Apart from various aspects of yoga sequencing, this site includes a number of online guides geared specifically to enhance and expand your knowledge and understanding of the subject of asana practice. We trust that you will find these tools beneficial. Namaste
This website is written as a means to assist in the self-practice of yoga asanas for all students of yoga.
It is meant to be used as a tool to inspire you to constantly improve and experience the evolution of your yoga sadhana (practice).
The information is recorded from our own practice, but is based on the inspiration of our teachers and yoga Masters, BKS Iyengar, Geeta and Prashant Iyengar (Pune, India).
The sequences compiled do not follow any pattern but are worked out according to a systematic study and experience of sequencing. Please note that the timings are based on our practice - you can adapt these sequences to suit your own needs. It should be said that rather than leave out parts of the sequence due to time restraints, it is suggested that you lessen the time held in the asana.
If you are unsure of the name an asana in the sequences, please write to me and I will gladly assist.
Most of the asanas are from the Introductory level and therefore suitable for all levels of students who have some experience of the postures.
The philosophy of this approach to sequencing is published in the "Basic guidelines for teachers of yoga" by BKS and Geeta Iyengar.
When considering the right sequencing of asanas, one has to first understand the capacity of students of yoga who lack awareness in the body and mind. Thus one starts by becoming aware of one's own body's movements, stability, capacity, coordination, flexibility, and firmness. Also, you will get to know your own muscular/skeletal, organic and neuromuscular body.
The practice of asana is introduced in such a way, that the student works with each part, region and various systems of the body.
One must also be aware of general concepts regarding a sequence of yoga poses; they include a sequence that should not irritate the nervous system, appropriate preparation for inversions and backward extension, and their order of learning. You should also know which asanas produce heat or coolness; stimulate or abate; energize; activate or relax; are simple or complex and are commonly practiced at the beginning or the end of the session.
These basic principles of learning have been taken into account, and it is taken as a given that the student using our sequences has some understanding of his/her own abilities and limitations. It is also understood that this is not meant to replace your attendance with your teacher, but merely to enhance and stimulate your self-practice.
If you have any questions about a pose, you can write to us firstname.lastname@example.org
"We hope that these sequences, based on our experience and ideas, will be of some value, and that its flaws will serve to stimulate others to do better."
Explore the Legacy
Yogacharya BKS Iyengar
14 December 1918 - 20 August 2014
It is my profound hope that my end can be your beginning. BKS Iyengar
Yogacharya (master teacher), BKS Iyengar was recognized as one of the worlds’ foremost exponents of yoga. He became known in the West through his classic text Light on Yoga, first published in 1966 and never out of print since then. Gradually, during the years following the book’s publication, the term “Iyengar Yoga” came into use. Mr. Iyengar has said: “My pupils, who follow me call it Iyengar Yoga to distinguish it from the teachings of others. Though I am rational, I am tradition bound and sentimental. What I do is pure, authentic, traditional yoga. The sutras I tech is purely Ashtanga Yoga knows as the eight limbs of Yoga, expounded by Patanjali in his 196 terse Sutras.” Yoga traditionally lays great emphasis on practice – sadhana. At the age of 93 (December 2011), BKS Iyengar has not in any sense “retired.” Each morning for two to three hours, he does his extraordinary personal practice, in the hall of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute (RIMYI), alongside his pupils, while most afternoons he can be found in the library, attending to correspondence, researching and writing. Through his own rigorous practice, careful study of the earliest available texts, and instructions to hundreds of thousands of students from all over the world, BKS Iyengar has reached back to the roots of yoga and brought forth a revitalization of this ancient knowledge. He has methodically practiced each yoga asana (posture), pinpointing its purpose and discovering how it works, so that each individual part of the body may function to its full potential. A demanding teacher, BKS Iyengar guides his students to practice asanas in different ways to understand not just how, but why and what happens when you do an asana. He stresses the importance of the proper sequencing of the asana practice, so the body is completely nourished and the mind quieted and focused. Yogacharya BKS Iyengar is renowned throughout the world for his knowledge of his therapeutic approach to yoga, and his innovative use of supports or “props” – ropes, pillows, bolsters, wooden blocks, sticks, benches, mats, and blankets. He has worked with Western doctors in the fields of heart and immune disease, spinal, orthopedic problems adapting and modifying classical postures so that the patients’ ailments and stiff bodies could be supported in asanas without strain or risk of further damage. Sporting teams, dancers, musicians, and many others have been helped in recovering from injury and illness while at the same time, increasing mobility and concentration. BKS Iyengar is acknowledged as having been instrumental in bringing yoga to the West, by showing that yoga is open to all, regardless of age, race, creed, social background or infirmity. His contribution to yoga from the very early years of his teaching has been acknowledged by many awards including in 2002, the highest civic award was given by the Government of India, the Padma Bhushan Award. In 2004 he was also named in Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the world. A philanthropist for many years, he recently established a trust to build facilities in his home village of Bellur, for young people to learn trades. Having taken yoga to the West, his dream now is to bring yoga to the villages of India. A prolific writer of books, essays, and discourses, his first book Light on Yoga, has been translated into 16 languages including Russian, Polish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Dutch, French, Italian, German, Korean and Ukrainian. He has also written – Light on Pranayama, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Light on Ashtanga Yoga and his latest Yogamala which contains collections of his writings and interviews.
Dr. Geeta S. Iyengar
1944 - 2018
Understanding the Principles behind “Iyengar Yoga”
by Prashant Iyengar
In the year 1998, Prashantji paid tribute to Guruji on the occasion of Guru Purnima, through a talk entitled as “Yoga: Or System” (Yoga Vaani No 69 June 2002). In his talk, he very clearly and precisely articulated as to “What is Iyengar Yoga.” And the unique features of the system (of Iyengar yoga) being precision and alignment, sequencing, timing and use of props. Today, be observes that many of the practitioners are being so obsessed with these features, that they are forgetting the principles behind them. In this article, we clarify the common misunderstanding of these features and an explanation behind the principles of Iyengar Yoga practice.
Yoga is symmetry – BSK Iyengar
Before Prashantji gave these talks on our system, we as Iyengar Yoga students would often fumble when asked ‘what is Iyengar Yoga?” It is yoga as practiced by Guruji Yogacharya BKS Iyengar. If we were asked to specify in what way it was different from ‘other’ styles of yoga, then we would be unclear in our responses. Many of us had never done ‘other’ forms of yoga and knew yoga as Iyengar yoga. Many of us had never bothered to study the yoga texts to be able to articulate what was so unique about Iyengar yoga and in what way it authenticated what was stated in the ancient texts. So, Prashantji felt it necessary that we clearly know what we are practicing or supposed to practice and so clearly articulates the unique features o “Iyengar Yoga.”
Today, five years later, if any Iyengar Yoga teacher is asked to express what is so unique about Iyengar Yoga then he would have difficulties in expressing that “Iyengar Yoga” is characterized by precision and alignment, sequencing, timing and the use of props.” Unfortunately, as Prashantji again clarifies, that we have become so obsessed with these “4 unique features”, that we have forgotten the principles behind them. By doing this we are only looking at Iyengar Yoga superficially and not at the real teachings of Guruji. The situation is analogous to many rituals, which are common in many civilizations. There was logic, rationale, a reason behind each of these rituals. The principle behind these ceremonies is lost over the years.
For example, it was very common to have elaborate rituals signifying important milestones in human life, such as birth, puberty, marriage, and death in most civilizations. These “rituals” are now often ridiculed, considered unscientific or superstitious and often looked down upon by so-called intellectuals. These elaborate rituals were basically a preparation for a major change. It would give individuals time to absorb and prepare themselves with the new phase entering their life so that the transition would be smoother. Imagine a death in the family. The interactions with friends and family during these rituals that follow give the near and dear ones time to accept and absorb the loss. Otherwise, the psychological trauma of death in the absence of any support system could lead to the collapse of the surviving individual.
Today, Prashantji notices that many “unique nesses” of Iyengar Yoga are turning into rituals and we are forgetting the principles behind these. If we do not go to the roots of these unique features of Iyengar Yoga then what is today considered the “strength” of Iyengar Yoga would lead o our own downfall and also ridicule of our system. And, this would only happen because we are interpreting Iyengar Yoga from our superficial understanding and not the depth to which Iyengar Yoga really is!
Precision and alignment:
Precision and alignment in the practice of the various asanas form the hallmark of Iyengar Yoga. If legs are to be straight then they have to be absolutely straight. If the legs are to be bent at the knees, then they should be a right angle between the thigh and the calf. There has to be an alignment between the inner and outer wrist, when the hands are lifted up in Urdhva Hastasana, between the left and right leg in Tadasana and Sirsasana; how the weight has to be equally distributed on the front and back of the foot in Tadasana.
Even the junior-most Iyengar Yoga teacher would start emphasizing precision and alignment in his/her very first Iyengar Yoga class. However, some of the teachers are getting obsessed with “precision and alignment” of the body to the point of ridicule and are forgetting the reason why Guruji insists on precision. The precision is not just for the geometrical presentation of the structure of the body!
The precision in the asana is not merely meant for the alignment of the part, but for the proper functioning of the human being. If the body is aligned with precision then the breath is aligned with that same precision, if the breath is balanced then the mind, emotions, and senses get balanced. We have to study the connections of how these precise adjustments work on the entire human being.
If we are asked to spread and create space between the metatarsals in Tadasana – it is not just t align the inner and outer foot for the sake of the foot. Even a first-time practitioner would realize that extending the foot leads to a firm grip on the quadriceps which more closer to the thigh bone. A firmness in the thighs leads to a sharpness and lift in the gastric and lower abdominal region (which is the samanic and apanic region). This, in turn, elates the thoracic and pranic region; the breathing automatically becomes deeper and rhythmic with corresponding changes to the senses, mind, and emotions. So the precision and alignment should be accompanied by a study on the effects on the breath and the mind. As a practitioner progresses, he/she needs to learn how the senses, the mind, and the breath have to and should be utilized to align the body.
Iyengar Yoga practitioners are known for their “ability” to stay for a prolonged duration of time in different asanas. For a beginner, it does mean developing a will-power and is essential in the early stages of practice. However, one has to evolve beyond the realms of external force i.e. will. As Guruji has explained in his talk on citishakti, one should evolve one’s practices whereby one performs an asana not merely by the external force of power of the mind, but the practice should be such that one intrinsically wants to stay in the asana. It is that atma (citti) which gets to you to perform the asana. Then, naturally sthirata (stability) and sukhata (gladness) come in an asana. One should not be staying in the asanas just because ones’ neighbour is doing so or stay in the pose because the clock demands.
One should stay in the asana as long as one is contemplative, reflective in that asana so that one becomes meditative in whatever asana one is performing. We may extend our chronological duration of staying in the asana, but at the cost of quality. Such a practice has no meaning but is in fact detrimental.
Sage Patanjali also mentions that asanas are mastered when prayatna becomes saithilya. So we need to stay in an asana such that the effort required to perform it minimizes. So, we may stay for the same amount of chronological time, but the effort required to maintain it should be diminished. As Prashantji has often mentioned in class “Do not inspire till you expire.”
The performance of an asana includes going into, staying and coming out of the asana. We tend not to give enough emphasis to coming out of the asana. For us, the asana ends with the staying phase. We extend the chronological time to out stay to such an extent that we have no energies left to thoughtfully come out of the asana. It is like utilizing all one’s energies and resources while going up the mountain and having nothing left to come down.
As Iyengar Yoga practitioners, we are aware that it is not just the asana but how you perform them, how long you perform them and also the sequence in which they are performed, which determines the effect of these asanas. The sequence in which the asanas are performed is determined by various factors. These include the purpose of practice, the weather, and time of day, the health status of the practitioner and the level of practice. With over 200 asanas, there can be any number of permutations and combinations. However, there are certain thumb rules. For example, Sarvangasana is never practiced before Sirsasana. Practice generally ends with Savasana or any other such relaxing asanas. Unfortunately, some students and teachers are tending to go overboard with the concept of sequences. They think that sequences are like mantras. One sequence for one disease. One sequence for one individual. It was quite amusing when a foreign student at the Institute felt that she was not taught at the RIMYI as she had not given HER sequence. Although she was attending classes by Geetaji and Prashantji for over a month! It is important to reiterate here that one needs to understand the principles behind sequencing rather than memorizing the sequence alone! Repeating a sequence taught at the Institute will not essentially lead to the same effect.
Props have been a fruit of Guruji’s innovative genius. It is because of the prop that people of all ages and health status can perform asanas with ease and attain benefits of the practice of yoga. As Guruji explained during his presentation during his 85th birthday celebrations, one should not be using a prop only as a crutch or support, but learn from the prop.
Hierarchy in practice:
One of the most important aspects of Iyengar Yoga is a hierarchy of practice. A beginner may be taught Trikonasana in his first-class while Guruji also practiced Trikonasana after 70 years. Both these are asanas are Trikonasana, but the quality of the asana is totally different. For a beginner, the asana is totally on the skeletal plane, whilst Guruji’s Trikonasana would be in a state of meditation in Trikonasana. A beginner’s Trikonasana would be controlled and guided by teacher whists Guruji’s Trikonasana would be guided by his citti.
Thus, as students of Iyengar Yoga, we have to practice asanas and progress in the hierarchy of our practice. We should align our sharira. It is imperative to mention here that sharira which is loosely translated as body in English, in reality, encompasses our breath, mind, senses, intellect, and emotions. So although we start with physical alignment, we have to progress to include the complete meaning of sharira.
We should evolve so as to time our practices not only by the clock but to perform them to attain sthirata and sukhata with the practice being progressively being governed by the will, mind, breath, intelligence and finally the citti.
If and only if we understand the principles behind the unique features of Iyengar Yoga, will we be able to progress in the hierarchy in our practice: which is the fifth important aspect of Iyengar Yoga.
BKS Iyengar Yoga Centre, Schoemanshoek, Oudtshoorn, Western Cape, South Africa
Welcome to the website of the BKS Iyengar Yoga Centre,
Schoemanshoek, Oudtshoorn, South Africa
Our Yoga Centre nestles in the beautiful and tranquil Schoemanshoek valley on the way to the famous Cango caves, surrounded by the majestic Swartberg Mountains, the BKS Iyengar Yoga Centre offers the complete yoga experience. Our fully equipped Centre is designed to give you, the yoga practitioner,
the opportunity to experience quality yoga tuition in this peaceful and pristine setting.
The Schoemanshoek Valley offers a variety of suitable accommodation to complete the experience.
Oudtshoorn is the largest town in the Klein Karoo area, which is known as a unique,
ecological hotspot, where three distinct biomes meet.
This quaint, sunny town is nestled in a beautiful valley between the Outeniqua and Swartberg Mountains, South Africa's most recent world heritage site.
The climate is perfect at any time of the year with mild winters and hot summers.
The air is remarkably clear and lying stargazing on a warm evening will keep you captivated
as you watch the galaxy in perfect clarity.
Schoemanshoek is located about 12kms outside Oudtshoorn, in a fertile valley half-way en-route to the Cango Caves. The Centre is located just out of sight in this beautiful valley.
Visit us at iyengaryogawithdavid.com
"Heyam duhkam anagatam"
Then future suffering can also be prevented. Patanjali offers some hope when he says that we can “prevent the suffering that is yet to come”
We can have pain and yet not suffer. We cannot avoid hardships in life, but through the practice of the eight limbs of yoga, we can learn that our true Self remains unchanged, and so we can find peace and ease even in the midst of difficulty.
About David Jacobs
An Iyengar Yoga teacher (Senior Intermediate III, certification by B.K.S.Iyengar, (one of very few senior certified teachers in South Africa) with a diploma in physical education, David Jacobs has dedicated his life to studying the art and science of yoga. David has been practicing for yoga for 28 years and teaching for 25 years. He has traveled to Pune, India to study under BKS Iyengar and his daughter Geeta, first in 1994 and then several annual visits thereafter. These were the first yoga classes where he saw where the technique was able to embody the philosophy.
David is the founder of and runs the BKS Iyengar Yoga Centre, Schoemanshoek, Oudtshoorn, Klein Karoo, South Africa. This the only one of its kind on the African continent and we are proud to dedicate our Centre to our Teacher, BKS Iyengar. David no longer teaches public classes, in order to focus more deeply on his own practice. This allows him time to teach workshops around Southern Africa as well as in Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Holland, Austria, Norway and Switzerland, and Italy as well as 3-day and 6-day retreats at the Centre. David is also part of the BKS Iyengar Institute's teachers' training programme.
David has experience in teaching classes for those with injuries and medical conditions, beginner’s courses, general and experience level classes. He teaches teachers and conducts workshops for teachers. He is passionately involved with the practice of yoga and its applications to daily life. His understanding of and insights into Iyengar Yoga are conveyed with authenticity and precision.
David is also the co-author of the e-guides
"Blocks for a Yoga Practice." and "Relaxed Body - Relaxed Mind" and "Yoga Kurunta"
About Jürgen Meusel
Jürgen is co-founder/owner and administrator of the BKS Iyengar Yoga Centre, Oudtshoorn.
Practicing and teaching in 1994, Jürgen started teaching regularly in 2000 and is a qualified Iyengar yoga teacher, Introductory Level II since 2005. He has travelled to Pune to study under Geeta S. Iyengar and Prashant S. Iyengar in October 2006 and has attended workshops with Geeta in South Africa in 2003 and 2011.
Jürgen is the assistant to David Jacobs at workshops and retreats, as well as actively participates in the semester-style teachers training at the Centre.
Jürgen is keenly active in creating the Centre's website, and together with David, was the catalyst in creating the Yoga Sequences website.
Abhi, Guruji and Geetaji 2015
How to Start your Self-Practice at Home
(This article was published in IYUK magazine, Spring of 2015).
Self-practice is an indispensable component of our Sadhana. Receiving instructions from teachers and attending classes regularly builds the foundation, but self-practice is where one can truly develop and incorporate yoga into one’s life. The progress of students is accelerated when they begin to practice on their own. However, for most students starting self-practice presents a major difficulty: even though they recognize the importance of self-practice, and attend classes regularly, only a minority succeeds in making it part of their daily routine.
Some of the obstacles on the road to self-practice were noted thousands of years ago by Patanjali in one of his famous yoga sutras (I.30),
while other obstacles are more pertinent to our modern era.
This article collects the ideas, which have been the most helpful for them. Not all of the ideas presented in this guide may be relevant to all students. Please choose those that are relevant and beneficial for your capabilities, experience, and limitations.
If in doubt, consult your teacher or write to me at email@example.com
May these ideas and tips encourage you to create and enrich your self-practice!
Starting Self-Practice at Home
Some of us tend to make dramatic resolutions about improving our lives. Oftentimes, newcomers to yoga are eager to practice and decide they will devote an hour a day or even more for practice. The problem with these decisions, however, is that they are often not feasible in the context of their current lifestyle and obligations. The pressures of life make persistence in practice difficult to maintain. In such circumstances, people find it impossible to live up to their resolution, which – in turn – leads to frustration and eventually may lead to dropping yoga from their life altogether. This is probably what Patanjali refers to as Anavasthitatva, the inability to persist in gradual progress.
Set Realistic Goals and Build Your Practice Gradually
Progress in yoga is not created by revolutions, but rather by slow and gradual evolution. “Practice even 15 minutes a day, the duration is not important, but the regularity!’ Set a time frame that you can repeat daily, without making dramatic changes in your life, and stick to it.
If you missed the practice slot planned for the morning, make sure you make up for it in the evening.
If you are not used to self-practice, scheduling a full hour of it each day may be just too demanding for you. A shorter interval is much easier to allocate by simply reducing the time of watching TV, surfing the Internet and/or chatting on the phone.
Fix a Place in Your Home for Yoga Practice
Find a suitable place in your home for practice and keep your mat always open on the floor in that place, ready for practice. This will lower the barrier to starting your practice and will remind you to do it in case you fail to remember.
Ideally, the place should have a window for natural light and air. It’s nice to have some area of exposed wall and sufficient room for storing your props, such as blankets, blocks, bolster, etc.
Hang a Practice Sequence on the Wall
A common question for beginners to self-practice: “I want to practice at home but I don’t know what asanas to do. Can you give me a good sequence for self-practice?”
The best advice: Get a recommended list of asanas from your teacher and stick it on the wall in front of your mat!
The hardest part is to begin practicing. Iyengar is known to say that the most difficult asana is unfolding the mat, and it’s true! Once you start though, the practice usually flows smoothly and it is often difficult to stop that flow.
Patanjali mentions two related obstacles: Styana, which Iyengar translates as lack of perseverance, lack of interest, sluggishness, mental laziness; and Alasya – idleness, physical laziness. Laziness may not be a very strong hindrance, but here are two strategies to tackle it:
One is to imagine the joy at the end of the practice. Good yoga practice will always make you feel fresh, relaxed and content. Simply imagining the peaceful state of mind to be experienced in one hour is an excellent motivation to start it!
The other method: “Okay, let’s give it 10 minutes and see how I feel!” Regardless of the mood in which you start the practice – you will often find yourself practicing well past those initial 10 minutes, or at least wishing to have planned more time for it.
Prioritize Yoga According to its True Value for Your Life
You may have many tasks or projects to complete today, but the time you invest in your practice has the potential of improving the quality of your entire day. After the practice your mind will be clearer, your intelligence sharper and your emotions more balanced. So the time you invest in the practice will more than pay off as you’ll be more effective in performing your tasks. You will become more relaxed and quiet and will waste less time and energy. You’ll make better decisions and prioritize your tasks better. In addition, the joy, peace, and harmony that you’ll experience will shine outwards; you’ll be happier and this will improve your interactions with people and possibly transmit some of your joy and serenity on to them as well.
There is a well know Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes every day unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour…” And indeed, if you are so busy that you can’t devote 20 minutes a day for practice, maybe you should rethink the way you manage your life. Why are you so busy? Do you spare some time for yourself or devote all your time and energy to other people and projects?
Maybe an hour of practice will give you more time to contemplate these questions and to change your priorities.
Often, even before getting out of bed in the morning, the mind is already busy making the daily ‘to-do’ list. In very busy times you may hear an inner voice saying: “Hey, maybe you should just skip practice for the day?!”
Learn to recognize this voice and label it – “Oh, this is my ‘do-disease’ speaking”. Hear the voice but answer: “My dear ‘do-disease’, although you are speaking to me, I can’t listen to you right now because I need to practice yoga – I’ll attend to all the tasks you mention when I finish; now I am busy doing something more important, please excuse yourself from my brain”.
Make Yoga a Habit and Practice it with Religious Discipline
In the Jewish tradition, one is committed to performing daily Mitzvahs (religious ceremonies). Similar obligations exist in every religion. A religious person would never ask: “Should I pray now? Maybe I should give up this or that service?” He just does it. Yogic discipline should be similar.
Stick to your Yogic Sadhana as if it were a religion. As long as you are committed to this path, be determined enough to stick with it. Don’t let daily impulses throw you out of balance.
Allocating a fixed time and place for the practice is the first step towards making it a habit. However, a true discipline must be routed in consciousness.
Here is what Ralph Waldo Emerson said about habit and destiny:
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
Our thoughts, when controlled, can be very powerful. Here is what Swami Sivananda had to say on this subject:
“One can change his habits, thoughts, and character by developing good habits and thoughts. It is the thought that moves the body to act. There is thought behind every action. There is a desire behind the thought. Do not allow the desires to control your thoughts. Do not be carried away easily by all sorts of desires through emotion. When a desire manifests cogitate, think well. Reason out whether this particular desire towards the particular object will bring maximum happiness and minimum pain. If it is otherwise, reject it ruthlessly. Do not try to fulfill it. You must control desire through thoughts.”
Practice According to Proven Sequences
The task of remembering the asanas and deciding in which order to practice them is difficult for beginners. Pre-defined sequences, arranged by qualified teachers, structure the practice and guide us into gradual and safe progress.
You may want to follow the sequences given in Light on Yoga. These sequences are inspiring– but they may be too challenging for the average practitioner.
There are however excellent sequences that can be used by beginners, leading them gradually to more advanced asanas.
– Start by following the 28-week course given by Geeta Iyengar in Chapter X of Yoga in Action – Preliminary Course
Follow the 10 sequences given in chapter V of Basic Guidelines for Teachers of Yoga by BKS & Geeta Iyengar.
Our Gurus, the Iyengars, carefully designed the cited sequences for us and we must follow them until we get mature enough to tailor our own sequences. They consist of asanas from all the basic groups, including standing, sitting, forward and backward extensions, inversions and lateral twists.
One characteristic of these sequences is that all of them contain standing asanas and inverted asanas.
In Yoga in Action Intermediate Course-I, Geeta says:
“The standing asanas are the base or foundation; therefore one has to start there, in order to strengthen the spine.”
In Woman’s Yoga Practice, Geeta Iyengar and Lois Steinberg write:
“The benefits of Sirsasana and Sarvangasana cannot be overemphasized. Practitioners of inverted postures experience the effects daily.
If circumstances shorten practice time, they know to do Salamba Sirsasana I and Salamba Sarvangasana I as their benefits would be missed.”
Standing poses and inversions are so very important that they should be a part of your daily routine (except of course, when otherwise indicated, like during menstruation).
In building your practice sequence, follow the guidance given by Geeta in the Yoga in Action, especially read the Introduction, of the Preliminary Course and the section “Method of Practice” of the Intermediate Course I.
Advanced practitioners who have gained practice maturity don’t need external sequences. But do practice asanas from all the major groups over the course of the week.
This requires intimate knowledge of the asanas and their effects, so in the beginning (and this can last several years) it’s best to follow sequences given by teachers with great knowledge and experience.
Make Sure Your Practice is Interesting and Enjoyable
In Yoga in Action – Preliminary Course, Geeta Iyengar gives the following advice:
“Do not burden your mind with the idea of doing too many asanas. Do not feel the pressure on the mind that it is a time-consuming practice. Start the practice with the freedom of the mind.” (Chapter X)
Your practice should be interesting and enjoyable. Yes, in order to make progress you need to be focused and determined. But if you feel that your practice is a burden, stop and ask yourself honestly what the cause of that feeling may be.
In The Tree of Yoga B.K.S. Iyengar writes:
“You are a beginner in yoga. I too am a beginner from where I left my practice yesterday. I don’t bring yesterday’s poses to today’s practice. I know yesterday’s poses, but when I practice today I become a beginner. I don’t want yesterday’s experience. I want to see what new understanding may come in addition to what I had felt up to now”.
If your practice is shallow and mechanical it will become boring; you will not feel engaged with it. Each session should bring with it a fresh sensation; some new learning; access to a new internal territory in which you have never visited. This way, the practice will never be boring and you won’t ever consider it a burden.
A good teacher encourages us to explore deeper layers in ourselves through careful instruction and insightful questioning; but how can we do it when we practice on our own at home?
The key is to adopt an inquisitive, curious mind. For example: look for actions that repeat themselves in different poses, or explore how different poses affect your breathing; or try performing the same pose with different props.
Props are a unique aspect of the Iyengar Method. Regardless of your physical limitations, props can be used to investigate and deepen your experience of the asanas. They enable you to explore the effect of the asanas, to spread your awareness to unexplored bodily regions.
In 70 Glorious years of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar says:
“The student understands and learns asana faster on props as the brain remains passive. Through passive brain, one learns to be alert in body and mind. Props are guides to self-learning. They help accurately without mistakes”
In our online e-guide “Blocks for a Yoga Practice”, it shows the use of blocks as well as some other props.P rops are used to direct awareness to a bodily region, to help to move tight muscles, to check the alignment of the body, to activate the legs and to hold for a longer time with the use of a prop in a more challenging asana. There is also an e-guide that deals with restorative practices - the book contains more than 60 complete sequence "Relaxed Body - Relaxed Mind"
Use a Timer to Develop Your Endurance
Asanas are psycho-physical states that have to be maintained for a certain length of time. Staying in the pose is at the heart of the practice.
Use a timer; when working on prolonging your holds, stay until the beep - this helps to build stamina and determination.
Today it’s easy to install sophisticated timers, adapted to yoga practice, on any computer or cellphone. Staying for one minute in a balancing pose (like Virabhadrasana III), or 10 minutes in a forward extension (like Paschimottanasana) or 15 minutes in an inverted pose (like Salamba Sirsasana I) requires will-power and determination. Using a timer frees your mind to concentrate on precision and reducing the effort in the pose rather than on worrying about the time. In addition, when you perform a cycle of asanas, you can add intermediate beeps to signal you to move to the next variation in the cycle.
Be careful however not to develop a dependency on external gadgets. Ultimately you should develop an internal ‘feel’ for how long it is beneficial for you to stay in a given asana on a particular day. Your own internal timer should have physiological and psychological dimensions, not merely chronological.
Be Prudent: Make Slow and Steady Progress
Highly motivated students sometimes start to practice at home, and after a few weeks complaining about pains, blaming the intense practice for their injuries. In the transition from a weekly class to a daily practice, hidden problems and imbalances are triggered and may manifest through new sensations and pain.
When starting a self-practice, it’s very important to be prudent and progress gradually. “There is no ‘instant yoga’ – yoga is a life-time project” (possibly several life-times project). There is really no point in attempting to move faster than your natural ability. Be honest and accept your limitations. Develop patience and be satisfied with slow but steady progress. Prepare the body well with the basic poses (mainly standing poses) before attempting more advanced poses.
Listen to your body and remember these concluding words of Geeta Iyengar in Yoga in Action – Preliminary Course:
“An auspicious and good beginning leads one towards the Ultimate end. Slow and steady wins the race. Our duty as a beginner is to keep on practicing with a steady and firm mind.”
Listen to Your Pain
If you have persistent pain you must investigate and find its cause. Iyengar says: “Pain comes to guide you; pain is your Guru”. Learn to discriminate between a “good pain”, which indicates healthy progress within the potential of your muscles and joints, and “bad pain”, which indicate that you have violated those limits. Never ignore pain, but also do not panic. Listen carefully to what this Guru (the pain) tells you; consult your teacher for assistance; and if needed, change your practice to avoid unhealthy pains.
If the same pain persists without explanation, consult your medical doctor.
Do Not Discriminate Between Types of Asana
You have to practice all the asanas that are suitable for your level. It is natural to have our likes and dislikes among the asanas. However, there is significant learning value in doing the asanas, which are more difficult for you.
The Bhagavad Gita (II.48) says that yoga is Samatvam (equal minded, equanimity) meaning that a yogi treats everything and everyone with the same dignity and respect. So our practice should lead us toward this ideal. Each asana has its own unique benefit. Remember that the ultimate goal of asana practice is mental; watch your consciousness while performing your less-liked asanas; learn from it as you develop endurance and equanimity.
Adapt the Practice to Your Current Condition
Our practice should never become a blind routine. We need to develop sensitivity and awareness to our physical, physiological and mental condition. The practice should change from day to day according to factors like our current health condition and level of energy and be adapted according to factors like our age, the weather, the time of day and many other factors.
When you begin your practice, assess your condition and select the kind of practice that is most suitable for the day. For example, if you are feeling low on a particular day, it’s better to select energetic asanas in order to stimulate the breath and the circulation and to open the chest (backbends are ideal for that); on the other hand if you suffer from headache, agitation or high blood pressure, choose a relaxed sequence with long stays in supported forward bends. When you are exhausted after a long working day, do a restorative practice. Women must also take into account the changes that occur during the menstrual cycle. Make a diary of your practice – record how you feel during and after the practice. Find out why you were tempted not to go ahead with your intended prepared practice for that day. Were you genuinely tired or are you avoiding certain asanas, and if so why?
Take Support from Family and Friends When Needed
Supportive family members or friends can help you persist in your self-practice. Once you have decided to practice on a daily basis, make this decision known to your family members and friends, and ask them to support you. For example, your partner can encourage you to practice on a day in which you are not feeling up to practice, and remind you of your decision (of course they must do it thoughtfully and be sensitive enough to the circumstances).
If you have a friend or a colleague that you can practice with – it may help you to commit to the practice. Some people find it much easier to practice with a friend or in a small group. But see that the practice doesn’t turn into a social event with too much chit-chatting.
Solitude is best for a personal self-practice.
Consider Using Recorded Guidance
There are plenty of recorded audio and video classes on the Internet as well as in CD format. These can help you to establish your own practice, but keep the following in mind:
– First, recorded lessons cannot substitute for a teacher. The role of the teacher is to observe the students and correct their mistakes. This cannot be done in remote control. Beyond the technical aspect, a teacher is also a role model and a source of inspiration. The relationship between the teacher and the student is very significant while progressing on the path of yoga.
– Secondly, recorded lessons repeat themselves (naturally) and lack the element of observation and internal investigation. The practice is our opportunity to be with ourselves and observe our mind and its fluctuations in order to learn how to restrain it. That is the greatest gift of yoga and it may escape you when you use recorded lessons regularly. So if you decide to use recorded lessons, balance it with an unguided self-practice so as to not develop a dependency on external guidance.
Ask for help - if you are at a loss ask your teacher for help.
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