Sunday morning in the Bywater is a quiet, relaxed affair. The colorful shotgun homes stare at each other wordlessly; vessels slip down the river unheard. The air was still as I approached Parleaux Beer Lab for their weekly free yoga class. Prior to this, I’ve done yoga a grand total of two times: once as a bored-to-death preteen, and again a couple months ago on a whim with a YouTube video. I never got anything out of it, but I guess it’s like the saying goes: I’ll try anything three times.
Yoga mats were supplied, and newcomers were more than welcome. The back doors of the bar were open, and a gaping opening in the wall allowed the chilly morning air to enter. Before long, it hardly mattered: the yogi, Ryan Stevens, prompted us to glide so swiftly between the same handful of positions that some of us broke a sweat. Bridge, downward dog, sphinx, triangle, warrior, chair, plank, peaceful warrior, warrior one, warrior two, child’s pose, happy baby: these were the different configurations I assumed, some with more difficulty than others. The 30 or so people whose yoga mats filled the room and adjoining backyard were encouraged to focus on what suited them best.
My lower back hurt as I tried to switch back into the chair pose with everyone else
“Don’t hurt yourself because you did something you thought you were supposed to,” Stevens cautioned his attentive audience.
We always seemed to switch out of the most challenging positions just before my body was about to give out. I found that although child’s pose was the most relaxing state, I relished the feeling that the triangle pose gave me as my thigh strained to support my leaning body. I could feel my heart making an effort and enjoyed the consistent reminders from Stevens to keep breathing. There was a steady pace to the class that allowed me to lose myself in it, a natural arc of activity that Stevens brought gently to a close. In fact, that climax may have been the few pregnant moments when everyone strained to do their best full bridge — a literal arc with the back, supported precariously on arms and legs bent backward. A few minutes later, and we were in fetal positions, hugging our legs, “listening to our bodies” and “feeling our warmth.”
I am too literal to appreciate the soulful poetry of yoga lingo. More than once I had to suppress an eye roll. But there is something to the madness. Yoga forced me to slow down, to put time into my schedule — blind haste punctuated with dumb idleness — during which I seek self-awareness and calm. It is not enough to simply give up the stress at the end of the day by escaping with Netflix. In slowing down, do not forget yourself. Yoga seems, to me, to be a great way to use downtime while still remaining active. It strikes the excellent balance between alertness and laziness.
Since July 2017, Parleaux Beer Lab has offered its free yoga class every Sunday at 11 a.m. Other free or inexpensive community classes can be found all around the city. The New Orleans Museum of Art, in conjunction with East Jefferson Wellness Center, offers $5 yoga classes from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. on Saturdays in its beautiful sculpture garden.
Both locations are a quick drive from UNO’s campus and surrounded by areas inviting to pedestrians. Let’s get out and enjoy our city!