Friday, October 24, 2014


I want to revisit a (quasi rhetorical) question I posed a couple weeks ago which considered how much of yoga is really about the asana. A good answer to that is complicated and probably more than I can discuss adequately here, but the short version is "it depends." A more concise question may be to say how much of YOUR yoga is about the asana. Although, the answer to that also depends. It depends on various factors, but very much on your ultimate intentions as a practitioner (i.e. are you seeking a means to physical health, mental health, spirituality, relaxation, stress-relief, socializing, scholarly studies, etc?).

Let's, for the sake of this discussion, assume your practice closely follows the tenets of Patanjali's Classical Yoga as expounded in his Yoga Sutra. After all, we are attempting to understand the wisdom of Mr. Iyengar's Light on Yoga, and Mr. Iyengar certainly considered himself to be a student of Patanjali. And if we want to better understand our own teachers, it is to our benefit to try to understand theirs. In that case, the answer to the question (how much of yoga is really about the asana?) is "not much." In order to really understand why that is, we have to become familiar with the premises of Classical Yoga.

Classical Yoga is composed of eight stages of practice (asana being one of them) which culminate in the mind's liberation from its incessant turmoil. That is a tall order, and a murky one to boot. Basically, Patanjali sees the "human problem" -- the seemingly innate suffering that unifies all of human existence -- as being one of uncontrolled mental agitations, and, if said mental agitations could be reigned in, then the result would be a transcendent joy and wisdom. But, because the mind if complicated, illusive, and purely conceptual, affecting it is extremely difficult. Therefore, Patanjali says, rather than diving immediately into the (dys)functioning of the mind, start with something a little more accessible -- your body, for instance.

In regards to the stages of practice, mastery of the poses is neither the ultimate objective, nor the groundwork. In fact, technically speaking, "mastery of the poses" in the sense of its presentation in something like Light on Yoga (or nearly every modern public yoga class) doesn't have anything at all to do with Patanjali's idea of asana. The word asanam literally means "seat" or "customary ways of sitting." Patanjali could not care less if you have mastered the Triangle pose or the Shoulderstand or the Half Bound Cross Footed Balancing Cockatoo; his only concern is that you are capable of sitting in a stable and comfortable position for extended periods of time. So then why all the poses?

We're getting there. But first, if asana isn't the most preliminary stage, then what is? Asana is actually the third stage in Patanjali's system. The first is yama and the second is niyama. If a practitioner wishes to obtain the mental harmony that yoga provides, then she must begin by redirecting her worldly inclinations; that is, shifting her perspective away from those tendencies which tether her to the phenomenal world. The word yama means "restraint," so Patanjali's first and second stages are restraints or limitations related to human behavior. In other words, they're ethics because, in order to be a successful yogi, one must be well-behaved, both internally and externally. There are five yama and also five niyama. The yama focus on optimal ways of interacting with others and our external environments, while the niyama are more personal in nature and reflect a healthy relationship with our more internal states. Tomes of commentary have been written about each of them, and this is not the place for additional elaboration (if you want help finding good resources for this material, just ask).

In brief, the five yama are: (1) never injure or hinder another living being (ahimsa); (2) always be truthful in thought, word, and action (satya); (3) don't take what doesn't belong to you (asteya); (4) uphold moderation in all actions, engagements, and consumptions (brahmacharya); and (5) only use/amass those things which are absolutely necessary to your well-being (aparigraha).

And the five niyama are: (1) maintain good physical health, nutrition, and cleanliness (saucha); (2) cultivate contentment, graciousness, and gratitude toward all that you have and are (santosha); (3) cultivate passion, courage, and dedication toward that which is most important to you (tapas); (4) study with the intention of garnering universal truth and wisdom (svadhyaya); and (5) be devout toward that part of yourself that you know is "more-than-just-a-body" (Ishvara pranidhana).

The role of the yama and niyama is to help establish one's character which is important because it shows a willingness and ability to overcome strong (likely destructive) temptations. Everyday life -- its challenges, misfortunes, and inequalities -- can easily lead one into patterns of moral gray-zones, and calming the mind's turbulence is dependent upon a steadfast intention to honor and respect all living beings (yourself included). However, yoga is not about conscience-building; it's about Liberation and Authenticity in the strongest sense. So, while demonstrating that you are capable of playing well with others while taking good care of yourself is necessary, it's only the very beginning.

From here on out, the practice becomes increasingly more internally focused with each subsequent stage. Whereas practicing the yama and niyama lead to freedom from worldly distractions -- envy, greed, discontent, dishonor, etc. -- practicing asana leads to freedom from your own physical distractions -- fatigue, disease, fragility, immobilization, and injury. Over hundreds or even thousands of years, the asana have evolved into elaborate (and sometimes conflicting) methods of positioning the body which undoubtedly develop strength, flexibility, stamina, vitality, resilience, and grace. All of which are good things. But remember what the word asanam means: "seat," "customary ways of sitting." The point is to condition the body to sit. Literally. If the back is weak, the hips are stiff, the knees ache, the shoulders slouch, or the head hangs, sitting still for more than a few brief (and probably unsettled) moments is nearly impossible. So the yogi uses her asana practice as a means of achieving physical firmness (sthira) and steadiness (sukha). We'll see why soon.

The poses target the outer-most body first and most obviously; namely, muscles, tissues, and bones. But in the meantime, they are also having an equally profound effect on the more subtle layers of our physiology; that is, our cells, nerves, and glands. The fact that yoga targets our bodies wholly -- outside and in -- leads directly into the fourth stage of practice: pranayama.

Prana means breath, life-force, energy. Ayama still means restraint and also extension. So, pranayama is the practice of literally controlling one's breath, and, more figuratively, one's spirit. The various pranayama exercises comprise an entire system of practice in addition to asana (Iyengar's manual covering this material is called Light on Pranayama). Most practitioners will never venture beyond the very basics -- Ujjayi, possibly some short retentions, and maybe Kapalabhati. Anything more advanced than that tends to exceed the average student's interests and commitments as it is a quite challenging stage of practice which really demands dedicated focus as well as very close supervision from an experienced instructor. It also requires that you be able to sit for extended periods of time, hence the previous stage (asanam = "ways of sitting"). In fact, stages four through seven (pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and dhyana) all require a body which is willing and able to endure prolonged periods of quiet and still sitting, so it's really no wonder that one entire stage of practice, not to mention the one most well-known and widely practiced, is nearly exclusively focused on training the body to do just that. Without the physical capacities which come from asana, one would almost certainly not be able to withstand the difficulties of the proceeding stages.

Asana and pranayama work together to tame the body, physically and physiologically, in order to suppress what is otherwise a perpetual slew of distractions and demands. If your most-physical self is in any way unhealthy, imbalanced, or disturbed, your mind cannot rest, and yoga's promise of ultimate liberation will forever elude you. However, please don't hear that and think to yourself Well, I'll never practice advanced poses or breath-control, so maybe I shouldn't do this at all or Oh no, now I've got to find a real Guru to teach me how to sit, breathe, and think or I'll never experience personal contentment. That's not the case. Even if advanced asana or pranayama seem beyond your yogic scope, your practice is absolutely still important and valuable. Yoga is beneficial in its most elementary forms, and you do not have to be a contortionist or a shaman or a vegan or a Hindu or a philosopher or an astrologer to be a good Yogi. You only have to be willing to conform your practice to fit your needs, and not the other way around. All eight stages have elements which are more suited for beginners as well as those which are better saved until one has gained more experience. Even a modest practice can include some aspect of each stage, or even just a few of the stages, so that your practice provides you with exactly what you most need. And that is infinitely better than no practice at all.

Once the body has been brought under control through asana and pranayama, the mind is actually more distracted than ever! Because it no longer has physical forms and functions to worry about, the sensory world kicks into overdrive. The fifth stage of practice is called pratyahara, and it teaches the yogi how to control her senses; namely, sight, taste, touch, hearing, and smell. The purpose is to continue the disconnection that is developing between the Self and the surrounding world. Our senses -- as valuable and inherent as they are to the human experience -- are the embodiment of external awareness and mental disturbance. In order to entirely free the mind, sensory perceptions must be challenged. Pratyahara is the practice of dissociating from the senses. It is not about turning them off or lacking them completely; instead, it is about learning how to control them rather than allowing them to be controlling.

At this point, the mind becomes the primary focal point more than ever before, and stages six and seven are practices of mental concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). The words "concentration" and "meditation" are often used interchangeably, but for the yogi they are two distinctly different levels of experience and achievement. Explaining just what each one is and how they differ is worth saving for another discussion. It's enough at this point to understand that one's consciousness is slowly brought more and more inward until neither the external world, nor the very body we inhabit, are distracted or agitated; only pure, unadulterated thought is left. And not for long, because that too will be mastered. The eighth stage (Samadhi) is the experience of an entirely liberated state of existence wherein your body thrives, your heart is content, your mind is quiet, and your consciousness is dissolved. YOU in the grandest sense -- the part-of-you-that-is-more-than-your-body -- are incomparably alive. And that is what yoga is really about.

When you put this all together, you have what Patanjali calls "Ashtanga Yoga" because it consists of eight (ashta) limbs or stages (anga). The type of yoga practice founded by Patabbhi Jois which features vigorous vinyasa flow and is called "Ashtanga Yoga" shares its name with the Classical Yoga system because Jois, like Iyengar, was a student of the Yoga Sutra. Despite the many differences between Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga practice, their most basic premises are the same; namely, that yoga is a science and a philosophy capable of promoting incredible physical and psychological transformations if one is willing to be sincerely disciplined and humble.

So again how much of yoga is really about the asana? It still depends. For Patanjali and his eight-stage system (Ashtanga Yoga), it is necessary only as a means to a much, much bigger end. The asana play a very prominent role because our bodies are very tangible and manipulable. We can touch them and change them concretely, which makes them (relatively) easy to understand. We can, through our physical exercises, get a glimpse of all the other aspects of practice: the respect and compassion that comes from following the yama and niyama, the vitality that comes from pranayama, the autonomy of pratyahara, and the clarity of dharana and dhyana. We can even, in brief moments of genuine respite, during an especially pleasant Savasana, for instance, feel what Samadhi must be like. In short, we practice the poses in order to enliven our human experience and to illuminate those parts of ourselves which are superhuman.

Image: Yoga Sutra II.29 as translated by Chip Hartranft, 2003

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


"Backbends give stability to the body and bring maturity in the intelligence in order to develop ripeness in the brain and ripeness in the emotions."

To the best of my knowledge, all modern forms of yogasana practice include some amount of backbending. Certainly some traditions emphasize it more than others, but you can find it essentially universally regardless of the lineage, philosophy, and degree of vigor (or lack thereof; i.e. even in Yin and Restorative Yogas). And backbends are nothing new: the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Gheranda Samhita -- two of the oldest surviving texts expounding on yogasana -- describe positions of the body that we would today recognize as Dhanurasana, Salabhasana, and Ustrasana. Backbends have historically been, as well as continue to be, known for their contributions to physical, psychological, and philosophical wellbeing. Very simplistically, and physically speaking, they strengthen the posterior body and stretch the anterior body. They stimulate, energize, and create heat. And they challenge our sense of self-awareness by forcing us to become familiar with parts of ourselves which we can neither see nor touch.

" create tremendous depth and vastness in the chest through the backbends that the emotional center accommodates [absorbs and withstands] all types of pressures and strains. There is no chance for a person who does backbends to get emotionally depressed or distressed."

"That's the beauty of backbends. Emotionally we can never be disturbed, for the emotional center becomes an extrovert. When you do Viparita Dandasana [LoY 375], your head looks backwards, but your conscious mind stretches everywhere. Study by observing how the mind gets regulated. You not only know the freedom in the spine, but also the freedom in the spirit."

"Backbends are not poses meant for expressionism. Backbends are meant to understand the back parts of our bodies. The front body can be seen with the eyes, but the back body can only be felt. That's why I say these are the most advanced postures, where the mind begins to look at the back. Otherwise it is felt on the peripheral level."

The message here is (at least) twofold: (a) backbends are vital, and (b) backbends are difficult.

But, as in all things vital and difficult (i.e. all things Yogic!), the best place to begin is a fundamental understanding of what you're doing, why you're doing it, and how. We already know that that means breaking down the necessary components of form and function while on the mat. Backbends require (at the most basic level) a great range of motion (i.e. flexibility) in (1) the shoulders, (2) the upper-back, and (3) the hip-flexors. It is important that your practice include both poses which provide the necessary flexibility as well as poses which help you to measure your flexibility. And I have a tool bag full of both which I am happy and anxious to share with you. However, I am afraid that descriptions reliant only upon text will fall short of adequate clarity, and would need the visual assistance of photos and/or videos to be truly beneficial. And since I am not currently equipped to provide either of those, I feel limited in my ability to be effectively informative here. What I will do, though, is name and/or briefly describe a few key poses/actions, and encourage you to seek out more explicit explanations by perusing resources such as Light on Yoga and (a general internet search will produce an abundance of resources), and, most importantly, coming to class.

Shoulders. The anatomy of the humerus and its adjoining socket means that the shoulder joint is capable of a pretty impressive range of motion. When optimally functional, the shoulder join can flex (i.e. arms positioned overhead, alongside the ears) as much as, or more than, 180o, and can extend (i.e. arms positioned behind the vertical axis of the spine when viewed from the side) as much as, or, in rare cases, more than, 45o.

One of the most effective means of increasing both flexion and extension is with the aid of a simple yoga strap. While standing, hold the strap in both hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart. Keep your arms straight, the strap taut, and your chin up as you lift your arms first overhead, and then back and down so that you end up holding the strap behind you rather than in front. Then reverse the movement to return to the starting position. If it's too difficult, widen your hold on the strap. If it's too easy, narrow your hold. Challenge yourself to cinch in on the strap every couple of rotations. Keep good form, and repeat many, many times.

The ability to position the arms directly in line with (or slightly behind) the ears without bending the elbows and while maintaining strong external rotation of the upper-arms indicates the necessary mobility for poses such as Utkatasana (a backbend only in a very loose sense, but crucial nonetheless), Virabhadrasana I (ditto), and Urdhva Dhanurasana (the "Mountain Pose" of backbends!).

If you can reach the arms backward without bending the elbows and while (relatively easily) clasping the hands firmly together, then you likely have the mobility necessary for poses such as Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, and Ustrasana.

Upper-back. The part of the spinal column situated between and slightly below the shoulder-blades (i.e. the vertebrae upon which ribs are attached) is the least flexible part of the spine. Whenever we try to create movement in the spine, be it via backbending, forwardbending, or twisting, those places with the most flexibility will move much more readily than those with less, and, for the health and safety of our bodies, it is imperative that we learn how to stabilize the more mobile areas while opening/loosening the stiffer ones. In regards to backbends, creating stability in the more mobile areas comes from creating good form in the hips and core in regards to the lower body, and good form in the neck, head, and shoulders in regards to the upper. With that premise established, one can focus on increasing the range of motion in the thoracic area.

Loosening the thoracic spine is like unsticking a rusty bike chain. If individual links in a chain are rusted closed, and you are attempting to free them by yanking, banging, or otherwise cajoling the chain whilst holding on to its far ends, then you will have little success -- the places which are loose will stay loose while the places which are stuck will stay stuck. To be effective, you must place firm and intentional pressure explicitly upon the congested spot(s). You can, say, lay the rusted joint right over the edge of a tabletop so that the corner of the table creates a kind of fulcrum which juts into and helps release the stickiness as you press down firmly very near the affected spot. The thoracic spine works in a similar fashion -- creating flexibility here requires targeted attention, and, in my experience, one of the best ways to achieve this is through long-ish-held, passive, supported backbends.

The simplest variation of this is lying over a rolled blanket. Roll a firm blanket into a long log shape, and position yourself over it so that the blanket rests against the bottom tips of your shoulder-blades. The back of your head, lower-back/hips, and legs/feet should all rest fairly comfortably along the ground. Your arms can extend out horizontally or can reach overhead alongside the ears. The idea being that the blanket will act like a milder version of the tabletop edge as the fulcrum against the sticky parts: placing gentle, but target pressure right where it's most needed. Two blankets rolled together will create a slightly stronger experience. Stay here (mostly) passively for 1-5 minutes. This is essentially a passive and supported variation of Matsyasana (Fish pose, LoY 138-40).

A more challenging (but I think even more effective) variation uses a block in essentially the same manner as the blanket. Because the block is stiffer and sharper, the pressure is more intense, but then arguably so are the results (to a reasonable degree, of course). Place a yoga block (preferably a 4" one, although 3" will work) on its tallest surface, and lie over it so that its long edges are positioned right between the shoulder-blades. Be careful not to place the block under the bony C7 vertebra near the base of the neck, nor under the floating ribs beneath the kidneys. If your neck is strong and pain-free, you can tilt your head back and extend the crown toward or even on to the floor. If your neck feels weak or sensitive, place a second block (or some other firm support) under the back of your head to prevent over-extension. You can keep your knees bent and feet on the floor, or you can straighten (and tone) your legs (ala Staff pose). Keep your hips/buttocks pressed firmly against the ground. You can stretch your arms out horizontally, or extend them overhead alongside the ears while keeping them straight/strong, or you can hold on to opposite elbows while the arms are lifted overhead. Stay here (moderately) passively for 1-3 minutes. When done this way, it is another variation of supported Matsyasana (*note that the traditional full form of Fish pose utilizes Lotus legs, but here your legs are either straight or knees-bent as Lotus would be unnecessarily complicated).

Yet another more challenging variation is to place the legs in Virasana (Hero pose) before lying back against the block. The positions of the head, arms, and hips/buttocks are the same; the increased challenge comes from the deep fold of the legs which intensely stretches the hip-flexors and lower abdomen. Again, stay (moderately) passively for 1-3 minutes. This is a supported variation of Paryankasana (Couch pose, LoY 125-26).

The ability to (fairly easily) press the top of your head into the floor with the block between your shoulder-blades, with the arms lifted overhead, and without lifting your hips/buttocks from the ground is one indication that the thoracic spine is developing mobility. Another good measurement reference comes from Puppy pose. If you can place your sternum against the floor while maintaining good form in the pose overall, you likely have sufficient range of motion in both the upper-back and the shoulders. It is even better if you can maintain good overall form, place your sternum against the ground, and then lift your chin away from the floor to look forward/upward.

Hip-flexors. The hip-flexors are a grouping of muscles positioned basically along the front of the thighs, but they have connecting spots a little lower on the legs, along the lower abdomen, on the lower spine, and within the pelvic bowl. Their primary objective is to flex (aka forward fold) the hip joint; hence they are aptly named. Because they are good at their job, and because we, as a culture, are seemingly perpetually in a hip-flexed position (i.e. sitting to eat, drive, relax, socialize, work, play, compute, etc.), this group of muscles tends to be short, tight, and stubborn. Backbends require that they be strong yet consentingly pliable; the deeper the backbend, the more the hip-flexors must release. Therein lies the challenge.

Working asymmetrically is probably the most effective means early on. By that I mean, working with poses and preparatory variations of poses in which only one set of hip-flexors is targeted at a time; namely, variations of Virabhadrasana I, Anjaneyasana (kneeling lunge), Ekapada Bhekasana (One-legged Frog pose), and Ekapada Supta Virasana (One-legged Reclined Hero pose). There are many, many ways to work with variations of each of these poses which incorporate props and others means of support; far too many to provide here. For clarification, go to your books, the internet, and class.

Adequate range of motion in this area of the body is best measured via Virasana (LoY 120-23) and Supta Virasana (LoY 123-25). The ability to sit without any support in Virasana is a necessary pre-requisite for Supta Virasana. And the ability to recline fully without any support in Supta Virasana is a necessary achievement while pursuing backbends. For even more challenge, work toward the ability to recline fully into Supta Virasana, and then elevate your hips by placing a block under the sacrum which requires a greater amount of length in the hip-flexors.

For some, the limitation of movement is in only one of these areas, or two, and for others, all three. It is important to assess your current capabilities (where are you strong and not, where are you flexible and not), compare that with your standing (and reasonable!) goals, and then work diligently in a way that balances what you want with what you're willing to do to get it so that you do in fact get what you want. Backbends are difficult, but they are absolutely worth the effort!

This is a lot of information, and a lot more should be said. Use these ideas as an outline whose details it is your responsibility to fill in. Below is the sequence of poses we will follow in class on Sunday, 10/19. It is yet another version of Week 14. It includes each pose which we have previously learned AND which is included in the list of "Most Important Asanas" found near the back of LoY. It omits poses not on the list and/or those we have not yet learned. The poses with an * are poses we will include even though they are not on the "Most Important" list because they are currently a part of the sequence and they are important to us right now.

The "Sort've Week Fourteen Sequence" Part 3:

Salamba Sirsasana I for at least 3 minutes

Trikonasana and Parivrtta Trikonasana

Parsvakonasana and Parivrtta Parsvakonasana

Virabhadrasana I and Virabhadrasana III

Ardha Chandrasana


Prasarita Padottanasana I





Paripurna Navasana and Ardha Navasana

Salamba Sarvangasana I for at least 5 minutes



*Supta Konasana

*Parsva Halasana

*Ekapada Sarvangasana


As always, take a look at each of these poses before practice, particularly the new ones. Make note of their Sanskrit and English names, their rating (printed just next to their name), their instructions (including how long he recommends holding each one), and their effects. What stands out? What is interesting? or unclear? or surprising? Come to class with questions and comments.

"In backbends, one touches the body physically, mentally, intellectually, consciously and spiritually everywhere."

(all quotes above are attributed to B.K.S. Iyengar; specific sources are unknown)

Saturday, October 11, 2014


This is just a short place-saver post, a kind of IOU in exchange for the promise of more to come. I apologize for the lack of communication of late. As much as I try to keep it otherwise, unfortunately my yoga practice (which very enthusiastically includes teaching, writing, researching, etc. along with my own time on the mat) sometimes falls away from the top of the priority list as life's other inevitable responsibilities demand fuller attention.

I intend to share some thoughts in follow-up to the recent back-bends workshop, and provide some ideas which will help the process of incorporating those poses continue for those who are interested. Although the focus of the workshop went beyond anything we'll cover in DK, the premises are certainly still useful even for the "baby backbends" we will begin to learn this week. The very short version of that information is that backbends of all types require a great range of motion in the hip-flexors, shoulders, and upper back. We will experience some of that in our next class (10/12), and I'll write in more depth soon.

I also have more I want to say about the sthira/sukham conversation we began recently, and I am again going to strongly encourage you to invest in a copy (or two) of both the Yoga Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita if you haven't already. They are crucial in deepening one's commitment to and understanding of yoga.

We are continuing our work with Week 14, and will focus on Salabhasana, Makarasana, Dhanurasana, and Bhujangasana I this week. Sneak a peek ahead of time if you get a chance. I am looking forward to class, and I am anxious to say more very soon.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


How much of YOGA is actually about the poses? It seems like most (or even all of it) if your knowledge of the practice is limited to a contemporary Western perspective. Many a sticky mat is unrolled with the intention of bending and stretching, twisting and folding the body into more and more elaborate displays of physical prowess with a mere toleration of a few snippets of philosophical pep-talk at the beginning and/or end of practice. No doubt, the asana are attractive, even seductive. They evoke a kind of yoga-lust because they feel so good, and that keeps us coming back for more and more. They teach us about perseverance and humility. They give us confidence as well as fitness. They highlight the extraordinary capabilities of the human body (how lucky we are to have one!). And they're fun!

Clearly the asana are valuable. But let's return to the question at hand -- how much of yoga is actually about the poses? -- and the honest answer is not much. Even a brief glimpse into yogic material beyond a typical studio class makes this apparent. The most obvious indicator of that is found in yoga expositions (first oral, then written) which are widely accepted to be at least (and some likely more than) 5,000 years old. However, the first texts to thoroughly discuss asana are merely 500 years old (i.e. Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Siva Samhita, and Gheranda Samhita), and they are limited to only a couple dozen postures, very few of which we would recognize today. Most of what we do practice today -- the Sun Salutes and the Warriors and the Half-Bound-This and the One-Legged-That have existed for less than a century (and we can primarily thank Sri Krishnamacharya, K. Pattabhi Jois, and Guruji Iyengar for them). In fact, the text that many practitioners consider to be the most revered and foundational for the study and practice of yoga, Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (circa +/- 500C.E.), includes just a single (though powerful!) comment regarding yoga-postures:

A pose should be steady and comfortable.

In its entirety, the Sutra contains 196 aphorisms which define and outline a complete practice meant to culminate in absolute liberation from the gross sufferings of the human condition, and everything you need to know about what to do with your body is conveyed through simply stating that any position is suitable if it is sthira (firm and stable) and sukha (easy and comfortable).

Why, then, is so much emphasis placed on the poses? And, if not the poses, then what is it all about? To answer that, we need a deeper understanding of the Yoga Sutra in general (hint: read the previous paragraph again), and more specifically Sutra II.29 (which first introduces the idea of "asanam" but doesn't explain it) and II.46 (which defines it, as we've just seen). And I am going to save the discussion of both of them for another post. In the meantime, I am going to strongly encourage you to invest in a copy (or, even better, two different copies for comparison's sake) of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra as well as the Bhagavad Gita. A serious practice is dependent upon a knowledge of and respect toward both.

And, because the asana are in fact important and are a legitimate focus in which we are currently invested, below is another modified version of the sequence we will follow when we meet for class on October 5. It includes all of the poses we have learned to this point, and omits several which are still to come.

The "Sort've Week Fourteen" Sequence Part 2:

     Opening meditation and Warm-up. Consider giving yourself time for a brief (5 minutes) warm-up which can include Cat/Cow variations, Surya Namaskar variations, and/or poses which specifically target the areas which you know are inhibiting your Sirsasana. Or start immediately with Sirsasana.

     Salamba Sirsasana I, 3-5 minutes

     Trikonasana, 30-60 seconds

     Parivrtta Trikonasana, 30-60 seconds

     Parsvakonasana, 30-60 seconds

     Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, 30-60 seconds

     Virabhadrasana I, II, & III, 30-60 seconds each

     Ardha Chandrasana, 30-60 seconds

     Parsvottanasana, 30-60 seconds

     Prasarita Padottanasana I & II, 30-60 seconds

     Padangusthasana, 30-60 seconds

     Padahastasana, 30-60 seconds

     Uttanasana, 30-60 seconds

     Parighasana, 30-60 seconds

     Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (UPPs), 3-5 breaths per stage, 3-5 reps.

     Paripurna Navasana, 30-60 seconds

     Ardha Navasana, 15-30 seconds

     Salamba Sarvangasana I, 5-7 minutes

     Halasana, 1-5 minutes

     Karnapidasana, 30-60 seconds

     *Supta Konasana, 30-60 seconds

     *Parsva Halasana, 30-60 seconds

     Ekapada Sarvangasana, 30-60 seconds

     Jathara Parivartanasana, 30-60 seconds

     Ujjayi Pranayama with inhalation retention in Savasana, 5-15 minutes

Take a look at each of these poses before practice, *particularly the new ones*. Make note of their Sanskrit and English names, their rating (printed just next to the name), the instructions (including how long he recommends holding each one), and their effects. What stands out? What is interesting? or unclear? or surprising? Come to class with questions and comments.

"[W]hatever asana is performed, it should be done with a feeling of firmness, steadiness, and endurance in the body; goodwill in the intelligence of the head, and awareness and delight in the intelligence of the heart. This is how each asana should be understood, practiced and experienced. Performance of the asana should be nourishing and illuminative" (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Iyengar, 149)