The ancient discipline of yoga—the union of the body, mind and spirit through exercise, breathing and meditation—dates back at least 5,000 years. The modern practice, popularized in the 1960s,
doesn’t have a deep history on Long Island, but the breadth of options available from scores of studios in umpteen styles is extensive. And it’s no wonder that locals are drawn to the practice. Yoga is proven to offer benefits like stress reduction, improved strength and flexibility and the possibility of preventing chronic conditions like heart disease, depression and insomnia. Six local masters align body, mind and spirit in locations across the Island.
Emerge Yoga & Wellness
Master Instructor: Stefani Gallagher came to AntiGravity yoga after a back injury left her in chronic pain. Within a few months of beginning the practice, she was pain-free and her positive experience led her to become an instructor; she also leads classes at Emerge Yoga and Wellness in Bellmore.
What It Is: The newest of these yoga styles, AntiGravity yoga, also known as aerial yoga, was created in 1992 by former gymnast and Broadway choreographer Christopher Harrington. There is a fabric hammock that’s strung from the ceiling, similar to something used by a circus aerialist but lower to the ground (the lowest part of the sling is at hip height). It’s used to support practitioners as they execute different poses including inversions, which can be challenging in other styles. Because the hammock cradles you, it reduces impact on the body and allows deeper stretching. The body can decompress and elongate because its weight is suspended in the air.
How It’s Done: “You can expect classes to range from tealight meditation-style to sweat-dripping, core-burning boot camps.” Gallagher said. Movements can include forward bends, backbends, inversions and swinging. Many poses are similar to traditional postures, but use the hammock to deepen them by shifting weight and facilitating improved balance. For example, downward facing dog, in which the body is held in an upside-down V position on the hands and feet, is done with the hips folded over the hammock, alleviating some gravity. Inverted poses are the real highlight though, as upside-down postures that typically put a lot of pressure on the arms and hands or the head and neck become virtually weightless. “The most priceless thing of all is when a student’s face lights up because they did something they never thought possible.”
+ Quintessential Pose: Flying Dog
It offers what Gallagher called “an intense deep-tissue massage” for the hip flexors, a commonly tight area. Rest the hips in the hammock so they’re supported at the crease. Place hands on the ground, arms outstretched, opening the chest. Pick feet off the floor and bend the knees in—the lower body becomes supported by the hammock. “Once in your flying dog, you can ‘wag your tail’ to get more of a massage.”
Bikram (Hot Yoga)
Massapequa, Massapequa Park
Master Instructor: A yoga teacher for a decade, Patrick Hanratty also teaches many other classes. He complet- ed his hot yoga training under Bikram Choudhury, the founder of this most famous form of hot yoga. “I really fell in love with it from my first class,” Hanratty said. “It combines my interests in both a physical challenge and meditation.”
What It Is: In a word, hot. It’s practiced in a heated room, often to 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity, which allows the muscles to become suppler and the body to sweat. Bikram follows a specific sequence “designed so each posture helps with the next posture, and by the end, everything is worked out!” explained Hanratty. Other types of hot yoga may be more free form and include elements from other styles such as flowing movements of vinyasa or hatha, upon which Bikram is based.
How It’s Done: In Bikram, 26 specific poses are performed back to back. The goal is not to race through them, but to ease in. “The class is like a moving meditation,” Hanratty said. “People are free to go at their own pace with the postures. It challenges the seasoned athlete, while also being accessible to an out-of-shape person working through injuries.” Typically free-form hot yoga classes will also be performed in a metered manner, both to explore poses more deeply and to respect the body’s reaction to the excessive heat, though more rigorous classes for advanced yogis may also be available. Sipping water during class is a must to replenish lost fluids, as even just sitting still in a room this warm will cause extensive perspiration.
+ Quintessential Pose: Camel Pose
This backward bend opens and stretches the whole front of the body where, according to Hanratty, many people store a lot of tension. To get into position, kneel on a mat with torso upright and hands resting on hips. Bend slowly backwards, tilting the head back while keeping the hips upright (not sitting back to the heels). Eventually, it may be possible to reach the hands for the heels, in the full expression of the pose. “For me, it provides an incredible emotional release and opening of the heart,” said Hanratty.
Master Instructor: Jeff Logan has practiced Iyengar yoga for 33 years and has taught it for the past 23. He’s on the board of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Greater New York and teaches classes and private sessions at his yoga center. He credits the practice with providing direction and understanding.
What It Is: The Iyengar system of yoga was developed by yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar in the 1960s and chronicled in his book, Light on Yoga. “Iyengar yoga emphasizes alignment and unified action within and amongst the asanas, or poses,” said Logan. In the body-conscious world of yoga, this style is arguably the most precise with much care taken to ensure movement and positions that are both safe and challenging.
How It’s Done: The postures of Iyengar are typically executed more slowly than in other styles. The sequence of poses is methodical and if a pose isn’t available to someone due to stiffness or injury, modifications are always an option. The use of props such as blocks and straps are encouraged to help the body into position. “For example, if one is practicing a standing forward bending pose and unable to reach the floor with the hands, one could put two blocks on the ground to place the hands on,” Logan said. “Or if a student were having a hard time with seated forward bends and unable to reach the toes, one could simply place a strap around the feet to pull on.” Because of its pace and careful execution, Iyengar is particularly accessible for people who are new to yoga, suffer from inflexibilities, or are recovering from injury.
+ Quintessential Pose: Tadasana, or Mountain Pose
“It teaches good posture and brings spinal health and is the basis for all other asanas,” Logan said. From the outside, it appears very simple—standing tall with arms at sides—but body placement and focus is key. Plant the feet firmly on the ground, toes spread. Pull up with the thigh muscles to lift the knees. Broaden the chest, rolling the shoulder blades back and down. Firm arms downward, fingers lengthened and extended. When done correctly, the back of your head, your tailbone and your heels will be perfectly aligned. “Hold this pose for about one minute, being mindful that you are standing evenly on both feet. Connect the stretch of the legs upward with the stretch of the arms down- ward; see how these two actions supplement and complement each other.”
Yoga Shanti, Sag Harbor, Westhampton Beach and NYC
Master Instructor: Rodney Yee sought out yoga in 1980 to supplement his flexibility as a ballet dancer. “It was love at first taste, because for the first time in my life I felt like one art form spoke to every part of me,” Yee said. Throughout his 30-plus years as a yogi, Yee has starred in more than 30 yoga DVDs for Gaiam and written two books. He and his wife, Colleen Saidman Yee, author of the new book, Yoga For Life, co-own Yoga Shanti in Sag Harbor.
What It Is: The term Hatha yoga literally means “the yoga of force” explained Yee. “This can translate as the balance between the masculine and the feminine.” Commonly, Hatha is used as an umbrella for basic yoga instruction. It can be a good introduction because the pace is slow and deliberate. Because it is so all encompassing, every class can be different—ask the studio for clarification regarding level and intensity if desired.
How It’s Done: Each posture is carefully positioned then held before moving onto the next one. Breath- ing into the poses is emphasized, both to involve the conscious mind and to help open the muscles. Balance is a common theme. “Practices that balance your psychological and physical tendencies are usually the ones that are most beneficial,” said Yee. “The more often you practice, the more the benefits will build.”
+ Quintessential Pose: Padmasana, or “Lotus Pose”
To get situated in this iconic yoga posture, begin seated with a tall back, legs out in front. The full expression has the knees deeply folded, feet turned in, with right ankle placed on the left thigh and left ankle on the right thigh. For most people, this is simplified to a basic seated cross-legged pose, with the knees bent and one shin crossed in front of the other. A folded blanket or a foam block, common yoga props, are useful to raise the seat so the hips can open more. “Make sure to sit up on enough height to make the pose comfortable and easy,” Yee said.
image: kenny janosick
Om Sweet Om Yoga, Port Washington
Master Instructor: Gail Grossman is the author of Restorative Yoga for Life. In 2004, she opened a studio where she teaches classes and conducts private sessions. She came to restorative yoga when her husband’s acupuncturist suggested it to him for stress relief and she joined him.
What It Is: The least strenuous of the disciplines profiled here, restorative yoga is a healing practice that is focused on relinquishing control and surrendering the body to the poses. Likely derived from the Iyengar tradition, it relies heavily on props such as blankets, pillows and blocks to support the body in specific positions. “The postures are meant to be held for a bit longer than regular postures, but because you are supported, it is very re- laxing and therapeutic.” Grossman explained. “For someone with a type A personality and a type A, high-stress job, this is the perfect practice to balance it out.”
How It’s Done: Each pose is assumed very slowly and held for much longer than other styles—up to 20 minutes, in some cases. Props aid the body in getting into the most comfortable position, allowing the muscles to relax rather than be stretched, pulled or manipulated. These poses not only release muscular tensions but also quiet the mind. “It helps people who are athletic have some down time for recovery. And it helps people who have physical or emotional issues as well. It’s an overall panacea for stress—and everyone has stress.”
+ Quintessential Pose: Supported Bound Angle
“It’s a heart-opening pose and a hip-opening pose,” said Grossman. Start with the bolster placed length- wise on a mat. Sit back to the bolster so hips are right against the narrow end. Place hands on the bolster to slowly lower into a gentle backbend. Bend knees in and place the soles of feet together, letting knees fall to the sides. Open the arms and rest the backs of hands on the ground at your sides. Stay for five minutes, up to a half hour. When coming out of the pose, use hands to gently close the legs, then roll to fetal position on your right side for a moment before sitting up. “It leaves you with a great feeling because you are totally restored and open as if you worked hard, but without the hard work!”
Mindful Turtle Yoga and Wellness, Stony Brook and Montauk
Master Instructor: Danielle Goldstein began practicing yoga about 15 years ago, spe- cifically the Ashtanga style and “has not strayed. I love the discipline of it. The strong active practice keeps the body in good physi- cal condition. It can nourish the mind, body and soul throughout all the stages of life.”
What It Is: Vinyasa is an oft-used term to describe yoga that follows the breath, which is what that word means in Sanskrit. It’s characterized by poses that flow from one to the next and it’s often done vigorously, mak- ing it more athletic than other styles. “The result is a class that builds heat, endurance, flexibility, strength and concentration,” said Goldstein. Ashtanga is a form of vinyasa
in which poses follow a specific order and was developed from ancient yogic texts by Indian guru K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1940s. Traditionally, it’s learned in a Mysore-style class, named after the town in which Jois lived and home to his still-thriving Ashtanga Yoga Institute. “Students are introduced to the tradition one posture at a time, developing the discipline of self-practice with the guidance of the teacher. Students of all levels can practice together at the level appropriate for them while receiving individual support.”
How It’s Done: Movements are synced to inhalations and exhalations from pose to pose. “Attention is paid to the breath to cultivate inner awareness, calm the mind and produce intense heat to detoxify the entire body,” explained Goldstein. Ashtanga’s sequencing makes practice especially meditative once the postures are learned. Vinyasa flow is also easy to follow if you’re familiar with the common poses. “Both of these practices are designed to help us learn to steady the mind, to pay attention and to develop more awareness on all levels.”
+ Quintessential Pose: Chaturanga, or Low Push-Up
An integral part of the sun salutation—a sequence of movements central to the Vinyasa/Ashtanga practice—this hovering plank position requires a lot of upper body and core strength, which makes it challenging but worthwhile. “It provides the building block for many arm balances and inversions,” Goldstein said. To come into the full pose, start in a high plank, toes curled under and palms flat on the floor with hands directly under shoulders and head in a neutral position, eyes gazing down. Bend the elbows back tightly toward the sides of the body while simultaneously pulling the shoulders down toward the waist to lower the torso until upper arms are in line with the rib cage, and hold. The back should be straight with head, shoulders, hips and ankles aligned.