Stretch Goals

Stretch Goals

My mood matched the weather as I hurried down Crown Street into a driving rain, dodging dirty slush puddles and whizzing delivery bikes. But as I approached number 216, a man coming the other way said hello with a smile and held the door, and just like that, my world began to shift, all the way up the stairs to Breathing Room Yoga Center.

The sound and fury of the street below had been replaced by gentle chatter as students pulled off their parkas and snow boots. Haley Proto, our instructor, sat at the front desk checking us in and making conversation, then invited us into “The Hearth,” a grand space with a high arched ceiling, 15-foot windows and lavish fireplaces at opposite ends. It still felt cozy, somehow, thanks to the warm climate and low instrumental music piping through the speakers.

And that was the right feeling, because we weren’t here for a sweltering bikram or fast-paced vinyasa class. We were here for a session of yin, one of the slowest forms of yoga, which involves holding and relaxing into stretches and positions for long periods of time. As Proto explained to me after class, it’s “the practice of working the connective tissues. In yin yoga we get into the pose, get as comfortable as we can in the pose, and then relax the muscles and the only thing that’s stretching is the connective tissues—gentle stress on the fascia, the ligaments and the joints. We don’t want to over stretch those areas but it’s important to keep them pliable because that’s what starts to limit movement as we age.”

The class began in earnest with some lower body stretches. Early on, Proto directed us to find a pressure point in our foot that, when stimulated, can purportedly help regulate liver function as well as ease anger and frustration. Throughout the class, holding each pose for a minute or more, I could feel my joints opening up, from my shoulders all the way down to my ankles. My mind began to calm as my body did. While stretching is difficult for me and my chronically tight hamstrings, I found that the less pressure I put on myself, the deeper I was able to go. “We struggle so much to sit in discomfort in the body, and with yin yoga that is what we are asked to do,” Proto said. “What is pain? Shooting, stabbing, numbing. Here, we’re dealing with sensation. How do I sit in this? How do I breathe in this? How do I release tension in the body while I’m sitting in it? And then that practice bleeds into our emotional realm.”

Proto’s voice projected calmly as she guided us. She was surgical with her cues, offering deeper stretches for those who looked like they wanted them and gentler modifications for the less flexible like me. Several times, she told us to relax some seemingly unrelated part of our bodies, like our jaws, and I’d realize my jaw had indeed been clenched.

As I lay in Savasana, a resting state to close the class, I felt limber and loose throughout my legs and in areas I hadn’t even known were tense. As we packed our things, the chatter that had been in the background prior to the class had melted to a quiet. We all seemed present in our own minds, which felt like a luxury.

And yet it was the result of one of the most approachable avenues in yoga-dom. “Yin yoga is definitely beginner-friendly,” Proto said. “It’s 99% seated on the floor and you’re just moving fluidly from between three to six different poses. We do offer a lot of props to support the body. Once you’re down, you’re staying down, and that can be a big deal for people of a certain age. However, it can hone the skills of an advanced practitioner because of the amount of mind-body awareness it takes to practice. Even a very advanced practitioner can get a deep practice out of it.”

Breathing Room offers regularly scheduled classes in many modalities as well as special events and workshops including sound baths and full-moon yoga sessions. If you feel yourself needing to find or at least catch your breath, Breathing Room might be the place to do it.

Breathing Room Yoga Center
216 Crown St, 2nd Fl, New Haven (map)
(203) 562-5683

Written and photographed by Anna Konya. Image features Haley Proto inside “The Hearth.”

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