Izzy VanHall, 26, has devoted the last 10 years to intertwining her two passions: yoga and art. The Boston-based yoga teacher said she’s always sensed the two were related, especially when she was expressing herself through painting on grandiose scales.
“I love painting big because it gives me that same sense [as yoga] of doing a stroke with my whole body versus just my hands,” she said.
VanHall’s studio loft-style studio apartment in the South End is decorated with floor-to-ceiling portraits that illustrate her perception of the way the body moves. And this past July, VanHall established a workshop that’s a hybrid of fitness and artistic expression.
VanHall launched Paint Your Practice, a unique yoga session during which yogis to paint their movements in colors on a giant shared canvas beneath them. The result: an enormous, colorful, abstract painting. Her next Paint Your Practice session will be on October 22 at Back Bay Yoga.
“I think when we get older, we’re unwilling to take the time to get messy,” VanHall said. “I want to remove all the obstacles of what it means to be creative for people.”
This fall, VanHall is part of yet another venture that allows her to combine art and yoga: She’s spent the last two weeks creating a mural for Sadhana Yoga, a South End studio that closed earlier this year and reopened Thursday under the ownership of the folks behind Coolidge Corner Yoga. She’s teaching four weekly classes at Sadhana.
VanHall invited us to her South End loft to demonstrate a yoga flow sequence that focuses on, well, focusing. As you follow along with her using the instructions below, really emphasize the details of each pose to help improve your concentration.
“Intertwining the breath with your movement, your body and your mind,” VanHall said, “that’s what makes you present.”
1. Cat-Cow Pose
Start in tabletop position (hands and knees to the floor, hips’ distance apart). Make sure your back is flat and eyes are to the floor (A). Start to draw your ribs inward and contract your abs into an arched back, allowing your palms to lift off the floor—to tented, spread fingers—focusing on the length of your arms. This is cat pose (B). Drop your palms, lift your tailbone, and pull your chest through your arms as you draw in your lower abdomen. This is cow pose (C). Repeat B and C three times before returning to A, neutral position.
2. Downward Dog
Start in downward dog position, with your hands and feet on the floor at hips’ distance apart. Press fingertips and heels to the ground. Lift your pelvis up and back to lengthen the spine. (If this is difficult, do the exercise with bent knees.) (A) Rise up to tiptoes, lifting the belly up and in (B). Then press your heels back down, returning to A. Repeat this motion for three rounds.
3. Low Lunge
Reach your right leg back, pressing the ball of the foot to the back of the room and spreading the toes (A). Keeping your hips square, lift your left heel, bend the right knee, and bring your heel to your right sit bone (B). Draw your right knee to your chest and round the upper back to bring your right knee into your chest (C). Step your right foot through your arms to place it on the floor between your hands, your knee stacked over your ankle and your chest drawn forward. Place your left knee on the ground (or a blanket) and your left foot should lie flat (D). Inhale and reach your arms up (E).
4. Open Twist
Open into a twist to the right with your arms reaching out parallel to the ground (A). Turn back to the front of the room.
5. Eagle Wrap
Circle your right arm underneath your left and find an eagle wrap (modification: grab your opposite shoulders) (A). Reach your forearms up toward the ceiling as you press your back foot into the floor. Press your elbows away from your body and keep your shoulders soft, away from your ears. Draw the belly in and up (B). Dip your elbows to your knee or below the knee, rounding down your spine to create a rounded back shape (C). Repeat B and C three times.
Straighten the front leg by pulling your belly button and right sit bone back into a half-split. If this is too challenging, release your hands down to the floor or to blocks before shifting back into the half-split (A). Flex your toes toward your face.
7. Standing Split
Plant your hands at the top of the mat. Press your spread fingertips onto the floor, once again tenting your palms (A). Push off your left toes and reach the left foot high into the air. Push down into the floor through the right foot, lift the right outer hip up, and lift from the inner left thigh. This is a standing split (B). Use your lower belly to slowly step your left foot to the mat, with feet hips’ distance apart. Keep your top half in a forward fold by reaching the sit bones upward to create a hinge at the hips (C). Inhale into a flat back, pressing your hands into your shins and your shins into your hands (D). Exhale as you fold forward back into position B. Slowly roll up to a full standing position. If you have low back sensitivity, come up with a flat back.
From standing, inhale as you reach your arms up (A), and exhale as you bring your hands to your heart center (B).
9. Vinyasa Back to Down Dog
Inhale as your reach your arms up again (A), exhale as you fold forward with a flat back to hinge at the hips (B). Plant your palms on the mat, and step back into a high plank (C), then lower halfway (aka, chaturanga) (D) to upward-facing dog (E). To modify, lower to your belly for cobra. Shift into downward-facing dog. You are now ready to start the entire flow again, beginning with MOVE 2 (Downward Dog) on the other side.