorporating music, yoga and health, where devotees can shake their chakras courtesy of his playlists. He arguably personifies the evolution of urban attitudes towards yoga, from it being solely a pursuit for those who wish to remain supple, to a way of life for those who embrace its music, literature, art and culture.
Next I am booked in for a high-octane yoga-cum-fitness workout that’s popular with Manhattanite high-flyers, courtesy of Lauren Imparato, and which is held in her Little Italy apartment.
And lastly, I have signed up for a gentle, healing and holistic workout with the instructors at Yoga 216. A close friend of mine recommended a session with co-founder Nicole Katz, who is a structural yoga therapist. The three other teachers there also all have added strings to their bows, with specialisms ranging from acupuncture to massage, so almost everything you might need is under one roof.
I arrive at Strala Yoga’s light, airy studio on Broadway, where I am booked in for a session with visiting teacher Derek Beres.
Derek is young and handsome (if tattoos are your thing), and quite the star on the international yoga circuit. He explains that “moving from one life situation to the next without really understanding the journey can be dangerous, as it sets us up to repeat bad cycles, and hinders us when it comes to breaking habits that don’t benefit us”. He goes on to say that learning to consolidate and regroup before the next yoga pose can help to change that pattern. “There is great value in these in-between times,” he emphasises. This philosophy manifests itself in a Vinyasa yoga practice that focuses on the movement from one challenging pose to the next.
I quickly glance at the six other yogis with me: this is clearly a class for the beautiful and achingly hip. I start to feel out of my depth and hopelessly unstylish. Trying my best to appear nonchalant, I take up a position on my mat.
Derek asks us to assume a child’s pose and loosen our hands as he puts on some uplifting music. We move through a typical Vinyasa flow sequence; from child’s pose to downward-facing dog, to plank, then into the more challenging chaturanga dandasana and plough.
I heed Derek’s advice and try to focus on the journey, not just the destination. He describes the transition from one pose to another as being like a “moving prayer”, and although this doesn’t involve anything radically different from concentrating on my body, mind and breathing, equal importance is given to moving softly and gently between poses as holding the poses themselves. He asks us to think of our limbs being held by strings that work in synch and align our bodies: heads up, shoulders back. He asks us to visualise our breath and imagine it filling our chests. He asks us to keep our tongues pressed against the roofs of our mouths to maintain a deep rhythm in the Ujjayi style. I take more time to think about the movements I make as I try and get into the poses. It doesn’t take long before I tune out my insecurities (and the lithe bodies around me) and focus on myself.
I find myself taking bolder movements – stretching and extending that little bit further than I might usually – but my awareness of the spaces in-between comes to a crashing halt during a rather ungainly shoulder stand. Derek says in his soft West Coast voice, “This is not good – your core is your very life force. You need to be strong in it.” He refrains from contact and allows me to to ease myself into each pose alone, but he is attentive and talks me through any tricky manoeuvres.
At the end of the class I feel a marked improvement in both my skill, in terms of both holding the poses and flexibility, and also my attitude – thanks to Derek’s encouragement. I emerge from the studio feeling uplifted.
From exploring sacred transitions to energetic rock-star poses – check back on Saturday December 29 for Spa Junkie’s next class.