the best gifts to my yoga practice

Janna assisted by Courtney (Inhale's massage therapist), surrounded by a bevy of bolsters from Chattra Yoga. Photo: Cory Morton.

Janna assisted by Courtney (Inhale's massage therapist), surrounded by a bevy of bolsters from Chattra Yoga. Photo: Cory Morton.

My first routine yoga practice was simple, predictable, and more often than not coated in the slick of my own sweat. Pants were my bootie shorts (which I was so excited to sport recently in Mexico) and props were a burden I didn’t bother with. Many of you know, I began with Bikram Yoga. This was my door. I walked right through, giving no thought or attention to the many tributaries of this ancient healing practice. Nope, I was ready to sweat it out and work it off. Knuckles tucked neatly under my chin and “straight, like a lamp post!” legs. I repeated the 21 poses day after day until that sequence didn’t work for me. In short, like if we’re being brutally honest, Bikram started to bore me to tears. Now I’m not here to knock any one discipline. This was just my evolution. Next came the wonderful souls who taught lunchtime yoga at the Hearst Tower. We were high up, looking out from glass windows over New York City, and stacked against one wall were some blocks the color of sea foam and a basket of mismatched straps. Ashleigh taught Vinyasa Flow, which always came with a sweet playlist, something I could really get into. Kim taught Power, leaving me with the challenge of not perspiring too much to return to my desk. Kevin taught Dharma, and his teachings dove deep into crazy poses and stories of his visits to India. I can’t remember once using a prop on my lunch hour yoga days. Throughout my four weeks of teaching training, I surrounded my mat with a block, a blanket, and a strap. I used each only when absolutely necessary (read: when it was put in place by my teacher). I still “didn’t need props.” Restorative was not yet a part of my vocabulary.

I met my very first bolster at Mala Yoga. I’m sure I’d practiced with other bolsters, in fleeting moments, but at Mala Yoga I got to know the props. Blankets had a way of making things softer and also harder. Blocks brought the floor up to you, but could kick your ass and test your balance. Straps made arms longer and hamstrings looser. To this day a yoga strap (or go DIY with a scarf or belt) is the only thing that can properly reset my femur in my hip socket, which will cure most of what ails… lower back pain, leg pain, tight anything (hips, quads, calves and that good ol’ IT band), unhappy feet, and in my case bilateral sciatica. But it was that damn green bolster at Mala that opened my heart. That probably reads as cheesy as it writes, but it’s true. Bolsters were what allowed me the space to soften my practice. When I was able to move my mega heart-opening Supported Fish Pose from blocks to bolster, it was the biggest gift, opening another door. There was something about the pillowy-ness of the bolster that allowed me to let go. I could release my muscles and sink into something that was surely going to support me. Whether you want to speak in terms of chakras or pectoral muscles makes no difference. What did is that my chest was beginning to enjoy some space—space to breathe deep. The concept of restorative was no longer “wimpy,” and instead contained all that I needed to move my practice and my life forward. In all kinds of poses (legs up the wall, spinal twist, and prone pose) I was able to use a bolster to soften my edges. My practice shifted from rigid and finite to malleable and powerful.

The depth and reaches of advancing my asana practice is nothing without a separate but equal practice to slow me down. My life is where yang meets yin, and for the most part, I find that a yoga practice is most influential when life on the mat complements life off the mat. If I had to choose only one route for yoga classes (flow, power, hatha, vinyasa, etc…) at my very own studio, I would quit the biz. Because I don’t believe that there is only one practice, but a wealth of yoga and props and disciplines and asanas to explore and to evolve into and out of. So when it came to choosing props for Inhale, I pulled out all the stops in the hopes that one day someone like me might fall in love with a prop one day. All it takes is one to blow your mind. So I chose solid blocks, long and soft straps, a rainbow of blankets, and colorfully patterned bolsters. You will even find baskets of balls. We lack sandbags, but you can bet that it's next on the list. Because at one point or another each of these extras has enhanced my yoga practice.

There are still days when all I want is my yoga mat, no accoutrements, just the red Jade Harmony mat that my husband bought me three Christmases ago. Other days I want to be propped up and held by four blankets, bring up the Earth with a couple of blocks, find new openings and alignments with the help of a strap, and lean into--and sometimes hug--a bolster.