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HOW TO LAUGH WITH YOGI LAURA BRANDEL

HOW TO LAUGH WITH YOGI LAURA BRANDEL

You know that feeling well: You’ve just started to find the rhythm of your breath, peddling your feet, stretching that down dog with every bit of length you can muster. A mellifluous voice floats over you mentioning that tiny adjustment that helps push you further, and you know you’ve found that elusive creature: an awesome yoga instructor.

Add loads of humor, helpful mind-body connection points and an imaginative flow and you’ve got NYC’s Laura Brandel. A former musical theater dancer who grew up in Long Island, the smiley, warm redhead always knew she’d live in the Big Apple. And while she had originally planned on a life of stage time, it seems the yoga studio has proved her real home.

A natural healer, Brandel’s classes are filled with clients who love her consistent laughter and light approach amidst an industry that can be, well, stuffy. Plus, her understanding of kinesiology, anatomy and movement systems helps her class feel like one long, awesome dance. Check out her thoughts on all things health, wellness, laughter and love below.

Why she loves yoga:

While auditioning and working as a dancer in the city, the competitive, fast pace started to take a toll. When a teacher recommended yoga to Brandel, she initially resisted, thinking it might be too calm for her high-energy lifestyle. Soon, though, she found that yoga class finally gave her a solid sense of equilibrium. “Everyone needs to find their thing that balances them, especially New Yorkers who are so high-energy,” she says. “Yoga worked for me, especially coming from that kinesthetic background of dance.”

Why she teaches:

Brandel has been practicing for 11 years and teaching for seven of them. Throughout that journey, juggling multiple priorities (she’s also a choreographer and director now) has remained de rigueur for Brandel—just as it is for all New Yorkers who now walk into her class. Helping them find that same balance she found in the swirl of the city remains her goals. “My first yoga class, I was very physically active and fit. But I remember getting into downward dog, and the teacher referred to it as restful,” she says. “My arms were shaking. My mind was going nuts. But that opened my eyes to the possibility that not everything is what I expect it to be. Some days are going to be more challenging or easier. You have to be open to the opportunity. I remember how surprising that was to me. Even now, I can feel I have all my notes, I’m ready to lead a rehearsal or teach a private, and something will get thrown at me. But you still have to do your job, you still handle the city, you still do what you need to do. Yoga helps you deal with uncomfortable situations more calmly. And I like to help my clients understand that in a safe, fun environment.”

Why she loves including progressive steps in every movement:

Since Brandel usually teaches what she thinks of as open level classes, she likes to plan for students ranging from complete beginners to advanced yogis. So, she’s learned how to design classes with poses broken down. That way, everyone has access to the movement and shape. “It starts in the warm up. I’ll say, ‘I’m going to build, and every step will be equal,” she says. “If it’s too challenging, take it back to the step before. If there is an advanced variation, feel free to take it if you have an understanding.’ That way, I’ll plant seeds for what’s to come and their muscles have worked their way toward the peak pose of the class. I consider my yoga therapeutic, and my background helps me consider yoga for issues like pregnancy or injury.”

With that said, in privates, Brandel likes to tailor sessions to clients’ days and needs. Regardless, a creative flow is her staple. “I work from traditional alignments but I like to be imaginative,” she says. “I also like to go a bit slower so people can find correct alignment, gaining speed later and then slowing down. That creates an arc. Then, I approach it with a total sense of humor. I don’t want anybody to feel like they must sweat. It’s important to me that everyone listen to what they personally want and need from their intention.”

Why we insist on pushing ourselves—sometimes too hard:

Ever been in that asana that leads to a headstand and know it’s not the day to try it out…but push yourself to do so anyway? Those moments of ego directing your yoga practice are not only ineffective. They can be potentially dangerous, too. And somehow, we’ve all crossed that line. Wonder why? “I think it’s about achieving,” explains Brandel. “So much about our city is about always pushing 110 percent. But yoga is just not that. In CrossFit you might do everything 110 percent, so it can be confusing. In my class, if I see someone trying at something, pushing that line, but it looks relatively safe, I’ll let them try. If they’re focusing on their breath, they won’t injure themselves. But, it’s when they aren’t focused or breathing that injury happens. So, if I see a fire, I go put it out. A fix might be as simple as putting a block under their hand. Or maybe I’ll backtrack it. As much as I can, I ask for them to breathe, be present and pay attention. Or, I’ll offer tweaks like finding your foot instead of the ground. That way, everyone is being challenged, but safely. Enjoy your personal yoga practice for you.”

Why she loves yoga nidra:

Recently more and more yoga nidra classes (sessions focusing on the art of conscious relaxation) are popping up. Brandel couldn’t be more thrilled. “In yoga nidra, you’re laying in shavashana for 45 minutes to an hour, going through visualizations and rotations of relaxing the body. It’s restoring for our city of such high energy, and it’s getting popular to lie on the floor. It’s so beautiful!” she says. “As much as I love to flow, to see New Yorkers being still and working on their minds is gorgeous. I hope we see more, and I hope more versions of yoga emerge. I’ve seen fliers for heavy metalyoga,and there are people who might start to practice because of that!”

Why considering your yoga experience holistically might be helpful:

We’ve all been guilty of it: Running into class late, trying to step oh-so-gingerly to your favorite spot in the front—and disrupting everyone in your path. For Brandel, a better option might be to peek in before you enter, and if everyone’s already in that closed-eye bliss out, wait in the back, set your intention there and then find your spot when the flow gets going. Remembering that you’re there to slow down, be present and breathe into the community of the class makes that approach that much more appealing. “I love, love, love the trend of yoga and brunch. It’s a great community builder for friendship, but there can be a lot of un-yogic talk or texting before class. So consider: You’re preparing to come into this place of non-judgment, but if you’re talking smack before and after class, is yoga really what you’re doing?” she says with a laugh. “Instead, maybe your yoga can help you look fabulous and be a more empathetic human?”

On the other end of class, leaving before cool down doesn’t allow you to fully reap the physical and mental benefits yoga offers. “Sometimes people leave as soon as cool down starts, perhaps thinking, ‘Well, I got my abs in and that’s it,” she says. “But your body really needs that counter to be truly safe. Plus, you might love shavasana!”

Laura’s NYC Favorites:
Healthy Restaurant: Peacefood Cafe
Splurge Meal: Egg and cheese on an everything bagel (once a week, with my husband)
Bar: Gallow Green at The McKittrick Hotel
Calming Activity: Reading
Fitness Spot: Swimming At Riverside State Park's pool
Favorite Yoga Wear: Good HYOUman

Laura’s SBS Mantra: Be Kind: That’s my personal creed. Before I lead a yoga class or rehearsal, I take a breath and mentally repeat ‘be kind.’

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