by Holly Walck Kostura, devoted Iyengar yoga student and teacher
photos by T. Maxová, shot on the lush grounds of a private retreat located on the French Riviera and owned by a family of Karma yogis
How is yoga like apples? The answer is simple: From one small seed grows a multitude of fruit. Apple trees grow from a single seed into a sapling that, one day, forms a tree with many branches filled with delightful fruit.
In his book, Light on Life: The Yogic Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom, Yogacharya Iyengar describes how what appears on the surface to be a physical practice is actually the attainment of spiritual liberation. Yes, any style of hatha yoga, which involves the practice of postures, will benefit the body, but this is not the goal of yoga. The goal of yoga is enlightenment, and that is accomplished by reducing the suffering caused by thinking that we are only the body and mind.
Iyengar writes, “All healthy plants and trees yield abundant flowers and fruits. Similarly, from a healthy person, smiles and happiness shine forth like the rays of the sun.”
Doesn’t this sound delicious? (Sorry, but I just couldn’t resist the apple pun.)
Foundational postures teach us primary actions that are practiced over and over again, one pose after another, in postures of increasing difficulty. The following sequence plants the seed for a journey that links the primary actions learned early on in Tree Pose, or “Vrksasana,” to the more advanced families of poses (inversions, variations, and balancing postures). Alternatives for those who are practicing at a beginner level are offered at the end of the sequence.
An Apple a Day: A Yoga Sequence for Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Health
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
- Balance the weight of the body over the soles of the feet.
- Press down firmly into the feet and stretch the spine up in the opposite direction while extending the arms, from the shoulders to the fingertips, down towards the floor.
If you practice the following two poses, do them now, as preparations for Tree Pose: Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
and Warrior II Pose (Virabhadrasana II).
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
- Stand in Mountain Pose. Turn your right leg out, bend your knee and raise your thigh up until you can reach your ankle. Lift your foot as high as you can and then place the sole of your right foot against your inner left thigh.
- Press your right foot into your inner left thigh while pressing your outer left thigh into your right foot.
- Keep both sides of your pelvis facing directly forward, as if you were in Tadasana.
- Take your arms out to the sides, then up overhead, and join your palms together in a gesture of salutation to the sun.
- Take support: Use a wall by placing the bent knee on the wall, reaching from that same side of the pubic bone all the way to the knee.
Hand-to-Big Toe Pose II (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana II)
- From Tree Pose, take hold of your right big toe and, while maintaining the alignment of your inner upper thigh to your inner knee, extend your knee and bring your inner heel in line with your inner upper thigh. Extend your other arm out to the side.
- Note: Your pelvis may twist toward your extended leg to find the alignment described above. If this happens, try pressing the inner edge of your standing foot down and lifting that same hip upward and pulling it backward. Press your raised foot against the wall to bring your inner groin forward).
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana II)
- Lie down in Supta Tadasana. Bend your right knee into your chest and hold your right big toe.
- Extend your right knee on an exhalation and stretch up completely from your lower leg, from your inner calf to your inner heel.
- Move your left arm out so that it is in line with your left shoulder. Inhale and press the left side of your body firmly down into the floor as you use your right arm to pull your right leg out to the side and down towards the floor.
- Keep both sides of your pelvis and torso balanced and your head in the center.
- Take support; try placing a blanket under your outer upper thigh or under the buttock of the leg that is being taken out the side. Each blanket position has a different effect on the body. Have an adventure—find out what those effects are by exploring these variations.
Sideways One-Legged Headstand (Parsvaikapada Sirsasana)
- Note: Before attempting this pose, students should be practicing Headstand (Sirsasana) with timings and have built up to holding it for 5 minutes.
- From Sirsasana, turn your right leg out while keeping your hips facing forward. Stretch up from your right shoulder to your right buttock bone as you bring your right leg out to the side and down toward the floor.
- Keeping your left leg in Sirsasana, reach up from your left inner calf to your left inner heel by pressing your outer shin in toward the median line.
- The top of your right leg, from your thigh to your toe tips, should be facing the floor, and both legs should be absolutely straight.
- Take support: You can place your knuckles a few inches away from the wall and your heels on the wall or just off the wall if you need to (psychically) feel the wall behind you. However, don’t let your buttocks rest on the wall!
Now, notice the physics of the following two poses and compare them to ones that came earlier in the sequence. How are they the same? How are they different? What is the overall feeling that the pose has on your body, mind, and heart?
The Infinite Pose (Anantasana)
Sage Vasistha Pose (Vasisthasana)
If any of these poses are not part of your practice, try these poses instead.
Seated Angle Pose (Upavistha Konasana)
Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Perfected Being Pose (Siddhasana)
This sequence would end well with cooling poses such as Shoulderstand, Plough Pose, Legs–up-the-Wall and/or Bridge Pose. And please, always take time for a long Corpse Pose (Savasana) at the end of your practice so that the benefits of the poses have time to spread throughout all layers of your embodiment—”from the body to the mind, from the mind to the consciousness, from the consciousness to the intelligence, from the intelligence to the Soul,” wrote Yogacharya Iyengar.
Holly Walck Kostura uses the healing practices of Ayurveda and Iyengar Yoga to secure her to the core of her being. Her bachelor’s degree in nursing combined with her certification in Iyengar Yoga give her the ability to approach her students from a place of wholeness and infuse her yoga classes with a unique flavor. Find her online at yogawithholly.com.