Tag Archives: Iyengar sequence

Why Sirsasana is done before Sarvangasana in the Iyengar system

Iyengar nirlamba sirsasana

My good friend and fellow blogger Irish Ashtangi brought up an excellent question: is headstand (Salamba Sirsasana) done before or after shoulder stand (Salmaba Sarvangasana)? As this question is a bit more complex than it seems, I am dedicating a blog entry address the question.

First full disclosure. I practiced Ashtanga for a brief period of six months should not be considered anywhere near an expert authority on the Asthanga system. I have experienced the First Series a few score times so at least I have some reference point to write from.

That being said, I later became certified in the Iyengar system. In my training, I was taught that Salmba Sirsasana (supported head pose) is unequivocally sequenced before Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported All Limbs of the Body pose, or shoulder stand).

First, we have to view these two asanas in terms of temperature. Salamba Sirsasana (I’ll refer to it as headstand from here to simplify) is a “heating” pose as it stimulates the nervous system. Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) is a “cooling” pose which pacifies the nervous system. Here are Guruji’s words on the subject from Light On Yoga:

Sirsasana and its cycle should always be followed by Sarvangasana and its cycle. It has been observed that people who devote themselves to Sirsasana alone without doing the Sarvangasana poses are apt to lose their temper over trifling things and become irritated quickly. (Light On Yoga page 189)

If you consider the eight limbs in logical progression, they go from the external to the internal. From this perspective, it makes sense to a practice a less stimulating pose like Sarvangasana near the end of  the practice to prepare for Savasana, then Pranayama to experience Pratyahara.

In defense of the Ashtanga system, which has Sarvangasana practiced before Sirsasana, the poses are only held for a short period of time compared to the Iyengar system. In the Iyengar system, one builds time in Sirsasana to 10 plus minutes and Sarvangasana a bit longer. From my brief practice of Asthanga, I recall the poses being held for a few breaths lasting no longer than 2 minutes. Please correct me if I am wrong as I am not an authority of the Asthanga/Jois system.

In my training, we are instructed to teach beginners Salamba Sarvangasna before we teach them Salamba Sirsasana. This is because students learn the required movements of the shoulders and the chest in Salamba Sarvangasna that they will take to Salamba Sirsasana when it is later introduced.

One last note about the sequences in the back of Light On Yoga. Most all of them start with the first pose being Salmaba Sirsasana. This has gradually changed in his later teachings, but Sirsasana still tends to show up early in contemporary Iyengar sequences. Also, inversions are more prevalent in an evening practice than a morning one. There are always exceptions to the rule depending on which “effect” you want from the practice. Thank you Irish Ashtangi for asking this question. He is an ardent practitioner and has a very inspiring blog chronicling his yogic journey.

guruji pali II

As a commemorative note, today marks the 13th day after Iyengar’s passing. The 13th day after death is considered an auspicious time. In your practice today, please keep Iyengar in your thoughts.

Advertisements

Paschima pratana sthiti for beginners

My dear friend Sudhanshu Srivastava from Kolkata has been suffering when doing forward bends. He says in Paschimottanasana (Intense stretch pose for the West side of the body as seen below) that he is not able to bend forward but only a few degrees.

paschimottonasana

This is a difficult pose for any beginner and should not be considered until two things happen: the hamstrings loosen and the abdomen softens. That takes a few years of correct practice in the Iyengar method. Otherwise there is a risk of injury, particularly tearing a hamstring muscle. This pose does not appear until the second (Intro II) syllabus which assumes the practitioner has had at least three years of practice in the asanas preceding it.

Here is a sequence of forward bends for people with tight hamstrings and a hard abdomen.

ardha uttanasana

Ardha Uttanasna with wall (hips directly above ankles, wrists on same plane as hips)

Chair downdog

Chair Adho Mukha Svanasna (note heels are pressing down)

U T in chair

Chair Utthita Trikonasna

parsvottanasna with chair

Parsvottanasna Stage I with chair and back heel pressing against wall

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 1.19.16 PM

Prasarita Padottanasna Stage I with blocks

rolled blanket

First roll a blanket about half way of what it is in picture…

 

Screen Shot 2015-01-21 at 1.50.58 PM

Then insert it in the crease between the abdomen and thighs in a bent knee Uttanasna. Make sure the cavity of the abdomen fills with blanket. Eventually try to straighten the leg keeping the blanket in the cavity. This will be very uncomfortable because the abdomen is tight. Do what you can.

sp mere mortal

Supta padangusthasana with belt keeping abdomen soft.

savasana with chair

Savasana with legs on chair, knees slightly in front of hips as seen above. Note that abdomen remains soft.

This is just an example of a simple forward bending sequence and should not be considered dogma by any means. My aim here is as mentioned above, to address tight hamstrings and abdominal muscles. I put a lot of emphasis on the “softness” of the abdomen because the rock hard “six pack” abdomen makes it very difficult to do forward bends due the overuse. The rectus abdomini are just superficial muscles. The muscles I am concerned with are the much deeper and stronger are the transversus abdomini.

paschimotonasna with kofi

To lastly illustrate my point, the above picture is taken at a Kofi Busia workshop a few years ago. That is me in Paschimottanasna with a little help from Kofi. I weighed about 175 lbs (80kg) in the photo and have a roundish soft abdomen. The red haired lady in the background is obviously much lighter and has a “six pack” style abdomen. That is as far as she got in the pose.

 

A sequence to commemorate Iyengar a week after his passing

bks-iyengar-memorial-sequence-964x367

Today at 8:30 pm EST, Iyengar communities throughout the US will be doing the above sequence in memoriam to Guruji who passed away a week ago today.

As seen in one of my earlier posts, I wrote that asanas can be used for other purposes. In this case, the sequence is devotional (bhakti) as the asanas are used for the higher purpose of  commemorating rather than just physical exercise.

The standing sequence is also stabilizing, reminding us that Iyengar’s legacy will be strong and will last many many years even though he is no longer physically with us.

I invite you to also take part in the sequence and know that thousands of other practitioners will be doing the exact same sequence at the exact same time for the same purpose…to remember the man who has given so much to humanity.

A restorative sequence for a tough week

niece in triangmukhaikapadapaschimottanasana

It has been a rough week for the Iyengar community for obvious reasons. To pick up with Guruji’s quote “My ending should be your beginning” I will continue to publish teachings on my blog to further yoga. Here is a restorative sequence for beginning students at the request of my friend Sudhanshu in Kolkata.

gomukhasana arms

Gomukhasana arms to open chest and shoulders

Chair downdog

Chair Adho Mukha Svanasna to address hamstring stiffness and further open the chest.

U T in chair

Chair Trikonasana to charge legs and further open chest

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 1.19.16 PM

Prasarita Padottanasana stage I with blocks to get more concavity from upper back.

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 4.06.47 PM

Vrksasana for lift in the side chest and abdomen and to hone concentration

dandasana

Dandasana maintaining lift in side chest

prop virasana

Virasana with lift in side chest

upavistha konasna

Upavistha Konasana to recirculate knees and lift chest

supta baddha konasana

Supta Baddha Konasasna with bolster. If you don’t have a bolster use this setup of blankets.

pranayama blankets

setu bandha

Setu bandha on blocks with feet same level as hips

viparita karani

Viparita Karani (omit if menstruating and do Savasana instead)

If you don’t have bolster you can do Urdvha Prasarita Padasana against wall

legs up wall

Savasana

savasana

Note there is no time for each pose. Hold as long as you are getting benefit from them, but don’t overstay your welcome if you become agitated. You can even repeat poses until you feel you have gained the benefit from them as well.

Enjoy your practice and blessings to you all!

(Photo above is my niece in supported Triangmukaipada Paschimottanasana with Disney chair).

 

 

A backbending sequence for beginning students

adho mukha svan with real dog

This week’s clan of poses at our studio are Purva Pratana Sthiti (backward extensions) commonly referred to as “backbends.” Where foward bends “cool” the nervous system, backbends “heat” or energize the nervous system. Here is my lesson plan for tomorrow’s Basic I class designed for people new to yoga or who want to rework the fundamentals.

Tadasana/Urdvha Hastasna (Mountain pose with upward facing hands)

urdvha hastasana

Utkatasana (Fierce Pose)

utkatasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana at wall (Downward facing dog pose)

penn studio

Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I pose)

vira I

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four limbed staff pose)

chaturanga

Bujangasana I (Cobra I pose) notice how arms are straight

bhunjagasana

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward facing dog pose)

urdvha mukha svanasana

Salabhasana I (Locust I pose)

salabhasana

Ustrasana (Camel pose)

ustrasana

Chatuse Padasana (Four Footed Pose) note use of the strap to learn arm rolling out action

Chatuse padasana 9

Adho Mukha Svanasana arms and legs mat width to neutralize spinal muscles

wide ams

Savasana

savasana

This sequence gradually contracts the back muscles which are released with the wide Adho Mukha Svanasna, so please don’t omit this pose from the sequence.  It is ill advised to do a deep forward bend immediately after a backbend. Why? Think of the spine as a wire hanger. If you bend a wire hanger back and forth it will break. Whereas if you bend it in the same direction, it gets stronger. If the back is tender after this sequence elevate legs on a chair or up the wall.

Have a wonderful practice!

A simple forward bending sequence for experienced students

paschimotonasna with kofi

Some readers have requested that I give more sequences in my posts. Here is my lesson plan for tomorrow’s class. It is forward bending pose (Paschima Pratana Sthiti) week at my studio. Forward bends are nice to “cool” the nervous system during these hot summer days in the Northern Hemisphere. I provided links with some of the poses for instructions.

Tadasana with Gomukhasana Arms

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 10.13.19 PM

Adho Mukha Svanasana at wall

penn studio

Utthita Trikonasna

iyengar triangle

Utthita Parsvakonasana

Screen Shot 2014-01-31 at 10.34.44 PM

Parsvottanasana

parsvottanasana (2)

Prasarita Padottanasana

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 1.28.13 PM

 

Salamba Sirsasana (Use wall if new to pose. Don’t do if menstruating, have glaucoma or high blood pressure. Omit and go to next pose.)

Salamba-Sirsasana-I-BKS

Baddha Konasana

baddha konasana

Janu Sirsasana

janu sirsasana

Paschimottonasana

paschimottonasana

Halasana (Don’t do if menstruating, go to savasana instead omitting next two poses).

SS halasana

Salamba Sarvangasana (see above note).

10-Salamba-Sarvangasana

Savasana

savasana

If you do this at home it could take you between 1 to 1.5 hours depending on how long you hold and repeat the poses. If you have time constraints, please do not sacrifice savasana. For my classes I will repeat the standing poses a few times and teach to points I see my students need to work on. Inversions should only be done once for beginners, particularly Salamba Sirsasana. I started with Gomukhasana arms to get the chest opened and prepped for the stage I concave back position in the above forward bends and for the shoulder work in Salmaba Sirsasana. Have a wonderful practice!

Aeroplane Yoga!

aero 1

Flying is taxing on the whole being. Between jet lag, bad airplane food, getting your immune system assaulted by travelers from all over the world who are sick, and bad posture from narrow airplane seats, you run many risks of getting ill.

During a weekend trip to San Francisco, I had my wife take a few pictures of me doing some asanas that are possible on a long plane ride. These postures combat some of the ills of sitting for five hours.

aero 6

This is Gulphasana (a variation of Uttanasana where you put your hands around your Gulpha, or the Marma point around your ankles). I like this variation because it gives the spine more traction and the ankles give you leverage to pull against. If you are stiffer, you can simply hold the elbows in Uttanasana. You can do this pose by in the area for the loo queue.

aero 4

Lolasana (Earing Pose). This pose does many things whilst traveling. If you think about your internal organs of digestion, they are sitting heavy for many hours on the plane. This arm balance, which is easy with the chair configuration extends the internal organs and gives them a “rest” from being sedentary. It also stretches the arms and gets the heart rate going. You cannot see, but the calves are crossed at the shins to form an”X”. Also note this is not the final stage of the pose where you bring your knees to the chest. Again, this stage is presented just to give the internal organs a nice stretch.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 7.51.09 AM

Simhasana I variation (Lion pose). From Lolasana, bring all the weight on to your calves that are still in the shape of an “X.” One of the great dangers of flying is deep vein thrombosis, where you can get a blood clot in your legs from a combination of sedentariness and change in pressure from altitude. By sitting on your calves, you squeeze the lymph nodes and promote circulation. The spine also gets a nice reprieve by naturally stacking up straight when sitting on the calves. One warning is that this pose can be very painful if you have stiff calf muscles. My mentoring teacher would often tell me that  the stiff calf muscles go hand and hand with poor digestion. As flying can make one constipated, this pose may give you aid in moving things along. Don’t do this if you have knee problems. The classic posture is with the tongue sticking and the eyes looking up toward the tip of the nose. Because of stricter air policies, I would use caution as it may be draw unwanted attention from the air marshall.

Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 8.23.30 AM

Supta Vajrasana (reclined lightning bolt pose). This is a variation of Supta Virasana where I sit on my heels and recline the chair back. This provides tremendous relief for the spine and digestive system. It provides an assertive stretch on the front thigh muscles (quadriceps). I would try to build time up to five minutes in this pose. Be careful on getting out of the posture and use the lolasana technique of lifting yourself with your arms and extend one leg out at a time to avoid injuring the knees. If you have knee problems omit this pose.

viparita karani

When you get to your destination, I would recommend that you do inversions to offset the invitation of deep vein thrombosis. Viparita Karani as seen above is always nice to restore yourself.

legs up wall

Simple legs up the wall (Urdvha Prasarita Padasana) would work too if you don’t have props handy. If are menstruating or cannot do inversions, Supta Baddha Bonasana will also provide some benefits for digestion and restoration.

supta baddha konasana

Some airports now feature yoga rooms where you can do these poses during your layover. If your airport does not provide them you can just find an empty gate area and find a wall. Bon Voyage!