The Inversionists: Yoga instructors who’ll teach you to defy gravity

Inversion-based classes—and the specialty instructors behind them—are on the rise, and they're hands-down some of the city’s toughest.

Kicking up into handstand Most New York City yoga instructors incorporate inversions like headstands and handstands in their classes. But a handful of teachers have become known for their classes dedicated to them—the idea being that you spend the larger part of a class on inversions, not just the normal 5 to 10 minutes.

These killer classes are packed with students eager to defy gravity and shake up their perspective on life, says Summer Shirey, one of the specialists of the Inversionist camp. Wanna turn your yoga practice upside down? Check out a class with one of these three Inversionists.

anya porter breakti
(photo: New York Magazine)

Porter’s a lively, demanding yogi known for her yoga-breakdancing fusion classes called Breakti that get your feet in the air (like you just don’t care?). And she makes inversions part of her regular vinyasa classes—perhaps a bit more so than other teachers might. “I’m so used to being on my hands and upside-down from breakin’,” says Porter, who welcomes beginners to inversions. “But it’s a perspective most people don’t get. City life is so much about walking and being on your feet all the time. This gives people an opportunity to change their perspective, work with the upper chakras, and give the legs a chance to fly.” Classes at Yoga Works, The Yoga Room, Bend & Bloom

Intermediate: SUMMER SHIREY
Not that you need to measure your practice, but hitting an inversion is one tangible way to realize how much your practice has grown, says Shirey, who regularly teaches inversion workshops at Bend & Bloom, taking students from crow to full-on forearm stand. “There’s a Type A drive for setting and meeting challenges that’s really inspirational aspect of yoga practice in New York,” she says. “Inversions can change more than your practice: Students feel empowered having gotten past a fear.” Shirey clearly remembers the feeling of her first handstand, and gets emails from students about theirs—“I did my headstand in the center of the room!” It’s an accomplishment as powerful as when we first ride a bike, she says. “People get emotional about it.” Classes at Kula Yoga Project, Bend & Bloom, Ludlow Fitness

Flight School with Raghunath is geared at captains in command of their yoga practice. His no-coddling approach is a hit with yogis looking for more challenges and tricks: Witness the yoga teachers in his class who’ve got upper-body strength and can balance a tea tray on their heads but want a dedicated space to work on their inversion practice. “Raghunath is a really cool and impressive guy, who makes inversions look flipping effortless,” says Meghan Reynolds, a student. “He gets you thinking that you can move your body in ways you never thought. That what you think is impossible, isn’t. ‘Don’t live afraid’ is kind of the motto. And if you can’t get into that one-arm handstand today, he’d say, you’ll do it tomorrow.” Classes at Yogamaya, Kula Yoga Project, Pure Yoga East
—reporting by Ashley McCullough and Melisse Gelula

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