Being a first-timer
at a yoga class rarely allows you to slip into the deep meditative state that you’re supposed to. For myself, I’m always too busy watching everyone else and making sure I’m mostly synchronized with them. Over the years I’ve stretched myself into countless approximations of downward dog, in studios near and far, yet the nerves persist. At the start of a 90-minute evening class at Jala Studio Yoga & Art
recently, I settled in and tried to ignore the crick in my neck and the stern reminders echoing around my head (Don’t fall asleep! was the most insistent).
Jala founder Bristol Maryott first tried yoga at her Cape Cod high school. She loved it immediately, went on to run the yoga club and certify as a teacher during her undergraduate years at Yale. Then came moves to Boston and London, where she accumulated a master’s degree in art history and further yoga teaching qualifications, including prenatal yoga and ashtanga residencies in India. When Bristol returned to Boston, she balanced careers in museum education and teaching yoga until the idea of running her own studio firmly took hold. She found a sunny space with broad river views in Providence, her father’s hometown, and opened Jala (“water” in Sanskrit) in 2014.
The studio is also a gallery, and its walls are currently lined with bright screen prints of photos by Jessica Kung Dreyfus. Teacher and curator Dutzi King plans to diversify the art program in the fall. Like Bristol, she has a background in art education and sees parallels between yoga and art, especially in their power to evoke an immersive, flow-like state in the practitioner.
Jala is the only studio in Rhode Island to offer Jivamukti, a school of yoga that links vigorous movement with breath, intention and continuous assistance. The sequences are accompanied by music, and a mantra for meditation or a yoga sutra is read and explained in each class. On this particular evening, Bristol began a call-and-response chant as she played the harmonium.
From that point, the tone became less formal and much more physical. Bristol is a clear and cheerful teacher, and she started by asking us about any injuries she should be aware of. During the first few sun salutations she knelt by each person’s mat and massaged their neck and shoulders with China Gel, a kind of tingly, non-greasy magic. As the 90-minute class continued, I was relieved to find that all of the poses were familiar to me from previous yoga classes. There was no new language to learn and I didn’t have to crane my head to understand the alignments. Several poses had variations for more or less advanced yogis, and an impressive number of students loftily unfolded into headstands or sprang into full wheel for what seemed like minutes.
Bristol circulated the room, constantly supporting and assisting. It felt a bit like a bespoke yoga tutorial from a friend, especially when I learned I’d been transitioning through my upward and downward dogs not-quite-correctly my whole life. By the end, everyone had reached some level of sweaty exertion and it was significantly easier to grab my toes than it had been at the start. We ended with a shavasana so peaceful I had to work to stay awake. It was worth the effort, because Bristol again stopped by each student to administer a final mini-massage that seemed to put the room into a state of super-relaxed, near-catatonic bliss.
Later that evening I slept as though anesthetized. The next day, the crick in my neck was gone, my arms and legs were healthily sore and the pleasant minty scent of China Gel could still be detected floating around my yoga bag. Jala is a studio that tries to do a lot – teach creative yet safe yoga sequences, induce skeptics to meditate and exhibit interesting art – and somehow it succeeds on all fronts. I know I’ll be there again, triceps permitting.
285 South Main Street