By Stanley Wlodyka
Jean-Michel Basquiat couldn’t cut it in a traditional high school setting. After dropping out, the Brooklyn native enrolled at City-As-School, a continuation school in the West Village. At this institution, students up to the age of 22 can earn their diploma going to class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while interning at companies the school partners with on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Basquiat was an artist in the 1970s and 80s who began expressing himself through graffiti, then transferred those street art sensibilities onto the canvas, mixing in, also, the colors of his Haitian and Puerto Rican descent. If commerce counts for anything these days, in May of 2017 Basquiat’s “Untitled” (1982) sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $110.5 million, officially becoming the most valuable painting ever made by an American artist.
Thanks to the generous support of a partnership between the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development and the nonprofit New York Edge, students of any age can now take a free yoga class at the auspicious City-As-School. Of particular note is the fact that the instructor not only welcomes, but in many ways caters to, yogis of an advanced age or troubled by limited movements. West Villager Sandy underwent surgery for a ruptured ligament in his leg and this class helped him recover some flexibility and motion. Gay Street resident Mary says, “When you walk out of here, your body sort of flies—your muscles operate more smoothly.”
Instructor Malka Percal is one of the growing number of golden-agers who have found new purpose post-retirement. After a fulfilling career as a copyeditor at Newsweek, Malka put away her red pen and picked up a yoga matt at an instructor training course offered by West Village’s legendary Integral Yoga Institute.
And she certainly has experienced benefits of her yoga practice. Once, pressed for time, having picked up a bouquet of flowers along the route of her rush, Malka tripped and found the sidewalk coming up to meet her. Instinctively her palms shot out in front of her, and with supple, unlocked elbows, she fell into what’s known in yoga as a plank pose. She remembers vividly how her glasses sat at the very edge of her nose. Considering the risk that falling can pose to the elderly (causing an assortment of injuries, including the dreaded broken hip), well, the rest of this sentence just writes itself.
The class is thoroughly enjoyable, from the warmup at the beginning that inevitably produces a couple of pops, creaks, cracks, clicks and clacks as your joints release gas pockets—don’t worry, this is normal—to the guided deep relaxation at the end that feels so good you don’t want it to be over. The class comes fully stocked with props, blocks, yoga matts, pads, you name it. You just come, comfortably clothed, ready to move and stretch at your own pace and capacity.
Malka is there to guide and inspire how “yoga can make you feel elated.” Admittedly, her approach to this thousands-year-old Indian practice is more—how shall we say?—“patient” than one might usually find in a New York yoga class. “It’s working in a more slow, concentrated way in order not to strain a person’s capabilities. And also, if people can’t stand very well, they can do seated yoga. I have a certification in what’s called Accessible Yoga, where [people with mobility issues] can be part of the class even though they may not be able to do all of the practices,” she says.
Classes take place Mondays and Wednesdays, unless otherwise noted, from 5:00pm to 6:30pm at City-At-School at 16 Clarkson Street, between Hudson and Varick Streets. Due to the success of the class, with the new year comes funding for a new Tuesday session from 3:45pm to 5:00pm. Come 20 minutes early your first time to fill out the NYC programs enrollment form. Namaste.