We practice yoga to broaden the mind and develop the imagination. Consider the body as a house; the mind is the body’s occupant, that implicit, but most powerful, aspect of a self. The practice is a dialogue between mind and body, mediated by the breath; one’s internal atmosphere and the cosmic material that it receives, contains and uses. We practice yoga to alter our psychology by reorganizing our physiology. Yoga engages our body in a physical debate between forms that are personal, habitual, and largely unconscious, and forms that are archetypal, measured, and conscious. By reforming our body’s unconscious habits and introducing more informed and efficient patterns, yoga becomes origami for the body. As we fold and unfold, we develop dimension rather than engaging in the binary struggle between tight and loose. In this way we set up conditions for greater self-knowledge and a more expansive vision, which leads to personal change. This physical insurgence, infused with spirit, is our mission.
Katonah Yoga, as taught at The Studio, is a fundamentally formal practice. Our work is a commingling of classical Hatha yoga poses integrated with theories of sacred geometry that serve to develop stability and dimension, Taoist philosophy to observe and conform to nature’s patterns found in the body, peppered with Pranayama and Kundalini to move breath through the body’s terrain, serving as a conduit between the body and mind to soothe the soul and build an identity. The goal of the practice is to become whole, in order to live a life of integrity and happiness.
Students who come in with injuries, quirks, kinks, or conundrums, who are off-center, spun out or crooked (which is most of us) are safe in our midst; life is jostling, jolting, and alarming. Often cheekily referred to as a yoga hospital, there is less emphasis on relaxation and more on expressing the poses with a searing awareness, shepherding students towards greater stability, competency, and imagination. Practice without theory becomes didactic, and theory without practice has no embodiment.
Physical adjustments are integral to our practice. An adjustment of one’s asana allows the student to let go of the personal investment he or she has in personal style, compensating for some real or imagined foible, or holding on to a way one thinks or feels one should be. A physical adjustment can be more powerful than an assist or verbal cue because an adjustment informs one's direction, vision, and experience; cajoling us to relinquish what we do “naturally" to a more ideal form, facilitating the optimal functioning of our organs -- flushing of a kidney, stretching a liver, opening a lung. Working in this way is much like following a recipe, a formula, a magical spell, a musical score to get a specific and desired outcome, rather than making it up or winging it, hoping for results.
Our use of props acts as personal scaffolding to support well-being. By using blocks as bones, straps as ligaments, sandbags as muscles, poles as boundaries, blankets as thrones, and a chair as a buttress, we are able to transcend the personal, our first nature, which holds in our damage and perpetuates our impulses, and reference the archetypal, which orients us in time and space as we develop our second nature, that most purposeful endeavor to be conscious. It is in this journey from habit to consciousness where the essence and true rigor of the work is found.
Our classes are a communal experience. Students all face the center of the room, and experienced students will often help those just getting introduced to the material. We may pause to deepen the exploration of a particular asana, break down a nugget of theory, or look more closely at someone’s twingey shoulder or collapsed elbow. This workshop style creates an environment for each student to refine personal skills by playing in an orchestra, measuring up, and learning from one another. This collegial setting facilitates a more dynamic group atmosphere than a traditional yoga class -- part of developing personal integrity is knowing how to participate in a communal and universal vision.
KATONAH YOGA ® is a syncretic Hatha yoga practice developed by Nevine Michaan of Katonah Yoga Center over 40 years. She and her teachers incorporate classical Hatha yoga with Taoist theory, geometry, magic, mythology, metaphor, and imagination — in a practical framework designed to potentiate personal and communal well-being. Framing the practice, maps of time and personal space are defined and refined. Themes using asana as origami, manipulating form for function, and developing a sense of personal measure are incorporated in Katonah Yoga practices. Katonah Yoga is organized around three principles of esoteric dialogue: all polarities are mediated by trinity; the universe has pattern, pattern belies intelligence; by virtue of repetition there is potential for insight. Disciplined techniques are organized for revelation through revolutions.
Magic Square Logo © 2016 Katonah Yoga Center, Inc. Illustration by Nevine Michaan and Susan Fierro.