Tag Archives: parsvottanasana

Blakeney notes 2018

I’ve been fortunate enough to clear my busy schedule to attend a few classes with Laurie Blakeney who is in Hawai’i. Blakeney is now the IYNAUS assessment chair, and I have been attending her annual workshops for the past few years. What I appreciate about her teachings is she gives simple instructions which produce a maximum amount of effects.

Case in point, on the first day we worked on the concept of keeping both panels of the chest even. The reason why I chose the I-Beam graphic  is because that is the image that she branded in my head when we went through a few simple poses. The lower part of the I-beam I imaged were my hips. The middle the spine. And the top part my shoulder blades.

Right of the bat she taught Bharadvajasana, a typically asymmetrical hip pose and had us study the evenness in the torso even though there is an obvious distortion. The point seemed to be not to get the even torso, but to create an intense awareness of how easily it  gets distorted.

Wrist 5

It seemed like we did Bharadvajasana for 20 minutes. She said that it is best to lose track of which side you are on when doing twists, and just call it “20 minutes of twists.” As I have written before about Bharadvaja, a figure in the Mahabharata, his claim to fame was his ability to meditate and his scholarship. Very fitting title for this pose.

I like how Laurie will teaches about an hour of sitting poses before standing poses. By the time you get to them, you already feel the awareness of the points she is trying to make. She also taught wrists and the scooping in of the upper back. But for this lesson the “I-beam” hit home

In Utthita Hasta Padasana, the pose before Utthita Trikonasana, my hips were uneven and I found it very challenging to even them (probably based on bad habit). And in Parsvottasasna my hips were even more uneven.

utthita parsva hastasana

She gave a wonderful instruction in Parsovattanasana while our hand were on blocks: pull your hips back while extending forward with the chest. As she said this, I kept that I-beam image in my mind an felt great extension of the spine. By pulling the hips back, a lot of other things pulled back too that she did not have to mention. Mainly, the side panels of the chest stayed even like Tadasana.

More to come…



On the art of straightening the leg in Iyengar yoga


It is said much recently that a hallmark of Iyengar Yoga is its refinement on inversions. After years of practice, I will have to say another hallmark of Iyengar Yoga is the quality of the straight legs in Iyengar practitioners.

Straight legs are not something that happens overnight. Very much like that tear jerking scene in Forrest Gump when the young Forrest is bound by a confining leg brace, and then chased by bad kids, he finds his “real” legs and off he goes into an almost superhuman ability to run fast.

The same struggle, then liberation can be said of the years of practice it takes to truly straighten the legs in Iyengar Yoga. How many of you who have been to a bona fide Iyengar class for the first time heard “straighten your leg!” only to look down to your version of straight legs and wonder if the teacher is talking to someone else? That was my first 10 years of practice (with occasional relapses if I let my strong tamasic nature take over).

Let me show you a comparison of  “straight legs”  vs. “Iyengar straight legs” in a Padangusthasana (big toe pose), a forward bend.

uttanasana bent

This woman is flexible enough to touch her toes. But look at the angle behind the knee joint. It may appear to the untrained eye that her legs are straight, but her legs are not a straight as they can be.

pandangusthasana iyengar

This may not be a fair comparison, but look at Guruji’s pose during his prime. Very little angle behind the knee and the front of his legs are “poker straight” as he often described them.

So how does the aspirant get the legs of Iyengar? In addition to daily uninterrupted practice, there are ways in which you can start to address the tamasic nature of the strong and lazy legs.

For my basic students, I often have them do Pasrvottanasana (intense stretch of the side body pose) with one heel against the wall and with a chair.

parsvottanasna with chair


If there is a mantra in Iyengar Yoga, it would be that “contact is intelligence.” The contact with the back heel pressing hard on the wall cultures the leg to work properly as a “straight’ leg. Many are shocked at how difficult it is do this even though they are lithe and flexible.

Another exercise to straighten the leg is Supta Padangusthasana I with belt around the big toe mound.

sp mere mortal


Now the leg is in the air and doesn’t have the earth to press down on. The belt acts as a gauge to which degree you can press against. I like to use the metaphor of using a gas pedal where you slowly accelerate like you are trying to maintain a constant but slow speed like you are driving in a school zone. By pressing the big toe mound into the strap, one notices the effect on the knee and how the more your press, the more the kneecap recedes into the socket. Don’t completely plantar flex the foot like a ballerina. You have to temper that by extending up from the back of the ankle toward the ceiling. The proper foot in an inversion is partially dorsi flexed and partially plantar flexed.

Straight legs are a necessary element for inversions. Without the firmness in the legs the weight sinks on the the neck and head in Salamba Sirsasana. Notice the quality of the legs in Guruji’s Salamba Sirsasana and notice the corresponding lift in his shoulders.

sirsasana iyengar


The contraindication for this exercise is for those who hyperextend their knees. The instruction would be for those practitioners to learn where they are pushing too hard in the back of their knee and decrease the effort to preserve the joint over years of practice. For more on that, see this blog post.

To come full circle, inversions are an a hallmark of Iyengar Yoga. But you cannot have proper inversions until you have straight legs. Now “straighten your legs!!!”

Origami, patience, and Parsvottanasana

ImageParsvottanasana, or Intense Stretch of the Side Body Pose, reminds me of the Japanese paper crane tradition. It is said that a bride before her marriage has to fold 1,000 origami paper cranes to cultivate the patience needed for a long marriage.

parsvottanasana (2)

Parsvottanasana, a pose with many intricate folds like a paper crane, takes patience to learn properly. You may have to do the pose 1,000 times before gaining proficiency.

The classic pose is taught with Paschima Namaskar (Gestured hands on the “west” or back side of the body). These look like prayer hands on your back. I will teach that first.

First, stand in Tadasana


Then take the hands behind the back with the fingers pointed downwards.

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Rotate the wrists until the fingers are pointed up the back.

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Then move the hands side to side, like Salmon swimming against a strong current until the back of the hand are on the shoulder blades.

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Then, like a book, close the shoulder blades to fold the hands together and open the chest. Screen Shot 2014-02-05 at 2.38.21 PM


This is Paschima Namaskar.

paschima namaskar

If the wrists cannot be at the same level as the elbows due to tight shoulders, do Paschima Baddha Hastasana (Bound Hands on the West side of the body pose). Otherwise there will be too much load on the elbows.

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From here, jump the feet 3 to 3.5 feet apart (1 meter). Note this is a shorter stance than the previous standing poses.

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Lift the toes of the left foot and pivot sharply to the right.

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Then rotate your whole right leg to the side. Make sure the right heel is in line with the arch.

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Pressing firmly from the heel of the left foot, rotate the left hip so it is even with the right Then rotate your torso until the sternum bone is on the same plane as your right thigh.

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From here, press the hand into the back and lift from the sternum toward the chin, and the chin toward the ceiling. This stage creates tremendous lymphatic drainage in the neck.

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From here press firmly back with the left heel and extend the torso halfway down concaving the back.

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Keeping the sternum in line with the right leg, track your abdomen, chest, and chin down the right leg. This is the final stage of the pose. Beginners touch and go, more experienced students hold for 30 seconds.

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To come out of the pose, press the weight firmly in the back heel, press the hands into the back and come up with a concave spine.

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Rotate the feet facing forward.

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Jump the feet back together and release the hands. Be in Tadasana. Repeat the other side.


999 more to go….