I was once asked which, out of all the Iyengar Yoga Asanas could I name as my favourite. Without hesitation I replied Savasana.
Literally translated as Corpse Pose, Savasana usually comes at the end of physical Asana practice and brings the opportunity to release, relax and surrender.
However, letting go is possibly the most difficult task in our practice. Just when we think we’ve reached the limit of what we can do, we are asked to let go of our thoughts and surrender our bodies to the floor.
As a teacher, when the time comes for students to come into Savasana I can tell that some of them feel a sense of relief; “thank goodness it’s time to lie down and relax” but for others I can see a sense of restlessness, a gravitation towards the door, a sudden need to leave as something urgent has cropped up.
This is precisely why these students need time for Savasana at the end of a demanding physical practice.
Learning to relax and let go is a skill in itself for the practice of Iyengar Yoga.
So I could now become very philosophical and intellectual and discuss rebirth, inner peace and the bliss of finding ones true self. Realistically these maybe very lofty and seemingly unattainable aspirations, when all we want to think about when lying down in Savasana is either going to sleep or what we need to pick up at the supermarket on the way home.
Whatever thoughts you now have about Savasana as one of the key Yoga Asanas and how it fits into your Yoga practice, just take a quick look at some of the benefits that students have discovered when taking the time to perform this Yoga pose with integrity and intelligence:
- Savasana wards off mental fatigue and makes the “Citta” (mind, intelligence and ego) calm and quiet
- Steady smooth breathing in the pose allows energy to flow into the body, invigorating it and reducing stress
- It reduces physical fatigue and soothes the nervous system
- It can help treat high blood pressure and relieve migraine or stress related headaches
- Savasana can assist in alleviating the symptoms of respiratory diseases and ease breathing, especially if the thoracic spine is supported to help open the chest
- It speeds up recuperation after illness
- Finally it can help towards a good night’s sleep
Think of Savasana as precious time to devote to you, your body and your breath. Think of it as a way to be present in the here and now without the distractions of the outside world.
Next time you practice Iyengar Yoga, make your Savasana a new experience. It has many benefits, physical and mental, you just have to let go enough to let them in.
Most people have heard about Yoga and have a perception of what it is…
…but what is Iyengar Yoga?
Iyengar Yoga was created by B.K.S. Iyengar and evolved from his interest in the teachings of Patanjali and his particular yoga poses. It is based on what is called the “Eight limbs of Yoga”.
What makes it specifically different from all other styles of Yoga is it’s focus on precision. Iyengar Yoga emphasizes concentration, strength, stamina, balance, flexibility and meditation. Standing poses, referred to as Asanas are one of the key focus areas for this type of Yoga.
The other key differentiation comes through the use of equipment, referred to as Props. Props include belts, blocks, bricks, blankets and chairs. In a good Iyengar Yoga studio you will also learn about the use of ropes. Ropes are fixed to the wall and are used to support specific Asanas. Granted it can look a bit weird if you’re not used to it, but you can create some exceptional postures that would otherwise be impossible. This is why this style of yoga is beneficial for all, including the older or stiffer student.
This overall focus on precision demands that…
… Iyengar Yoga teachers are highly trained.
Iyengar Yoga teachers have to complete a stringent training programme that covers many years. Even before an Iyengar Yoga teacher can begin teacher training, they have to be practicing Iyengar Yoga with an approved Iyengar Yoga teacher for a minimum of 3 years.
To reach just the first level of Iyengar teacher qualification, you have to study for 2 years. The foundation level includes teaching in anatomy, yoga philosophy, class planning, pranyama and first aid.
It’s this intensive training that enables Iyengar Yoga teachers to provide so much value to their students and also protects the Iyengar method.
An Iyengar Yoga teacher will actively focus their students attention on the correctness of their posture, helping them correct errors in their posture to achieve optimum alignment. This perfection in posture ensures the participant achieves the maximum health benefits that comes from the practice of Yoga.
Many studies and research provide lots of proof that support the fact that participating in yoga can result in a stronger mind and body. This is why Iyengar Yoga teachers believe that if you are going to practice yoga to achieve these benefits, then…
…practice Iyengar Yoga to achieve the optimum benefits that come through it’s attention to detail.
Additional studies also show that Iyengar yoga is especially successful for the treatment of injuries, mental depression and many other ailments. Many sports people also practice Iyengar yoga to improve flexibility and stamina to assist their core sport.
Hopefully I’ve given you some reasons that will help you understand why Iyengar Yoga. Yes I might be prejudiced as an Iyengar Yoga teacher, but these are some of the reasons I chose this style of Yoga.
But don’t think that this the only style of yoga I’ve studied. I also have experience under the British Wheel of yoga. This qualification took 9 months to achieve and I have been practicing Yoga for over 15 years, so I do come from a place of experience. Whichever style of yoga you choose, the key is to practice, practice and then do more practice. Only then can you truly feel the benefits that yoga has to offer.
Iyengar Teachers love the Shoulder Stand.
The Shoulder Stand is a key posture in the practice of all forms of yoga, including Iyengar Yoga. It opens the chest, it encourages our breath to flow freely, it calms the mind and creates energy.
Done properly with the correct alignment in the pose, it can be almost effortless. However, some basic errors often cause many to not actually even perform a Shoulder Stand and put themselves at risk of injury.
The key is to ensure the armpits are opened sufficiently to enable you to get on top of the shoulders.
In this Iyengar Yoga Posture review, I’m going to give you a list of exercises you can do to that will stretch the armpits and chest regions, encouraging you to rotate the upper arm and allow much better movement in the shoulder.
I’m not going to go into the actual performance of the following Asanas as these are all well described in many Yoga Books which can be found in my Yoga Store. What I want to do, is simply provide a tip or two for each posture to help you get the most from your practice.
I will also be adding videos to this site in due course and releasing lots of free content to help you with your Iyengar Yoga practice. So for now, I hope you recognise the posture and perform them as a means of improving your Sarvangasna.
Iyengar Yoga Routine…
This is a classic pose of opening the shoulders, keep your frontal ribs back to prevent straining the lumbar, and use a belt if you find it difficult to clasp the hands. Roll the top arm shoulder in towards your head and the bottom arm shoulder from the inside out.
Although usually performed standing up, I’m happy for you to sit in Virasana as I want your focus to be on your shoulders, not your legs and balance.
My key tip here is to keep your elbows at shoulder height and move your forearms away from your face.
3. Adho Mukha Savanasana
The effort of pushing through the shoulders in this classic pose is incredibly valuable for preparing for the Shoulder Stand. My tip here is to rotate the inner upper arms towards the ceiling which broadens the collarbones and lift strongly through the arms into the shoulders.
Use a blanket or foam blocks under the shoulders to help with lift and roll the arms from the inside out, clasp the hands together to enable even more rotation – this will also help to get more onto the tops of your shoulders and move your shoulderblades in.
In all these poses focus on lifting your sternum to the ceiling and moving your dorsal spine into the back chest.
Then when you’re finished, lie in Savasana and this time focus on shoulder rotation to again open the chest and shoulder blades.
The performance of these key Iyengar Yoga Poses on a regular basis will definitely improve your ability to perform a better Sarvangasna.
Please leave a comment, share your experiences with this posture or submit any questions you have and I’ll be glad to help improve your Iyengar Yoga practice.
This is not a post about children doing Iyengar Yoga…
…it’s about how a child’s approach to life can be compared to Iyengar Yoga.
I recently did a post about how Yoga, for me, is a way of complete escapism from the challenges of life and therefore a great mental tonic. I described how important this is for our inner calmness and ultimately our health. (Here’s a link to the post if you haven’t read it yet).
Well, it’s the Summer break and as usual I find myself trying to keep calm while I have two young children testing my patience at every opportunity. But what I found is that when I take some time out to sit and play with the kids, I discover like practicing Iyengar, it’s a great way to just switch off from the World.
“Playing” seems to be great way to achieve a state of innocence and possibility.
Weren’t they great days when we look back?
When we didn’t have a care in the World. When everything we looked at or did was positive. When nothing could stop us and happiness was part of our make up.
When kids fail they just do it again. When they want, they ask and keep asking, never feeling any sense of rejection.
So how does the relate to Iyengar Yoga?
Well, in Iyengar Yoga, we relate to a state called “Anando Hum”, otherwise known as “I am Bliss”.
A state that provides a connection with our inner self and the greater whole; or the Cosmos as sometimes as it is referred to.
And this is the state kids seem to achieve when they play.
They become oblivious to the World around them, them become consumed by their play and experience a sense of pure enjoyment.
This is the state You can Achieve when practicing Iyengar Yoga.
By focusing on your practice and the technicalities of each Asana, you become totally consumed by what you’re doing. You escape dthe stresses of the World around you and experience a sense of “Bliss”. I like to think of it as being totally immersed or in other words, being in the moment.
This is one of the main reasons I chose Iyengar Yoga as my style of practice, because the precision and inward focus, provides the exact same level of connection with “Life” that I felt today playing with my children.
Take some time to reflect today and instead of thinking about the past or the future connect with your inner child and focus on just the here and now.
Iyengar Yoga Makes you Smart!
Dreaded mental diseases like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia thankfully won’t effect the most of us. However certain parts of our brains do shrink as we age and therefore certain mental functions do diminish.
Can Iyengar Yoga help?
For years Yoga has been associated with meditation and the focus of mental energy into our lives. Meditation can create an energy that can contribute to a wonderful increase in your mental capacity.
Often considered a brain tonic, meditation has been prescribed by Ayurevedic healers as a means to focus and sharpen memory and concentration.
Meditation, often referred to as “Pranyama” in Yoga provides the right conditions to focus our energy on positive thoughts. Negative thoughts are not only bad for how we feel, but are also bad for our brain. Feelings like hate, anger and resentment etc, create stress which produces Cortisol, a hormone released by our Adrenal system.
Over time, excessive levels of cortisol have been proven to shrink the parts of the brain associated with memory and emotions.
Iyengar Yoga Pranyamas…
…can help focus our energies away from negative feelings and help us relax, become calm and therefore reduce our stress levels and the negative effects mentioned above.
A recent study analysed 52 yoga studios for an article in the Complementary Health Practice Review and showed that the practice of meditation showed an increase in brain activity; activity associated with concentration and attention. Focus was improved, recall became better and the practitioners of meditation said they had a much greater sense of well being.
In addition to the practice of meditation as part of Iyengar Yoga, the practice of all Asanas during a class provide a great way to just “Switch Off”. This mental separation from everything else happening that day is another contributing factor the reduction of stress and the production of harmful Cortisol.
Personally, I find that when I practice Iyengar Yoga I can’t focus on anything else. The stresses of the day, the kids, shopping, preparing dinners and all the other day to day activities are completely forgotten about. Depending on the focus of the class in can be a great way to unwind and relax or a way to re energise and rejuvinate the body and mind.
Iyengar yoga in particular, and one of the main reasons I chose to become a qualified teacher in this particular style, demands a high degree of precision, control and focused effort. The endorphin release that comes with this intensity of workout is another contributing factor to your sense of well being and therefore has a positive effect on our ability to concentrate and improve our brain power.
And let’s face it…
… just to remembering the Sanskrit names of all the postures in Iyengar Yoga demands you have a fit brain and an active memory!!
Practicing Iyengar Yoga safely is a key priority for me as a qualified Iyengar Yoga Teacher.
When looking for a yoga class there are many things to consider which I will detail in further posts but making sure you practice safely has to be number one on your list. It should also be number one on your teachers’s list!
The responsibility runs both ways so make sure you tell your teacher of any health issues which you feel may affect your ability to practice safely. If you don’t want to do this in public any professional teacher will have no problem taking a few minutes before class to discuss any concerns you may have – remember it is as much in their interest as yours. If you don’t get the response you expect then my advice would be to take another class. Trust your instincts as you need to have confidence in your teacher.
Some gyms run Iyengar yoga classes as part of their general timetable…
…but don’t be afraid to challenge if the correct equipment is not provided. For example there are gyms they have fitness mats for Aerobics classes but these are not necessarily appropriate for safe Iyengar yoga practice. Some mats are too short, not providing enough length to practice certain Asanas (yoga positions) properly. Also these mats can sometimes be very slippy so jumping becomes unsafe and the ability of the feet and hands to grip is compromised. This is quite obviously dangerous but I have come across this situation several times.
So to be sure, if you are a regular student, I would recommend that you bring your own yoga mat to class. You also have the reassurance that it will be clean and you have the added bonus of being able to do some practice at home.
A good yoga mat should be 1.8 meters or 6 feet long. You can get longer if you are particularly tall, but his length should be sufficient. You don’t have to spend a fortune either, just make sure you choose a mat specifically designed for yoga and you won’t go far wrong. Colours, thickness of mat, brand names, eco credentials and latex free materials maybe secondary considerations to think about.
If you’re unsure about any of the equipment provided at your gym for your Iyengar Yoga practice…
…simply ask your teacher, and if you see them lugging a huge bag of equipment into the studio, please help them out. It will be greatly appreciated!
Feel free to comment on this post about any questions you have about equipment or experiences you’ve encountered.
Iyengar Yoga focuses highly on precision and therefore uses a lot of props and equipment, so make sure