Spa Junkie at… three New York yoga centres

Our covert reporter limbers up to a trio of trendy Manhattan classes

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 andspiritual 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, Bereshas 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 festivalincorporating music, yoga and health, where devotees can shake their chakrascourtesy of his playlists. He arguably personifies the evolution of urbanattitudes towards yoga, from it being solely a pursuit for those who wish toremain 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-fitnessworkout that’s popular with Manhattanite high-flyers, courtesy of LaurenImparato, and which is held in her Little Italy apartment.

And lastly, I have signed up for a gentle, healing andholistic workout with the instructors at Yoga 216. A close friend ofmine 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 theirbows, with specialisms ranging from acupuncture to massage, so almost everythingyou might need is under one roof.

Saturday

I arrive at Strala Yoga’s light, airy studio onBroadway, where I am booked in for a session with visiting teacher Derek Beres.

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Derek is young and handsome (if tattoos are yourthing), and quite the star on the international yoga circuit. He explainsthat “moving from one life situation to the next without really understandingthe journey can be dangerous, as it sets us up to repeat bad cycles, and hindersus when it comes to breaking habits that don’t benefit us”. He goes on tosay that learning to consolidate and regroup before the next yoga pose can help tochange that pattern. “There is great value in these in-between times,” heemphasises. This philosophy manifests itself in aVinyasa yoga practice that focuses on the movement from one challenging poseto 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 tofeel out of my depth and hopelessly unstylish. Trying my best to appearnonchalant, I take up a position on my mat.  

Derek asks us to assume a child’s pose and loosen ourhands as he puts on some uplifting music. We move through a typicalVinyasa flow sequence; from child’s pose to downward-facing dog, to plank, then intothe more challenging chaturanga dandasana and plough.

I heed Derek’s advice and try to focus on thejourney, not just the destination. He describes the transition from one pose to another as beinglike a “moving prayer”, and although this doesn’t involve anything radicallydifferent from concentrating on my body, mind and breathing, equal importance isgiven to moving softly and gently between poses as holding the posesthemselves. He asks us to think of our limbs being held by strings that work insynch and align our bodies: heads up, shoulders back. He asks us tovisualise our breath and imagine it filling our chests. He asks us to keep our tongues pressed against the roofs ofour mouths to maintain a deep rhythm in the Ujjayi style. I take more time to think about the movements Imake as I try and get into the poses. It doesn’t take long before I tuneout my insecurities (and the lithe bodies around me) and focus on myself.

I find myself taking bolder movements – stretching andextending that little bit further than I might usually – but my awareness ofthe spaces in-between comes to a crashing halt during a rather ungainlyshoulder 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.” Herefrains 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 amarked 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.

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From exploring sacred transitions to energetic rock-starposes – check back on Saturday December 29 for Spa Junkie’s next class.

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