I had assumed wall yoga was just for yogi pros, but I was totally wrong. The straps and harness were just the support I needed to get deeper, more therapeutic stretches.
Rope wall yoga looks about as intimidating as you'd imagine. I came across it on Instagram, where I kept seeing impressive images of yogis suspended in acrobatic poses. Although they seemed so graceful floating in midair, I was having a hard time picturing myself attempting these gravity-defying feats. I worried I wasn't quite experienced enough as I made my way to Align Yoga in Brooklyn for my first class. But once it got started, I quickly realized there was no need to be nervous.
We started with a gentle warm-up in the cozy, light-filled studio. First our teacher, Cat Murcek, had us lay flat on our backs, feet planted on the floor, to find our neutral spine; then she led us through self-massage work with balls and foam rollers, and some basic poses. By the time we moved to the wall, my body felt loose and limber.
It turns out that the practice of using the wall as support was first popularized by B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the world's most influential yoga gurus, and founder of the discipline known as Iyengar. As Murcek explained, his focus was finding ways to perform poses in the healthiest, safest way possible.
For our first pose, we faced away from the wall, arms at our sides, grasping the handles of our straps. Then we leaned forward, so our arms stretched behind us. As I lifted my chest and pushed my pelvis forward, I felt the best shoulder and chest stretch of my life. Next came what Murcek called “rope two." Picture a hanging backbend. Once I got over the fact that I wasn't touching the ground, I released my chest and sank into a much deeper backbend than I ever thought possible.
From there we moved into a "hanging Downward Dog," with a harness supporting the tops of our thighs. Then we walked our feet up the wall and slowly lifted our chests. I was surprised by the strength in my back and hamstrings as I held this position, which literally made me feel like I was flying.
For me, the most challenging (and also fun!) part of the class was a pose Murcek called "hang like a bat." It entailed hanging completely upside down, our heads inches from the ground, and the soles of our feet touching so our legs formed a diamond shape. (For a visual, see the photo at the top of the page.) “This is one of my favorite poses in the world,” Murcek says. “It’s one of the best ways to traction your back because you’re literally just hanging straight up and down.”
After Savasana (which was back on solid ground) I stayed to chat with Murcek, and confessed my initial concern that i wasn't strong or flexible enough for her class. She told me that's exactly the kind of fear she wants to put to rest. “I think people get distracted by the fancy acrobatics of yoga, and think that’s what yoga is, so they can’t do it,” she said. “But I want to impress upon people that everyone can do yoga, and using the yoga wall just makes it even more accessible to all levels.”
As for me, I'm sold.