On a slow springtime Saturday morning filled with lazy New York drizzle and unmoving clouds, I found the drive to roll out bed from a comfortable sleep and roll up my yoga mat. I was joining a friend for a Kula Flow class at Kula Yoga Project, a “sweaty, intelligent, and ecstatic” studio chain that was recommended by a few of my favorite Boston-based yoga teachers. Excitement for the much-needed expected physical release incentivized me to dodge the light raindrops on my walk through the city to the Tribeca studio. I knew that no matter the inspiration, intention, or iterations of poses that could have been transmitted by the teacher, yoga would serve as an unchanging space to set my stressed mind free.
The class began packed with wall-to-wall people, who were equally preoccupied with the happenings of life outside of our studio’s four aesthetically barren walls. “Relax your feet. Just relax. Simply sitting here is always the hardest part of class,” the teacher instructed as she gently shook the tension from students’ restless outstretched legs. I looked at my own forced-flexed toes and struggled to find uninhibited ease in the early moments of our practice.
We moved through a seated series, cradling our fidgety feet and working out the kinks in out tense toes through anatomically precise words of wisdom. The unmoving seemed to last eons until suddenly, the vigorous sequence took off. We rose like the sun that failed to shine that day, moved by our collective energy. Guided by our interconnected anatomy, we grounded into our feet to ascend to warrior shapes. As we built heat in our revolution to a twisted lunge, the challenge of surrendering our feet to gravity in the opening poses was reborn this time as a challenge of exerting our feet to remain grounded to the mat. Sensing the struggle, the teacher announced with clarity, “If you always give into the lift of your heel, you’ll never grow in length.”
And so we grew, we lengthened, and we transformed, eventually lifting our feet entirely off the mat in a goddess headstand. With our feet soaring, the same principles of lengthening alignment held. This time grounding into the crowns of our heads, we grew in span through our spines as we felt our feet from a shifted perspective.
With the same unanticipated abruptness as the wind-up of poses, we wound down to find ourselves on our backs with our legs outstretched once again. Yet this time, the room’s dissipated energy was focused on the singular voice of our teacher. With a collective breath, we melted into our final resting pose, and I felt my feet fall motionless with unforeseen ease. In the flow of the motions and their dichotomous challenge of relaxation and exertion – santosha and tapas in the ancient yogic texts – I had forgotten the trivial strains of the city streets. With a shift in perspective and newfound clarity, I could return to real life if only after a few more moments of rest. And I became aware that as expected, as with many blends of yoga, Kula Flow inspires actual action through the intention of the physical poses. Yet Kula Flow is uniquely satisfying because it blends intelligent meaning with anatomically-specific, sweaty motion.
And in that transient time, the teacher’s words echoed once more, “If you always give into the life of your heel, you’ll never grow in length”. If we always give into the challenges in life, regardless of whether they are obstacles of will or surrender, we will never grow as humans off the mat. Lying on the mat after the flow, I felt confident to rise to the challenges after my rest and to put my best foot forward in the world.