Field Notes from a Katonah Yoga Class
I thought I knew what to expect when I arrived (on time) at Abbie Galvin’s class. I’d read about the Katonah Yoga practice and heard other yogis speak highly about the New York City studio. But as I made my way into the bright, clean room, I wondered if I was in the right place. The room was full of students resting in a deep supported back bend as if they’d been in place for some time. I checked my watch: 10:01 a.m.
Abbie was adjusting a student in the corner, showing a group of people what was good about her form and what needed to be corrected. I set my mat down in the middle of the room and decided to wait until someone noticed me. I felt like I had wandered into the middle of a teacher training that had been happening for weeks. (In fact, I briefly considered going back out to the front desk to make sure I hadn’t!)
But when Abbie finished with the demonstration, she walked by me and stopped, asking if she knew me. When I told her it was my first time at the studio, she asked another student to switch places with me so that I could be at a wall. Turning to some other students who appeared to be acting as assistants, she said, “Let’s get her in a back bend.”
Finding My “First Floor”
I was a little trepidatious, because I wasn’t warmed up, and I tend to overdo it in my back. But I needn’t have feared. Abbie had me sit in Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose). Then she pulled my feet further out in front of me, so that the pose became more like Tarasana (star pose). She told me I need to balance on my perineum (which she called “the first floor) instead of leaning forward in my pelvis.
Doing a quick read on my body, she said that my “second floor” (i.e. my heart, chest, and shoulders) is okay, but that I tend to dwell in the “third floor” (i.e. the head and, hence, the imagination). Examining my feet, she told an assistant that I have beautiful heels and nice arches, but the calluses on my big toes meant that I am a worrier. (I am.) As she noted each part of the foot, she connected it to what was going on in another part of my body.
Once she had my “first floor” set up properly, she took a strap behind my back and helped me open my chest. This was the back bend, and it felt glorious. My observers concurred that it looked better.
Once Abbie was done with me, she said, “Okay, we should get started.” Class hadn’t even started yet? Wow! I knew I was in for an interesting 90 minutes.
The Unexpected Benefits of a Katonah Yoga Class
We “began” in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog), with our knees deeply bent. (“Butts up in the air,” Abbie said energetically.) She urged us to press through our palms without putting weight on the pinkie fingers. This tiny adjustment made a big difference, because it changed the distribution of weight and muscle work in the pose.
This continued throughout class. Abbie would lead us into a seemingly basic pose, and then, with her precise alignment corrections, my experience of the pose would change completely.
In every pose, Abbie would select one student as an example, helping and adjusting them while explaining exactly what she was doing, while the rest of the class looked on. I began to suspect that in this 90-minute class I would learn more about alignment than I might absorb in an expensive workshop that would last a whole day or a weekend.
At one point, the student next to me got up and adjusted me, helping me to open my lower back. For the rest of class, she continued to help me get deeper into my poses. In the thousands of yoga classes I have attended, this is the only time a fellow student has jumped off of her own mat to adjust me!
Hands-On Learning, Squared
There is certainly no hiding in Abbie Galvin’s class. She seems to have an eye on every student in the room, in equal parts praising or correcting. She imparts a tremendous amount of information, and everything that I was able to absorb made a lot of sense kinesthetically. I have been practicing yoga very steadily for the last eight years, but in Abbie’s class, each familiar old pose felt brand new. And before class was even over, I could feel a change in my body. It felt…aligned!
Class continued to flow on past the end time, and students began to filter out while many of us were still in a supported Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose). I had to leave while those who were left began to settle into Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulderstand). As I was packing up, Abbie came over and checked in with me. I got the sense that she would remember me next time, even if it were months from now. As I left the studio, Abbie was continuing to adjust and explain, and I left the room much as I had found it. But I felt so much better—and brighter.