I’ve been going to yoga classes off and on since my early 30s, when my friend Deb and I decided to celebrate finishing our dissertations with a hatha yoga class (not very wild and crazy, I know, but anything seems exciting compared to dissertation writing). My attention turned back to yoga in January when I started going to a local studio (Artemis Yoga in Watertown, MA) that is a 10-minute walk from my house. Again, it was motivated by a friend (Norah this time—what would we do without supportive friends?)
I’ve been loving and appreciating yoga for its focus on where my body is right now, the attention to thoughts, feelings and sensations, and the choices it offers for adjusting the intensity of the experience.
Which is why taking a ropes yoga class—also called Kurunta Yoga—was irresistible. And it didn’t disappoint.
“Kurunta” means “puppet”, and in this class, you use ropes to stabilize or shift your weight away from some parts and toward others, to change the way yoga poses (asanas) feel. The ropes also let you increase the intensity, duration, or variation on the poses. Here’s what the ropes wall at my studio looks like.
You can use the upper and lower ropes around your waist or your leg, or you can hold them to increase a stretch or for stability. For instance, we changed the way Downward Facing Dog feels. For comparison, here’s what it usually looks like:
There are lots of ways to modify the pose to make it easier or more challenging. Of course for some it just comes naturally:
In the ropes class, we put a lower rope around our waists over a blanket (so the rope wouldn’t hurt against skin). We placed our feet against the back wall, and then hung suspended by the rope, placing our hands on the mat. In this position, virtually all of the weight is on the legs—you can practically lift up your hands—so you can sink into the feeling of the hips and thighs sinking backwards. It was intense and very satisfying.
Liz Padula, the owner of Artemis and our instructor, carefully demonstrated each of the poses for us, and then talked us through them.
Ropes classes are small by necessity (each person needs a set of ropes and wall space), so there is lots of individual instruction.
Every time I take a yoga class I am reminded of the individuality of fitness. Some poses and flow moves are easy for me, as I’ve got a pretty good forward bend and a bendy back. On the other hand, my shoulders are very tight and I’ve torn both rotator cuffs (had surgery on one, PT on the other), so shoulder-intensive poses are simply not possible for me without major modifications. The ropes course was a new way to find out about my body—its limitations and its improvisational capacities (thanks to the ropes). Here are some more standard poses we did, using ropes to help open up and deepen them:
Near the end of class came the big finale—an inverted mid-air headstand. To do this, we had to tie ropes together to create a swing, sit in it, and make our way up the wall. Here’s Liz with the demo:
Then you’re supposed to let go gradually, moving your feet to the inside, and hang there like an upside-down frog. Really.
These are some of my classmates in different stages of the headstand:
I’m very bummed that I didn’t quite have the nerve to let myself go into the headstand. I got up the wall, got my legs out, but was worried I didn’t have enough strength. The woman next to me also said she was nervous and didn’t do it. But I think that yoga isn’t all about strength. It’s about experimentation and trust. I have a strong sense of fitness adventure but having been running short lately on fitness trust. Using these ropes made me face some of my own trust issues in an up-close-and-personal way. I had to trust the ropes to hold me. And they did. And they will. Even if I’m upside down in mid-air.
So I’m going to get that mid-air headstand next class. And will report back.
Thanks to Liz at Artemis Yoga for taking pictures of the class (while she was also teaching it), and to my classmates for letting me post these photos of them.
So, readers, what sort of fitness trust issues are you having these days? What do you use to hold you up when you are in need of a little more support?