LA vs NYC: Yoga

The elements that make up the perfect practice in each of these distinct cities

Pitting New York City and LA against one another is a divisive and passion-driven pursuit. But it’s hard to ignore the glaring differences between these two cities—and what if the answer to which is “better” is actually both? They each bring something to the table that the other does not. That holds true whether we’re talking about incredible restaurants, style, and even how they approach fitness. That’s why Furthermore is introducing a new series in which we explore a subject, in this case yoga, and how it’s unique in two disparate places. You can maintain your city pride, but you just might learn something valuable if you expand your horizons.

Sarah Girard began practicing yoga in Venice Beach, California when she was 14 years old. At the time, she had recently beat a rare form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma. Diagnosed at the age of two, she lived her childhood in and out of the hospital. “Growing up with that sense of fragility of life really inspired me, and still does inspire me, to live each day, live each moment, as a gift,” she says. Ultimately, she went through yoga teacher training as a way to pass that message—that present—on to others.

Fourteen years later, at 28 years old, she felt a “massive calling” from the the opposite coast; from New York to be specific. “I saw the move as a way for me to begin again and to unlearn, to re-evaluate my relationship to yoga, to expose myself to a broader context and therefore to expand my practice of “union” more inclusively,” says Girard.

While teaching at studios including various Equinox locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Girard, now 33, noticed glaring differences between how yoga was practiced here—and how it was done back home in LA. “These fundamental variations stem from the very lifestyles the two cities encourage,” she says. “If yoga offers us a chance to balance out our habits inclusively, wouldn’t it make sense then for the practice to present the opposite qualities of the requirements to live in each city?”

For instance, New Yorkers walk everywhere—quickly—amidst the chaos of people (see: the Instagramming tourist about a minute into the video above) and noise. A slower, more structured yoga class can be the yin to their day-to-day yang. In LA, the car-bound lifestyle begs for more dynamic, energizing movement on the mat.

Even the weather affects the postures Girard says best befit each city. Bone-chilling cold on the east coast calls for the addition of supportive props. A block underhand during half moon can help not-yet-warm muscles ease into the pose, for example.

But don’t underestimate their abilities: blocks are not crutches. New Yorkers know they’re a means to furthering their practice. “Classes which resonate in NYC are ones with progressive sequencing toward a specific goal (i.e. upward-facing bow pose),” adds Girard. “It’s a city of high rises and goal setting; a place for climbing a ladder of your own design and achieving goals far beyond comprehension.” While New Yorkers quietly work towards long-term mastery, those in LA may be a little more… showy about it. “LA is influenced by the glamour of Hollywood so it’s common for a highly Instagram-able arm balance or inversion to be thrown into the sequence so that, with momentary mastery, we can show our followers,” says Girard, who posts her own impressive yogic feats.

Girard underscores that there are exceptions to these observations and of course, one city is not superior to the other when it comes to yoga. Instead she simply makes the case that LA dwellers can benefit from a yoga practice that takes a page from the way New Yorkers live their lives—and vice versa. In other words, since those who inhabit the California city experience a more laid-back, chill routine, their flow can be a bit more New York-like: It can be fast-paced and hyper-productive. New Yorkers live at that pace constantly—so their poses can help balance that out, and borrow some of the calmer vibes from LA. 

“I originally moved to NYC to gain something I wasn’t finding in LA. And in my search for satisfaction, I have started cultivating elements from each city to feed my hunger for inquiry and experience,” Girard says. “After all I’m a yogi: One who seeks connection after exploring and investigating opposition.”

For inspiration, watch as Girard flows through two unique yoga sequences in the splitscreen video above—one in NYC and one in LA. Then, scroll down to get two 20-minute flows. The first is for New Yorkers (or those who live their lives like them); it’s focused on supported postures and static holds. The second is for those on the west coast (or those who relate to that lifestyle); it’s focused on dynamic movement, creating strength in the legs and mobility through the front body.  

20-Minute Yoga Sequence for New York

Yogis ease into this flow, allowing cold weather-induced tight muscles to loosen up. The slower pace continues as the sequence moves into supported postures meant to help New Yorkers balance out their more hectic lifestyles. But don’t mistake it for an “easy” class; we culminate in an upward-facing bow pose, which requires focus and dedication to achieve.

Props Needed: Bolster, a pair of blocks

Prone Savasana over Bolster - 2 minutes

Place your bolster in front of you so it is parallel to the long edges of your mat. Place a block on its lowest setting in front of it, laying down on the bolster so that your hips land at the front and your torso is supported. Rest your head on the block leaving space for you to breathe through your nose and mouth. Take 15 to 20 breaths.

Supported Downward-Facing Dog - 1 minute

Keep the bolster in the middle of your mat. Place your hands shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart in plank pose over the bolster. Start to lift your hips as high as you can, even bending your knees to give your hips the sufficient lift. Nod your chin in towards your chest, possibly resting your head on the bolster. If the head doesn’t touch the bolster right away, you can build up the height of the bolster by adding a blanket or block on top. By resting the head on a prop, the nervous system can begin to down-regulate. Take 10 to 15 breaths.

Warrior 1 - 1 minute each side

Step your right foot forward next to your right thumb. Adjust the back foot down to the floor keeping a slight 45-degree angle forward. As you come up, adjust your torso to face the short end of your mat, with your arms overhead, palms facing one another. Remain for 4 to 6 breaths. Reverse the movement to return to downward-facing dog and repeat on the other side, finishing in downward-facing dog.

Cobra - 1 minute

From downward-facing dog shift to plank and slowly lower onto your stomach, placing your hands next to your low ribs so that your wrists are under your elbows. Plant your hands firmly into the mat but pull your forearms back towards your hips so your chest starts to lift off the mat. Keep your elbows bent so you can focus on widening your chest muscles under your collarbones. Remain for 2 to 3 breaths. Repeat 2 to 3 times, finishing back in downward-facing dog.

Twisted Low Lunge - 1 minute each side

Step your right foot forward. Frame your foot with your blocks, placing your hands on them. Tuck your back toes and strongly lift the left knee and thigh away from the floor as you lift your right arm out to the side like a wing and then away from the floor, beginning to twist. Remain for 4 to 6 breaths. Step back to downward-facing dog and repeat on the other side, ending in downward-facing dog.

Dolphin Pose - 1 minute

Shift forward into plank and lower your forearms onto the floor making sure your elbows are shoulder-width apart. Move your chin into your chest, and lift your hips as if you were in downward-facing dog, keeping your head lifted off the floor. Release your knees, straighten your arms, and return to downward-facing dog. Remain for 10 to 15 breaths.

Locust Pose - 1 minute

Shift to plank and lay down on to your stomach. Straighten your arms down near your sides with your palms facing the floor, and straighten your legs, bringing your feet together. Begin by lifting your shoulders, your chest, your arms, then your feet, in that order. Remain for 3 to 4 breaths. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Bow Pose - 2 minutes

Repeat the same beginning steps as locust pose, lifting your limbs with the legs and arms straight, then start to bend your knees, reach back and hold onto your shins with both hands. Remain for 3 to 4 breaths. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Upward-Facing Bow - 2 minutes

Roll onto your back. Bend your knees placing your feet hip-width apart. Lift your hips and your arms. Bend your elbows and place your hands next to your ears, keeping elbows as narrow as your shoulders. Press your hands down into the floor and start to lift your shoulders and head off the mat creating a big arc through the spine and back body. Remain for 3 to 4 breaths. Repeat 2 to 3 times.

Supine Twist - 1 minute each side

Laying on your back, open your arms out to the side like wings. Drop both legs to your right side, possibly extending your legs straight. Remain for 3 to 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Savasana - 4 minutes minimum

Completely relax face-up on the mat. Feel free to place the bolster underneath your knees to relieve any tenderness in the low back.

20-Minute Yoga Sequence for LA

King Dancer is just enough of a showy pose to complement Los Angeles’ glamorous side. The flow as a whole has energizing momentum and plenty of hip-openers to counter the city’s car culture.

Props: None required

Dynamic Bridge - 1 minute

Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet hip-width distance apart. Lift your hips on an inhale, lower on an exhale. Repeat 15 to 20 times.

Core Stabilization Exercises - 2 minutes

Lift your feet, bringing your shins parallel to the floor, similar to a Pilates table-top position. Press your hands on the middle of your thighs, pushing them away from your chest; at the same time draw your legs towards your body. You will feel the lower abdomen engage. Remain here for 3 to 5 breaths. Then keep the isometric engagement of hand on leg as you start to alternate your legs to straighten one at a time, breathing in as a leg straightens and breathing out as the leg bends. Repeat 10 to 15 times.

Dynamic Chair - 1 minute

Rock forward and back, building momentum and eventually standing up with your feet hip-width distance apart. Bend your knees like you’re sitting in an imaginary chair, making sure to keep your kneecaps facing the same direction as your toes. Reach your arms up and breathe in, release your arms to your sides as you straighten your legs as you exhale. Repeat 15 to 20 times.

Sun Salutation B - 4 minutes

Begin at the top of the mat with your feet together. Bend your knees lowering your hips down, reaching your arms up. Breathe in. Exhale and fold forward over your legs. Inhale as you lift your chest up parallel to the floor, lengthening your spine. Exhale, place your palms to the mat shoulder-width distance apart, and step your legs back to plank pose. Keep exhaling as you lower to the floor or halfway to a low push-up. Untuck your toes moving your chest forward and up into your back bend (either cobra, with the hips down and the elbows bent) or upward-facing dog (with the arms straight and the thighs and knees lifted off the mat). Breathe in. On your exhale, move back to downward-facing dog. Step your right leg forward next to your right thumb. Adjust the back heel to the floor and inhale as you lift your arms overhead. As you exhale, bring hands to the floor, step back, and lower to your low push-up. Inhale as you come up to your backbend. Exhale to downward-facing dog. Repeat warrior 1 on the left side. Bring hands to the floor, step back, and lower to your low push-up. Inhale as you come up to your backbend. Exhale to downward-facing dog. Pause for 3 to 5 breaths. Bend your knees and jump or step to the top of your mat, feet together. Bend your knees lift your arms over head into chair pose. Breathe in. Exhale and stand up with arms by sides. Repeat the entire sequence once more.

Warrior 3 Prep to Twisted Lunge - 1 minute each side

Fold forward at the top of your mat, bringing hands under your shoulders. Lift your left leg behind you parallel to the floor. Inhale. Keep reaching your left leg back and land the ball of that foot on the floor behind you in a lunge. Exhale as you lift your right arm out to the side like a wing and then away from the floor, twisting your spine. Inhale. Exhale as you release the top arm. Inhale and reach both arms forward onto the floor in front of you. Shift forward into warrior 3 prep with left leg lifted, hands on the ground. Release the lifted leg. Repeat on the other side and continue, alternating legs, two more times.

Dolphin Walks - 1 minute

Make your way to plank. Lower your forearms to the ground, directly underneath your shoulders. On an inhale, walk your feet towards your face so that your hips lift up high. As you exhale, walk your feet back, returning to plank. Continue repeating for 10 to 15 breaths.

Pigeon with Thigh Stretch - 1 minute each side

From downward-facing dog, bend your right knee, point your foot and place your knee and shin in between your hands. (For this variation we will keep the front knee facing forward rather turning the leg out because we will be focusing on the quad of the back leg.) Sway your hips away from the front, bent leg so that the front of your back thigh is on the floor. Bending your left (back) leg, reach back with the left arm and take a hold of the shin or ankle for a quad stretch. Make sure that you are resting on front of the leg as opposed to the inner knee, which can cause tenderness and maybe pain over time. Remain for 10 to 15 breaths.  Release the back leg. Place your hands on the floor and step back to downward-facing dog. Repeat on the other side.

King Dancer Pose - 1 minute each side

From downward-facing dog, walk your hands back to your feet and stand all the way up. Bend your left leg, reach back, and hold your shin. Start to kick your shin into your hand, lifting your left leg up and back, challenging your balance. Stay for 8 to 10 breaths. Even if you lose your balance, it’s ok, come back into it. Repeat on the other side.

Wide Leg Seated Twist - 1 minute

Sit down and separate your ankles wide. Place your hands on either side of your right leg, twisting your chest toward your right leg. Remain for 8 to 10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.

Seated Meditation - 4 minutes minimum

Sit comfortably, utilizing props or a chair of you would like. Focus on the tip of your nose, breathing in coolness, exhaling warmth.