by guest blogger Holly Walck, devoted Iyengar yoga student and teacher
“The truth is you turned away yourself,
and decided to go into the dark alone.
Now you are tangled up in others,
and have forgotten what you once knew,
and that’s why everything you do has some weird failure in it.”
The first time I read these words by Kabir, the mystic poet of India, I knew deep inside myself that the turbulent time I was experiencing in my life was not real.
I mean, it was happening: My husband and I had moved more than 2,000 miles away from our families, to a new home and two new jobs that took us away from each other a lot of the time. One thing after another was (seemingly) going wrong, and my husband was muttering repeatedly what he often says during times of strife, “Why couldn’t we have just left well enough alone?”
However, none of the uncontrollable events that were occurring (at the top of a very long list, the driveway gate getting stuck shut the day the moving van was to arrive…eeeks!) was the truth. What was true and real was the place of absolute peace and tranquility that my teacher, BKS Iyengar calls “the core of the Being.” That poem awakened within me what I had known all along: that the only real thing I could count on in life is always with me, never fails me, and will go on long after I am gone from this beautiful world.
What follows is a sequence designed to bring you into what T.S. Eliot calls “the still point of the turning world,” the state of yoga. The seated poses loosen tense hips and bring a sense of connection to the stability offered by the Earth, while the forward extensions quiet, soothe, and heal frayed nerves.
Here is a Vinyasa for promoting patience:
Focus on lengthening the sides of your trunk and the front surface of your spine and stretching both of your legs to their maximum as you move through these poses.
Seated Angle Pose (Upavistha Konasana)
Upright Stage: Sit with the back of your legs on the floor. See that your buttock flesh is not caught underneath you by moving the backs of your upper thighs and the bottom of your buttocks away from one another and pulling the inner buttocks back toward the wall behind you. Maintain that alignment and separate your legs, taking them wide apart. See that you are extending your legs fully and pressing the entire median line of the back of each leg down onto the floor evenly.
Self-Study: Bring your legs a bit closer together if you feel any pain in your hips.
Concave Stage: With an inhalation, press your hands down into the floor while lifting up from the bottom of your spine up through the crown of your head. Exhale, maintain the full elongation of the front of your spine, and extend forward to hold your big toes. Roll your shoulders back and press them down toward the floor and release your buttocks down with them. Keep the sides of the trunk long, as you did during the Vinyasa.
Press the backs of your legs and knees down and lift from your chest to come back to the Upright Stage. Now join your legs back together.
Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
Upright Stage: From above, relax the top of your right thigh and turn it out entirely. Bend your knee and bring the outer edge of your right foot onto the floor, with the sole of your right foot facing your left thigh. Repeat with your left leg, and join the sole of your left foot to that of your right foot. Press both inner heels and the balls of the big toes into each other and extend from the sides of the pubic bone all the way to the inner knees. Release the outer thighs, knees, and shins down toward the floor.
Concave Stage: Inhale, move the back ribs into the body to lift and open the chest. Exhale and extend forward, releasing the outer buttocks down toward the floor while lifting the spine from the bottom to the top. Don’t let the inner thighs recede as you extend forward; keep them moving toward the knees.
Self-Study: Use a chair for support if your thighs lift or your spine rounds forward instead of extending.
Press the backs of your outer legs down and lift from your chest to come back to the Upright Stage. Now straighten your legs, place the backs of your legs onto the floor, and join your legs together.
Head-to-the-Knee Pose (Janu Sirsasana)
Upright Stage: Bend your right leg back as in Bound Angle Pose, but a little wider, with the heel of your right foot touching your inner upper thigh and the top of your shin, ankle, and foot on the floor. Keep the back of your left leg stretched entirely down to the floor. See that your buttock flesh is not caught underneath you by moving the backs of your upper thighs and the bottom of your buttocks away from one another and pulling the inner buttocks back toward the wall behind you.
Concave Stage: With an inhalation, press your hands down into the floor while lifting up from the bottom of your spine up through the crown of your head. Exhale, maintain the full elongation of the front of your spine and extend forward to hold the sides of your left foot (use a belt if you aren’t able to reach your foot without losing the length on the front of your spine). Roll your shoulders back and press them down toward the floor and release your buttocks down with them. Release your inner right leg toward the inner knee and press the outer leg down, as you did in Bound Angle Pose.
Self-Study: Use a chair the way you did in Bound Angle Pose if you are working on loosening the restriction in your hamstrings and can’t extend forward without collapsing the front of your spine.
Forward Extension: On your next exhalation, pull with your hands on your foot and raise your elbows up toward the ceiling to draw the sides of your trunk forward toward your foot and lower the front of your body down to rest on your left leg. Support your head with a blanket on your shin if your trunk is close to your leg, or use a chair (see picture).
Inhale, come back through the Concave Stage and then press your legs down and lift your chest up to come all the way into the Upright Stage. Stretch your right leg back out in line with your left leg, and then repeat on the left side.
Perfect Being Pose (Siddhasana)
Sit with your legs stretched out in front of you, then take your right leg and bend it as you did in Head-to-Knee Pose. Now do the same with your left leg, bringing your left heel in line with your right heel.
Release the outer legs down to the floor and feel the firmness in the legs and lower spine. Lift up from the lower spine to the crown of the head and bring the wrists onto the knees, joining the thumbs and index fingers into the “symbol of clarity,” honoring the union between the individual self and the universal energy that connects us all.
To come out of the pose, stretch your legs back out. Then repeat to the other side, bringing the left leg in first this time and then the right leg.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Roll blankets up and pack them up against your outer hips so that you feel fully contained and supported. Place a bolster or pillows on top of your thighs, to weight them down towards the floor.
Focus on the soft sound of your inhalations and exhalations, letting your organs of action and your organs of perception become absorbed into the rhythmic flow of the breath, pulling you closer and closer to the well of peace, clarity, and joy within you.
Holly Walck is a devoted student and teacher of Iyengar Yoga. She teaches public classes at the BKS Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. Read more about Holly at www.iyengaryogamalibu.com.
note that in the concave stage of Baddha Konasana you can practice this pose with your hands on the floor in front of you and not just on the chair, as long as you can maintain the extension of your spine 🙂
I loved the idea of the towels during Savasana. I am going to try this tonight during practice. Feel free to stop by my website at http://beyogapure.com and say hi! Thanks again for the article!
I used to practice Hatha Yoga for 15yrs and also did Transcendental Meditation….I let it all go for other 15yrs and went on medication for anxiety. I am now slowly getting off milligrams from the meds and attempting to go off of them. I need advise as how to begin that life style I left behind. I am 62yrs old. Will I be able to achieve my goal?