In my quest to explore different types of yoga, I took a 75-minute restorative Iyangar class at Om Namo in Cambridge with Ally McAlpin. Four students met in an unheated. We began class with our mats short end to the wall, a folding chair against the wall, a blanket folded square on the chair seat, another blanket on our mat, folded long ways three times, then wrapped on the short end to form a cushion. We laid our pelvis on the mat, put the tri-folded blanket to the bottom of our lumbar, and the refolded portion under our head. We set our knees ninety degrees to our hips, and extended our shins onto the chair. It took some adjustment to get in the right place, but once there, it was a very relaxing position. I put my arms in cactus, then heart and belly, but finally laid them along my torso. Arm position did not seem important compared to getting our spine gently supported in all the right places to achieve neutral balance.
Neutral balance was the theme of this class. As we struck different poses, the less I felt in a specific location in my body, the better I felt in general. Each pose was about finding alignment and balance. Not balance in the sense of, wheeee, I’m standing on one foot, but balance in the sense of my entire body finding a place of equality.
Sally uses ample props to help us get there. We used our mats, a chair, two blankets, a huge bolster, two straps, a tennis ball, and a pair of blocks to help us execute a series of poses. Most of the time Sally didn’t give the positions names, and if she did, they did not align with the names used in power yoga. To be sure, we did nothing as jarring as a chaturanga or inversion. What Sally described as downward dog was our feet hip width apart and our hands stretched onto the seat of the chair. Instead of creating compression in my shoulder, the posture gave a wonderful release to that complicated joint.
Sally used generous metaphors to guide our positions. At various times she suggested that we soften the back of our heart, peel our shoulders like thick grapefruit rind, and pull a jewel in our navel back to our spine. The grapefruit imagery left me baffled but the jewel metaphor was very effective in helping me locate and tighten my core. There was a recurring theme of our kidneys being like potatoes. Since I don’t know exactly where my kidneys are, or what they feel like, and I don’t like potatoes, I just ignored that metaphor. I had no idea what I was supposed to do in response to her most evocative image, “Let the skin on your back drape like a silk shirt.” It made me feel kinda creepy.
Ultimately, I thought Sally’s imagery had more to do with setting a tone than describing physical movement. I felt centered throughout class and experienced moments of tactile delight. Rolling our feet over a tennis ball, massaging our arches, convexing our toes, and identifying an energy point just north of our heel stimulated my entire hamstring.
Even in poses I consider elementary, we used props: a bolster to cushion our underarms in sphinx: the same bolster beneath our knees in sabasana. These aides eliminated all pressure off of my lumbar arch, providing full support and ease.
The class was a wonderful anecdote to power yoga. It made me realize the ‘fitness-focus’ of our elaborate routines; how much effort we put into every pose – even the so-called rest poses. There are times that expending so much energy can work against us. Which made it nice, on a snowy day, to give myself the gift of restorative calm.