By Alison Feller
When Lyons Den opened its doors in November 2013, there were immediately quite a few “regulars.” Two of them were Michelle Swiatkowski and Andrew Bass. Michelle and Andrew—both now instructors at The Den—met on the mat. And eventually they talked to each other, which led to them spending time together beyond the studio, which led to a first kiss, and an eventual “I love you.” And on March 6, Michelle and Andrew got engaged! We are so excited to share their full love story here. (And hey, next time you catch eyes with that cute yogi a few mats down, strike up a conversation after class—love is in the air at The Den!)
We know you two met at The Den—who sparked the first conversation?
Andrew: I remember one day I arrived early for class, and Michelle set her mat up right behind me, so I just turned around and started talking to her.
Michelle: I was talking to someone about attending Baptiste Level 3 training the following week, and Andrew chimed in that he had attended Level 1 earlier that year.
What were your first impressions of each other?
Andrew: I thought she was nice, and she was definitely a yogi. There was a part of me that thought she may be a bit of a “yoga snob”—after we first met, she continued to set up her mat away from mine…even when we were the only two people in the room!
Michelle: I thought, “This guy is cute, he wants to talk to me, and he’s at yoga all the time. Score!” The more I talked to him, the more I realized I had a crush on him. Soon I started to get nervous when I saw him before class, and one day I remember him being the only one in the room, but I was too nervous to talk to my crush, so I put my mat kind of far from him. That made it awkward!
Tell us about the first date.
Andrew: She asked me out on Facebook! We planned to have a pre-game drink or two before the Super Bowl, but we ended up getting dinner and staying out together until way after the game ended.
Michelle: Our first date was after Sunday Service at The Den! We went to Coffee Shop in Union Square, drank Malbec, missed the entire Super Bowl, went next door for noodles, and—five hours later—Andrew walked me home.
And the first kiss?
Andrew: It was on our second date, at a bar in the East Village. I figured I should make the first move since she asked me out.
What’s it like both being teachers at Lyons Den?
Andrew: We take each other’s classes and provide feedback. Being in a relationship, taking constructive criticism from Michelle has taken some getting used to on my part. There’s no logical reason for that! It’s a story in my head that I need to let go of.
Michelle: I love having Andrew in class! He takes nearly every class I teach, and is the most supportive man ever. I take his class, too, but not as often as I would like—by Wednesdays at 8 PM, I’m tired!
Do you practice together at home? We imagine you two waking up in the morning and doing sun salutations together in your PJs¬—yes?
Andrew: I’ve sat on the couch and watched TV while Michelle has done a home practice…does that count?
Andrew, when did you know you were going to propose?
Andrew: I had tentative plans as far back as November. It became real when I went home to Ohio with her for Christmas and asked her family if they wanted to be involved in the engagement surprise. Once her mom said yes and told me what weekends worked, it became real for me! Then the plan all came together pretty quickly. We picked the date—March 6—and they quickly arranged flights. And my family came in from New Jersey and Boston. I wanted to come up with a way to propose that would allow for us to be by ourselves when it happened—before we met up with our families—so I thought of doing it in a limo. I figured Michelle would see the proposal coming once she saw the limo, but the families being there would be the real surprise.
Michelle, did you see it coming?
Michelle: I had no idea! We had plans to go out to dinner after my 6:15 yoga class. Like a normal Friday night dinner. I took my time getting ready and talking to students after class, and eventually Andrew said we needed to leave. We walked out and I started walking to get a cab when he pulled me toward a limo that was waiting on the street. He said we were taking that car!
Once we were on our way, he pulled a ring out of his pocket, and I was excited and confused. Were we getting engaged or going out to dinner?! I shouted, “Yes!” Then I had lots of questions!
About 10 minutes later, Andrew and the driver got out of the limo, and I was wondering what was going on. I looked at the ring, realized my hair was in the same sweaty ball it was in during class, and realized I had no idea what to do or what was going on. A few minutes later, he got back in and a whole crowd of people with giant posters stood outside the door: my entire family and Andrew’s dad! I had no clue! My nieces had bouquets of flowers and my step-dad started pouring champagne. I was shaking, in total shock.
When we arrived at dinner, Andrew said something to the limo driver, and I heard him say his name: George. I immediately started crying. My dad, who passed away 10 years ago, was also named George. It was too coincidental. At that moment, everything felt right and perfect and exactly as it should be.
Tell us about the ring!
Michelle: It’s beautiful! I find myself catching its sparkles often during the day. I love that Andrew took the time to pick it out. And I can’t believe it was hiding in a drawer in his apartment for weeks!
Andrew: It’s insured.
Want to see the ring—and all the infectious happiness—in person? Go take class with Andrew or Michelle!
guest blog by: Zovig Garboushian
I was asked to do this blog post because of something I shared on Facebook as part of participating in the 40 Days to Personal Revolution (or 40 Days at the Den, as we called it) at Lyons Den. It was about a massive overhaul in my thinking about something I thought could never change—a love/hate, conditional relationship with my body. Here’s what I said:
GIRL TALK: As a result of doing so much yoga, my physical body is changing. I’ve lost weight and tightened up. The beauty of this is that I WASN’T EVEN TRYING.
I am proud to say that for the very first time in my 36.5 years, I have barely given thought to what my body is NOT and instead, TRULY BEEN LOVING what my body IS because of all it CAN DO:
• a 90-second wheel
• push-ups in wheel
• planks for days
• relentless dancers poses that go higher with each iteration
• high-plank/low-plank like nothin’, AND,
• enjoying the falling out
The voice has calmed. This b*tch is strong. Can I get a AMEN??
I ACTUALLY GOT IT. It finally clicked. The key to loving my body—not just on a ‘skinny’ day, not just in that one dress, not just when I’m wearing heels—is to USE IT, ALL THE TIME. And, I discovered this by doing yoga.
Listen up y’all: Yoga is hard. I know, because I do it almost every single day at the Den. But what I have witnessed each time I lay out that mat is that my body does exactly what I tell it to precisely as I ask. Contrary to my life-long internal dialogue, my body is not out to ruin my life. This knowledge is brilliant and life changing and revealed power I didn’t know I had.
In the Program, I have made some definite physical changes—lost a little weight, gained strength, lightness, more grace and flexibility. But that wasn’t the overhaul I shared about. Instead, I recognized an incredible “shift in vision” about my body—I saw it from an utterly new place and purpose.
OLD VISION: My body’s purpose was to impress others, prove my value, and gain praise.
NEW VISION: My body is a powerful machine that I control and it does whatever I request; it’s my tool to express myself as I choose (side note: unleashed self-expression was one of my goals in the 40 Days program).
Through yoga, I have developed a new body awareness that is positive, nurturing and grateful, compelling me to honor it, not tear it down. Before 40 Days, I liked my body when it was “good” and scolded it when it was “bad”. Now, I have a growing appreciation for how powerful my body is and I want to fortify that power by using it as much as I can, and doing yoga that pushes me to my limit and then double-dog dares me to go beyond it.
Sure, I have moments where my bra feels tight or my cellulite rears its dimply head, but they seem to roll over me like water and not stick like they used to. Yoga has created a ripple effect that extends beyond my physical being. It facilitates and feeds my awareness, fearlessness, and power, and it just happens that I look better naked. So I’m just going to keep showing up and doing the work and let the rest just fall into place.
The Art of Assisting
By Alison Feller
What feels even better than opening up into Half-Pigeon toward the end of class? How about getting a hip massage while you’re down there? Or what about when you’re trying to finally nail that handstand, and suddenly there’s someone standing in front of you, ready to help steady your legs so you can hang out upside-down for a while?
While you can do any yoga practice on your own, having someone there to offer assists during class can completely heighten and transform your experience—and can help you get into poses you never thought you’d do. But there’s much more to assisting than just helping students get deeper into poses. Here’s what all yogis should know about the art of assisting. (Spoiler: The instructors aren’t grossed out by touching your sweat. Really!)
What role does assisting play in the Baptiste Yoga practice?
Bethany Lyons, Lyons Den co-founder and instructor: We are all about empowering people on the mat, so powerful assists are a surefire way to do that if done with intention and great execution. We are a hands-on, inclusive community.
What’s the methodology behind providing assists to students? How do you work the room?
Bethany: In a large class, we work a “typewriter” style, giving one assist to each person. This makes assisting a part of the class in a seamless way, and it’s not about “fixing” only certain individuals, but rather empowering each person’s practice. We also “roam” from one place to another, looking for the opportunities to make a difference in a big way when work-shopping a pose. And obviously if a teacher sees a student doing something that could be dangerous to themselves or others around them, we move to assist them right away regardless of the “assisting plan.”
We don’t adhere to the policy of having to assist someone on both sides of a pose, which is common in many studios. I look at it as teaching a student how to fish, rather than giving them the fish. If I give an assist to lengthen the spine and get a deeper twist in Triangle Pose on the right side and then always go back to assist that same student on the other side, the student actually misses the opportunity to explore the same actions for themselves. They miss out on self-discovery. It’s really important to me that our students do not depend on assistants to do the work for them.
What are some of your favorite assists to give?
Bethany: One-legged dog into flip-dog, to see people get extension and freedom like never before; airborne Gorilla pose, for those who really trust me and themselves; drop backs from standing to Wheel; and anything with the hips, because I know how good they feel!
Meg McNeal, Lyons Den instructor: I give a mean twist assist, and I love giving students a Savasana massage that leaves them feeling like they don’t want to pick themselves off the floor at the conclusion of class.
What is the most common assist you see people needing?
Bethany: Hips forward/joints stacked in Forward Folds, and pressing the foundation of hands and feet in Down Dog to get the weight back.
Meg: Chaturanga/low plank. For the love of the shoulder joints, this is such an important pose to understand. The way I most frequently assist this pose is by simply placing a block under your chest so you can’t go too low toward the floor, and directing your hips forward while pulling the elbows in slightly as you lower down.
Be honest—you have to touch a lot of very sweaty bodies. Does it gross you out at all?
Bethany: I would really be in the wrong business if sweaty bodies grossed me out! A little sweat is not a problem in my book. I do sometimes use a towel to avoid slippage, though—and I shower often.
Meg: No! I don’t mind the sweat—I don’t even mind touching feet.
What do you wish more students understood about the assisting process?
Meg: If you’re receiving an assist, it doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong! An assist is meant to enhance your pose, refine alignment, and give you a better experience. You still need to do the work of the pose! We’re there to support and stabilize, and help move your energy—not to force you into a pose where you’re completely dependent on our physical support. And speak up! If something is painful or uncomfortable, or if you feel we’re pushing you beyond your limits, you must let us know.
By Alison Feller
Ah, Valentine’s Day is over. A day to give, share, and spread love. A day to do nice things for your loved ones, and maybe even throw a few random acts of kindness into the mix (though really, can we advocate for this every day?). And amidst the movie dates, the hand holding, the chocolate eating (nothing wrong with that!), and the card swapping, did you give love to the most important person in your life?
Over Valentine’s and beyond, we get wrapped up doing nice things for others, which is a wonderful thing—but we definitely don’t spend enough time giving back to ourselves. And it’s absolutely crucial to bask in some much needed “me time” on occasion. Here’s how some of the Den instructors and staff members embrace the oh-so-important self-love.
“I have become very good at creating time for myself, giving myself permission to not be in ‘do’ mode, and not should-ing myself. When I get a free evening, I take the opportunity to restore. I get myself a Guinness or some wine, make popcorn, cuddle up in bed and watch ‘Sex and the City’ reruns. It’s perfection.”
—Meg McNeal, Lyons Den instructor
“I love treating myself to a mani-pedi with some Starbucks and a good magazine. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s like a mini vacation!”
—Veronica Naughter, Lyons Den instructor
“Physical activity allows me to drop all the stress from the day and get out of my head. I typically go for a run with speed intervals thrown in or—of course—head to The Den for a yoga class. By the end, I feel completely refreshed. Though there are some days when nothing says self-love like turning on a social justice documentary while drinking a glass of wine—maybe two glasses if I need a little extra love!” —Colby Dillon, Lyons Den assistant and Karma Team leader
“Yoga. I know, big shocker, but it’s true! When I’m having ‘one of those days’ and my friends or coworkers are suggesting I need to join them at happy hour, I prefer to get myself to a class. There’s nothing like an intense, sweaty, freeing practice to completely separate myself and my mind from my day-to-day responsibilities. Otherwise, there’s nothing like plopping myself down in front of the TV to watch some easy yet educational programming—like the Discovery Channel or the Food Network. It makes me feel good because I get to watch some TV and learn something.”
—Andrew Bass, Lyons Den Instructor
“Because my husband typically works at night, I’m home with the baby after work. After she goes down for the night, I make it a point to enjoy my own quiet time. No TV, no music, no work emails. I either read or do something somewhat mindless like paint my nails or do my eyebrows. When I get time to myself out of the house, I’ll go to yoga, and then get a massage. No fancy spa massage—I like the strong Chinese ladies who really get the knots out!”
—Camille Heller, Lyons Den instructor and assistant
“To be fair, I like to participate in this a little too often! I start almost every day with positive affirmations. I pick three, plan out how my day will look, visualize it, and then make it happen. Those few minutes make my day that much better; they lift me up. The rest of a perfect self-love day would include teaching yoga to my amazing students, taking a yoga class, a full day of shopping, an amazing massage, and a fabulous dinner with my girlfriends (sushi, a glass of Prosecco or red wine, and a little dark chocolate for dessert).”
—Annie Fisco, Lyons Den instructor
By Alison Feller
If Valentine’s Day is about showing love, giving love, and receiving love—and maybe getting a little sweaty, too—what better place to celebrate than at the Den? We’ve got a stellar lineup on tap for the entire Valentine’s Day weekend, so come in solo, with your girlfriends or guyfriends, or with your best loved one. We promise the love will be flowing with every sun salutation! Here’s what’s happening throughout the weekend…
Friday, February 13: Live “Love Beats” with Sara Packard and Charlene Lite, 7:30 PM. Kick off the weekend with instructor Sara Packard accompanied by the amazing live music of singer/songwriter (and yogi!) Charlene Lite. Sign up online or call the studio to reserve your spot.
Friday, February 13 & Saturday, February 14: Attend any class on February 13 or on Valentine’s Day and receive a “Valentine” from us: a free class pass to give to a friend or loved one. Share your love of yoga with a first-time Den-goer!
Sunday, February 15: “Basic to Badass Backbends” workshop with Meg McNeal, 1:30 PM. Join instructor Meg McNeal for a two-hour workshop focusing on the ultimate heart-openers. All levels are welcome — no relationship status required! Sign up online under “Enrollments” or call the studio to reserve your spot. $49.
By Alison Feller
As a runner, I’ve always been told I “need to do yoga.” The physical benefits are immeasurable and produce tremendous results directly related to running and racing. Yoga makes you faster, stronger, and healthier.
I didn’t start doing yoga just to get faster, stronger, and healthier, though. I started doing yoga because Bethany and John opened a studio, and that sounded like something I would want to be a part of. I was hooked after exactly one minute of my first class.
Since I began my regular practice at Lyons Den, I’ve discovered that the benefits of yoga go far beyond the studio. The other day, during a particularly crowded downtown commute, I was inspired to lean slightly away from the strangers’ armpits to my left and right, and frantically start writing on my phone. With that, I present to you: The 5 Ways Yoga Has Changed My Life—Off the Mat!
1. I am much nicer on public transportation, in line at Fairway, and while waiting on a very crowded street corner on upper Fifth Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve lived in New York City for 7+ years, and I have never been the patient person on the sidewalk or the nice girl on the subway. Sure, I give up my seat for pregnant, elderly, or disabled people—and I do it with a smile, I swear—but I’m generally annoyed when I’m rushing around this crowded city and people are “in my way.”
I remember being in class at Lyons Den not long after it had opened. Bethany was teaching, and while we were flowing she talked about being nicer on public transportation. Being more patient, more kind, more compassionate. And it struck a chord with me. Why was I being so rude to and angry with these total strangers? We’re all in this together—we’re all the reason this city is so crowded and the lines at Fairway are down the block before a snowstorm.
You never know someone’s story. You never know what someone has been through or is in the midst of when you decide to shove an elbow in his or her direction for not walking briskly enough on the sidewalk…near Rockefeller Center…at Christmastime. Bethany teaches us to embrace community and to work together—and that certainly shouldn’t stop when we exit the doors at 279 Church Street.
2. I accept my mistakes—which I sometimes think of as failures—learn from them, and move on. It starts with a pose. I get into it—handstand, for example, which I’m working on right now—and then I come crashing down. Instead of being embarrassed and beating myself up, I figure out why it happened. Maybe my arms weren’t strong enough, or I wasn’t “hugging skin to muscle to bone.” OK, cool. So then I’ll try again. Maybe it works this time, or maybe not. But the “failed attempt” is behind me. And it’s not a failure, it’s a lesson. That’s why they call this a yoga practice, right? The same is true in life far beyond yoga. Maybe a job didn’t work out, or you pitched a client who wasn’t into your creative and totally gutsy vision. Fine. You didn’t fail—you just practiced being awesome.
3. I hate my body a lot less. I grew up a competitive dancer, surrounded by mirrors. I don’t remember a single day since age 7 that I didn’t think I was—or worse, that I didn’t call myself—“fat.” Yikes, I know. I was never skinny enough to be in the dance world, and I had a teacher who would remind me that I “would be able to jump higher if I were carrying less weight.” Totally encouraging. Eventually I transitioned from dancing to running, and my body completely changed. I was more lean and muscular, and slightly less critical. But it wasn’t until I started doing yoga that I truly began to appreciate my body not for how it looked, but for what it could do. I can do crow, tripod headstand, wheel, and a solid handstand prep. I am strong. And I have the best savasana around. (Seriously. I’m amazing at it.)
4. I’m much more patient. For years, my fiancé has told me to stop stressing over the things I can’t control. It’s great advice that I have always decided to fight and ignore. I’m a real sweetheart in that way. But go figure, when Bethany preached similar wisdom, I was all about it. So now, as I write this on a packed downtown 6 train, I am accepting that I may not be my desired 15 minutes early for my 9:30 AM class. Can I change that? Can I make the subway start moving? Nope. But I can accept it, and move on. Why waste energy on something I can’t change when I could be using those forces to work toward what’s possible?
5. I have abandoned my comfort zone. Like, completely left it in the dust. This started with simple things, like lifting into crow, and then trying jump-back from crow, and eventually going for a headstand and handstand. I learned that the worst thing that will happen is I’ll fall out of the pose. And then I can try again.
Lyons Den instructor Terri Bahr is always telling students that she loves when they fall, because it means they really went for it and tried something new, something daring. Eventually I became willing to let myself fall during classes all the time. I remember one particularly loud thud that was the result of an over-eager low-lunge twist. Was it a little embarrassing? Yes. Did a bunch of other people in class abandon their drishtis and turn to see what the noise was? Um, yup. But I survived, I got back up, and I got right back to twisting. This newfound gutsiness left the studio with me, and got me to finally quit the job where I was unhappy so I could seek out much bigger, bolder, more badass pursuits. It was a scary move, but a tremendously exciting one.
So basically, yoga has made me kinder, I’ve learned to pick my battles, and I’ve made major progress in my self-love life. Oh, and I did get faster, stronger, and healthier. Go yoga.
By Alison Feller
It’s been said that it takes 40 days to change or break a habit. This is the principle behind Baron Baptiste’s 40 Days to Personal Revolution book and breakthrough program, and we are so excited to be bringing our own program to Lyons Den!
The 40-day challenge will begin February 17, and is designed to radically shift your energy, body, and soul. Lyons Den co-founder Bethany Lyons will be leading the charge and guiding the program. Here’s what she had to say about who needs this program (“everyone!”), what we’ll be doing at the Den, and how it changed her own life.
What are the basic principles behind the 40-day program? Do you just take a class every day, or is there more to it?
For 40 days, you commit to the program, which involves asana (the physical practice of yoga), meditation (we give you access to guided ones!), and inquiry (journaling questions). You will practice asana six times a week and meet with your fellow 40 days community once a week at the studio. The first week begins with just 20 minutes of yoga a day, and can be done at the studio or by doing a podcast at home. Each week builds so it’s completely doable and accessible even for total beginners.
There’s also a nutritional component to the program, right?
Yes, we focus on the body and how it functions as a whole, bringing a balanced diet into play. Our health is everything, and we punish our bodies on a fairly consistent basis. We’ll do a three-day fruit cleanse—which is more fun than anything! It takes us out of our normal habits, out of our comfort zones, and forces us to look at what we are using to fuel our bodies. Awareness and choice are at the forefront—not a strict diet.
Surely everyone and anyone can gain something from this program. But what types of people do you see needing this the most or being able to gain the most from it?
Everyone. Seriously. Particularly those who want to step up to a bigger game in their lives on and off the mat. Grappling with a career change or a relationship change? Want to kick-start a health, wellness, and body makeover? Have a great idea but don’t know what to do about it? Not feeling particularly inspired lately, or feeling lethargic, stuck, stressed, or unfocused? All those people—they will all benefit.
You’ve done this program yourself before, as a participant! How did it impact your life?
I have a lot more time in the day than I actually thought I did! This discovery was shocking, actually. It made me feel that I can do anything I put my mind to in a very real way. I did 40 Days on my road to opening the studio, and it served as one of my catalysts.
I personally am so excited to be doing this with members of the Den community, and I’m excited to invite in new members. I’m looking forward to getting to know each participant better, and to create something truly transformational together. It is my promise to each and every person that signs up that you will be supported in one way or another daily in this program.
Is there anything else we should know before we all rush to sign up?
Well most importantly, there’s a finale celebration together at the end! You’ll get swag. (Saturday, March 28)
Call the studio at 646-490-8888 to commit to the 40 Days to Personal Revolution Program today, or join us for a free information session on Sunday, February 15, at 11:30 AM.
The program begins February 17 and runs through March 28. Cost is $119 for unlimited monthly members, and $349 for non-unlimited members. This fee includes 40 days of unlimited yoga at the Den, Baron Baptiste’s 40 Days to Personal Revolution book, guided meditations, personalized coaching, and six weekly 60-minute group meetings, which will be held Tuesdays at 8:30 PM.
By Alison Feller
Nailing Balancing Half Moon pose—Ardha Chandrasana—is such an empowering feeling. But no one ever popped right into Half Moon for the first time without a little wiggle and wobble along the way.
Lyons Den instructor Terri Bahr is a Half Moon pro (it’s her favorite pose!). “In Half Moon, two opposing movements are happening at once: You’re rooting down into the earth with your standing leg while simultaneously lifting and extending your raised leg and arm,” Terri says. “The pose perfectly embodies the unique balance you need to navigate the twists and turns of life.” Balancing Half Moon is about more than lifting your back leg and hoping to get lucky with a solid drishti and stable balance. Read on for Terri’s five steps to mastering Half Moon.
1. Build the pose from the ground up. Begin by standing at the top of your mat. Ground down through the four corners of your right foot. Place your right hand down on a diagonal to the outside of your right foot. You can also place your right hand on a block to bring the floor closer to you.
2. Place your left hand on your left hip. Align your left shoulder on top of your right shoulder.
3. Now that you have that alignment, press firmly into your right foot and hand. Straighten your right leg while simultaneously lifting your left leg parallel to the floor, or even higher than your hips. Stack your left hip on top of your right hip, and flex your left foot, reaching actively through your left heel. Keep your right toes and kneecap facing forward without locking your right knee.
4. Extend your left arm up, and point your fingertips directly toward the sky. If you can balance comfortably there, turn your head and gaze at your left thumb. Then expand in all directions.
5. Hold for up to one minute using a constant Ujjayi breath in and out. To release, bend both knees and lower your left foot onto the mat to meet your right foot. Grounding down with both feet, bend your knees, tuck your chin to your chest, and slowly roll up to standing. Then repeat on the left side!
“This is one of my favorite yoga poses because it reflects the shifts we encounter off the mat,” Terri says. “Since we can’t always control what life tosses our way, the next best thing is how we control the shift. As yogis, we know that it can sometimes be easier to go with the flow than to fight every step of the way. So don’t be afraid to fall down! It’s part of the process. If you lose your balance and fall out of Half Moon—or any pose—it calls your attention to refocusing and reconnecting with your breath. It’s the same in daily life: When you get distracted, come back to your breath and be in the present moment. Set up, and try again.
By Alison Feller
“You have to come to yoga with me. It’s Baptiste yoga, so it’s cool yoga—really fast, athletic, intense. It’s a killer workout. Very New York-y. We don’t chant or sit on big wool blankets, and the class isn’t taught totally in Sanskrit. Oh, but we do say ohm at the beginning and end of class. Just FYI, in case that’s new to you.”
I’ve found myself saying that over and over as I bring newcomers to Lyons Den.
Yes, the Baptiste style of yoga we practice at Lyons Den is indeed what I think is pretty “cool” (even if it’s not cool inside the studio). And while we don’t do the chanting you may have experienced during other yoga practices, we do start and finish each class with a resounding ohm—or a series of three ohms, depending on the class.
And while I’m not really into the chanting like you may have experienced during other yoga practices, I am really into the fact that we start and finish each class with a resounding ohm. (Though, confession: I used to just stand there during the ohm and listen to everyone else do it. Once I joined in, though, I was hooked.)
But I’ve always wondered why we say ohm. Why is it a part of class—and is my ohm normal? So I asked Lyons Den instructors Meg McNeal and Julie Brazitis to share what you need to know about the ritual and why—if you’re new to the Den or intimidated by the ohm—you should open up and join the voices around you.
What is the significance behind the ohm?
“We chant ohm in most yoga practices—not just Baptiste. It is the original and most powerful mantra. It’s a universal sound and vibration that we use to clear the space and centralize the energy in the room. The ohm is the beginning and the end, and everything in between. It’s a vibration that connects us all and gets everyone on the same page.” —Meg McNeal
What is the proper way to chant ohm?
“There are three parts to the ohm sound—ah, oooo, and mmmm—plus a fourth residual silence. The ah vibrates in the chest and activates the heart chakra. The oooo vibrates in the throat, and the mmmm has a nasally tone to it, which vibrates the crown chakra and the top of the head.” —Meg
Does it matter how you say ohm? Should it be pretty and sing-songy, or loud and aggressive?
“Every teacher has a very individual and unique way of leading class through ohms. Some are load and roaring, others are sweet—anything goes! As a new teacher, I play with my ohm each time. I’m always in discovery mode. My advice is to play with your ohm and have fun with it.” —Julie Brazitis
A lot of people are self-conscious about joining in on the ohm! What’s your advice to them?
“Ohm-ing and all other chanting done in other yoga practices are always optional. It took me a long time to warm up to it. Now, I love it! I think it’s OK to just sit with it for a while and soak up the vibration. Eventually, as Gloria Estefan once said, the rhythm is gonna get you!” —Meg
Be honest—as a teacher, do you notice who is and isn’t ohm-ing? Does it matter to you if everyone participates or not?
“We are definitely not looking to see if you’re ohm-ing! But we can feel it, and hear it when students shy away from it. It’s normal to be a little shy about being so open and vulnerable with your voice, but there’s no right or wrong way to sound. I say let it rip, let it go, let it flow! Nobody—and I mean nobody, not even the teacher—is judging you for how you sound or how your mouth looks while you’re doing it. The bigger and bolder you ohm, the more you fill and inspire the space and students around you. Own it, and watch it inspire your practice.” —Julie
By Alison Feller
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a big, beautiful heart-opening, back-bending pose. Camel (Ustrasana) is a pose that stretches and expands nearly every part of the body—and it feels so good! But Camel can be intimidating at first for yogis who are new to being upside-down.
Before you retreat to Child’s Pose in lieu of Camel (which we’re always fine with!), try these tips to push your fear aside, because you’re certainly not alone. While some people can easily and gently bend back into Camel, others feel dizzy or lightheaded during backbends. Lyons Den instructor Brooke Easton is a Camel pro—and these are her tips for success.
1. Make sure you’re warm. Camel will never be the first pose we tackle in class. But if you’re practicing at home, make sure your body is warmed up.
2. Slow down. “If you go into or out of a backbend too fast, it can cause dizziness,” Brooke says. “Camel usually comes after floor backbends like Locust and Bow.” Be careful not to launch yourself into or out of the pose too fast, since you’ve just shifted from lying on the ground to an upright kneeling position.
3. Set yourself up for success. “Align your knees at hip-distance, stacked directly under your hips. Bring your hands to your lower back with your fingers pointing up and scoop your tailbone down toward the ground. Draw the base of your shoulder blades together and, as you inhale, lift out of your low back and expand your chest toward the sky,” Brooke says.
4. Bend, not hinge. As you lift your chest toward the sky and backward, make sure you’re doing a true backbend instead of hinging at the waist with a straight back.
5. Stay aware. Don’t close your eyes!
6. Feeling OK? Go further. “Slowly reach behind you, one hand at a time, to grab your ankles,” Brooke advises. [Or grab your heels, with the toes tucked for added support!]
7. Maintain perspective. “Listen to your body,” Brooke says. “If you’re dizzy, take Child’s Pose and try again another time. Taking care of your body is much more important than one pose. There will always be another opportunity to try it.”
Still fearful? “If you have an aversion to Camel or any other pose, it may very well be the one your body needs most,” Brooke says. “The poses we avoid often have the most to teach us.”