Rope walls are pretty rare in New York City yoga studios, and most people attribute their use to hard-core Iyengar devotees and people with back issues.
But rope walls can transform the practice of every yogi, from beginner to master, says Alison West, a beloved New York City yoga instructor who's taught the founders of other top New York yoga studios, and a master of both Iyengar and Ashtanga.
West recently opened Yoga Union, a bright and spacious studio in the Flatiron that boasts the largest number of rope wall stations in the city. (Daily "structural" classes feature the wall, and mat-based flow classes are also offered.) Unlike its sister studio across the street, the Yoga Union Center for Backcare and Scoliosis, the new studio will cater to the everyday yogi instead of the injured.
Well, the everyday yogi who also likes to climb and hang.
Here are the top three things West says the rope wall can do for you and your yoga practice:
1. Lengthen your spine and open up your joints. "The weight of the body in relation to gravity opens up the joints," says West. It also allows your spine to extend much further than in normal yoga poses, which will make you feel taller and will allow you to go deeper in other poses like backbends.
2. Strengthen hard-to-build muscles. As soon as you start to work with the ropes, you notice the amount of strength that's required of your arms and core in every pose. And holding yourself up builds hard-to-reach muscles like your forearms, which will help with difficult balancing poses like headstand. Which brings us to...
3. Improve your inversions. In addition to building arm strength, you'll also be able to get upside down more easily than on the mat. I have a personal fear of flipping my head toward the ground, and I was hanging happily after just a few minutes of instruction. Being in that position began to allay my fears, and West says it can teach you important things like how your head should feel on the floor in headstand. All of this will help when you attempt less-supported inversions on the mat.
While it seems like learning the ropes may be difficult, you'll actually be off the ground in no time, as soon as you learn to take the important safety precautions. And, in the end, says West, "It's just plain fun!" —Lisa Elaine Held
Yoga Union, 37 W. 28th St., btwn Broadway and Sixth Ave., Flatiron, 212-510-7404, www.yogaunion.com
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