Tuesday, May 26, 2015


We did something different in class this last week—we practiced a sequence of asana that used Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle 128-29) as the peak pose. That might not sound terribly exciting or noteworthy, yet I find myself continuing to think about it several days afterward.

This is an undervalued posture that typically gets relegated to the sidelines. To the best of my memory, in ten years of teaching, I have never positioned it as the peak of a sequence, nor do I remember ever being led into it as a peak by another teacher. I have certainly practiced and taught it many times, but always as either a preparation for further hip-opening or as a counter/cool-down following back bends or inversions. I certainly enjoy and appreciate the pose, but I've never highlighted it. I think it’s time to put Baddha Konasana in the spotlight, and give it a chance to gift us all that it has to offer.

The reason why it became the peak for us this week is because we, as a class, are progressing through the series of poses immediately preceding Padmasana (131) in the text. For the last several weeks, we have focused intently and mostly individually (basically one week at a time) on Navasana variations, the deep adduction poses (Gomukhasana and Lolasana), and Virasana variations (including reclining and back bending). Baddha Konasana is the last pose in this particular (albeit unconventional, see pervious post) sequence before Padmasana, and I nearly skipped it as its own peak. I considered moving straight from Bhekasana to Padmasana and only including Baddha Konasana as a preparatory pose with Lotus as the peak. While that would have been more conventional, I am so glad that I decided otherwise.

Mr. Iyengar certainly seems to have been a fan of the pose. He dedicated half a page in the text to describing its positive effects, and says it benefits the elimination and reproduction organs of both men and women, it can be soothing for sciatica, and it can be used during pranayama and meditation practices. Seated forward folds in general, particularly “mild” ones like this, are considered to be calming and revitalizing for the nervous system, and they are associated with relieving minor back aches. It is equally respected and promoted in the Ashtanga system as well. There are three different variations of it practiced in the Primary Series. Not only is it considered an important posture in these major traditions, but it also shows up in both of their “short forms.” By that I mean that both LoY and the Primary Series have condensed versions (sometimes referred to as “short forms”) of their particular sequences that can be practiced when one doesn’t have sufficient time in which to practice the sequence in its entirety, and when you only have time to practice some of the poses, both traditions recommend retaining Baddha Konasana. Seated hip openers, Baddha Konasana included, are powerful poses, but they are not necessarily “easy” to practice. Baddha Konasana in particular requires a surprising amount of strength. It is a pose most often practiced for its ability to open and make flexible the hips, but in order to experience that, the core, spine, and outer thighs must be strong and stable. In that way, it becomes a deceptively challenging posture to practice well.

Speaking of strong core, spine, and thighs, if you notice the sequence in the text leading up to Baddha Konasna, you will see that there actually is a focus on those things prior to this pose. In fact, the focus in this section is two part: (1) upper body (torso / axial skeleton) strength and stability, as well as (2) lower body (hips down through feet) flexibility and mobility. And those happen to be two things you need a lot of in this pose. Starting back with Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (109) and Adho Mukha Svanasana (110) you get upper body stability. Then Dandasana, Paripurna Navasana, and Ardha Navasana (112-13) compliment that nicely and provide additional upper body stability. Gomukhasana (115) gives lower body mobility while Lolasana (117) combines stability with mobility. Siddhasana (120) is also a combination of stability (in order to sit straightly upright) and mobility (in order to properly fold the legs) although clearly much less intense than Lolasana, and similar to, but also less intense than, Baddha Konasana. Finally the Virasana variations (120-27) are definitely about lower body mobility (particularly feet and ankles), and the reclining and back bending variations (Supta Virasana, Paryankasana, and Bhekasana) further focus on lower body mobility while also incorporating upper body stability. Assuming all of that has gone well as a series of poses, the body should be well prepared for, and happy to receive, the tall and open shape of Bound Angle—the core, spine, and outer thighs should be capable of providing adequate supportiveness while the hips should be supple enough to release fairly readily into a combination of (moderately deep) external rotation and abduction.

Of course this isn’t the only way to prepare the body for this pose, and, in fact, we have talked before about this sequence being rather unconventional. I think it is a good sequence IF you are comfortable performing each of the poses in the sequence. If, however, any of those poses need to be their own peak experience for you with appropriate preparations and modifications beforehand, then using them as a specific means of getting toward Bound Angle may not be your best choice. It doesn’t make it bad or wrong, but it is possible that some other route, with some other sequence of poses, would better prepare you.

The following is the sequence we practiced together on Sunday with a few extras added in. Like the series of poses presented in the text, it is just one way (not the only, not the best, just one) to practice with Baddha Konasana as the peak pose. Feel free to add/subtract/modify/rearrange anything to fit your needs/desires; it can even be turned into a flow-style practice if you like. I’m not providing how-to instructions here for form or alignment (just a list of pose names), so if some pose is unfamiliar to you, skip it, replace it, or Google it. I might suggest trying both of these sequences (the one from LoY and the one shared here), and just experiment with your body. Notice challenging moments and easeful moments, what works and what doesn’t, and how you feel afterward. There isn’t a right or a wrong; only two different ways to get to the same place—with much deserved light on Baddha Konasana.

Props: a wall, a strap, 2 blocks (preferably 4”)

[Reclined hip and leg openers]
wind-shield wiper twist/stretch
Succirandhrasana (thread-the-needle)
Garuda’s (Eagle pose legs) twist

     repeat wind-shield wipers, Succir., and Garuda’s twist a second time on each side

Ekapada puvanna muktasana (“EPPM,” hug one knee to chest and then to armpit)
Supta Padangusthasana I prep. (reclining hand-to-big-toe pose variation with hands clasped behind top thigh)
Supta Padangusthasana I fuller form with a strap or hold on to big toe

     repeat EPPM, Supta P. prep., and Supta P. a second time on each side

Supta Padangusthasana variation with top leg extended out to side, and a BIG external rotation to the top leg

Supta Padangusthasana variation with top leg out to side, a big external rotation, then bend your knee to bring the heel toward your groin for a reclined variation of one-legged Bound Angle, then position the top leg into Half Lotus, and finally bend the bottom knee for a Half Lotus variation of Thread-the-needle

[Standing poses]
Downward-facing dog (AMS)
walk hands back to Uttanasana

Uttanasana, walk hands out to AMS
AMS lunge (“down dog lunge”) each side
Lizard lunge (forearms down) each side
AMS to Uttanasana

Utkatasana to Uttanasana
Garudasana legs
     repeat Garudasana either just legs or add the arms for the second round
vinyasa and take 2 extra breaths during Upward-facing dog

[Seated hip openers]
Gomukhasana legs
     repeat Gomukhasana either just legs or add the arms for the second round
Virasana, practice all four feet positions as presented in the text
Supta Virasana
Paryankasana with one block under each shoulder blade, practice with straight legs if Hero legs are uncomfortable
AMS with strong, straight legs; no pedaling or fidgeting

Agnistambhasana (Fire log pose)
Siddhasana at the wall with a block positioned behind your upper back; stay for 2-5 minutes
Upavistha Konasana at the wall with a block positioned behind your upper back; stay for 2-5 minutes

Baddha Konasana at the wall with a block positioned behind your upper back; stay for 2-5 minutes
Baddha Konasana with a block between your feet; press your feet together firmly and sit up tall as if the block were still behind your back
     1. with block positioned so that its widest edges separate the feet, stay for 1 minute
     2. with block positioned so that its medium edges separate the feet, stay for 1 minute
     3. with block positioned so that its narrowest edges separate the feet, stay for 1 minute
Now try Baddha Konasana without the block
If your hips feel open and your knees are on (or very close to) the floor, fold and stretch your spine forward to bring your chin to (or toward) the floor in front of your feet

[closing and resting poses]
Bharadvajasana I and/or II
Janu Sirsasana
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge pose)
reclined twist of choice


Iyengar, B.K.S., Yoga Wisdom & Practice: For health, happiness, and a better world. London: DK, 2009. Print.

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Click here to read a piece entitled Kula--Contact Yoga which I recently contributed to the "Live a Grounded Life" blog hosted by Solid Roots Yoga.

Enjoy! And, as always, let's practice together soon and often.

Saturday, May 2, 2015


My early relationship with Light on Yoga, like most people's, was as a kind of reference book. I didn't view it as a whole, as an ordered development of poses with a beginning, middle, and end. In fact, in some ways, it seemed entirely without order. When I had a question or curiosity about some particular posture, I would pick it up and flip right to the index. Then I would go to the page for that pose to look at its pictures and read its instructions, and that's it. It didn't occur to me to look at the pose(s) before or after. It didn't occur to me to look for patterns or sequences or to think of it as a self-contained practice. Instead it was almost like a phonebook of asana -- you don't read the phonebook from beginning to end; you go right to the information which is most relevant in that moment. In that way, LoY helped me connect to individual poses. I loved it for that. It wasn't until years later -- and over the slow course of several year's worth of time -- that I realized there was something much more deliberate and noteworthy in its organization. And that made me love it even more.

If you look closely there is a decipherable sequence within the book as a whole, but one that is only fully accessible to very experienced practitioners. In other words, one could use the book as a manual for a full-spectrum practice beginning with Tadasana and ending with Savasana with all of the asana from basics to advanced in between. But if you are not a very experienced practitioner capable of full-spectrum advanced postures, please do not discount the value of this book. There is a wealth of information in its pages -- some of it sits lightly on the surface ready to be known as soon as you crack it open while other parts are more deeply buried and are only discoverable to those who invest the effort and patience necessary to shine light on them.

Something accessible to all students, regardless of experience level or postural capacities, is the mini-sequences found throughout the text. They may not be immediately visible upon simply turning the pages. But they are there, and they're worth noticing.

There are lots of these so-called mini-sequences in the book, and I think the set of poses immediately prior to Padmasana (Lotus pose, 129-32) is particularly interesting. My experience as both a student and a teacher has often included lots of external rotation and abduction work as direct preparation for Lotus -- essentially all kinds of poses and variations of poses that encourage the inner thighs to stretch and widen; poses that mimic the basic form of Lotus's pretzel-y legs without the full intensity of that difficult position. That's a typical approach, and a reasonable one, as well.

However, that is not exactly the way it is presented in LoY. The sequence of poses preceding Lotus in the book includes a combination of core-strength and hip-opening. The hip-opening, though, isn't what you would expect. It is mostly internal rotation and adduction. Why would core-strength, internal thigh rotation, and adduction be placed just before Lotus pose? This is one of the reasons why the text sometimes seems disorderly rather than methodical. It is true that the sequence is unconventional, but it is not disorderly. There is a method embedded in the madness.

Let's consider this particular mini-sequence as starting with Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog pose, 109) and ending with Padmasana. It would be as follows:

     Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward-facing Dog pose, "UMS")

     Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-facing Dog pose, "AMS", 110)

     Dandasana (Staff pose, 112)

     Paripurna Navasana (Full Boat pose, 113)

     Ardha Navasana (Half Boat pose, 113)

     Gomukhasana (Cow-face pose, 115)

     Lolasana (Pendant pose, 117)

     Siddhasana (Adept's Seat pose, 120)

     Virasana (Hero pose, 121-23)

     Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero pose, 124)

     Paryankasana (Couch pose, 125)

     Bhekasana (Frog pose, 126-27)

     Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle pose, 128-30)

     Padmasana (Lotus pose)

In short, what is happening here is this set of poses is providing lower-body mobility (opening and loosening for the ankles, knees, and hips) while simultaneously creating torso strength and stability via the back bends and abdominal poses. Lotus pose, keep in mind, is meant to be used as a stable seated position for practicing pranayama (breath exercise) and meditation techniques. If the muscles of the torso, either along the belly or the spine, are weak, you will not be able to sit for any kind of prolonged practice period. And, of course, if your ankles, knees, or hips lack suppleness, you won't be able to get into the pose at all, let alone sustain it. Therefore, the poses immediately preceding Lotus pose provide the stability and mobility needed to be in the pose.

In case it still isn't entirely clear as to how all of that is happening here, I'll highlight a few specific points.

First, UMS, AMS, Staff pose, and Full Boat pose are strikingly similar when the form of the upper-body is considered. Look at them side by side:

Notice the shape of the chest in particular. With only a minimal repositioning of the arms and head along with a change in the relationship to gravity, these four poses have a lot in common. UMS and Staff pose are essentially identical with the exception that UMS places the legs in extension which makes the pose a back bend while the legs are flexed into a forward bend for Staff pose.

AMS, Staff pose, and Boat pose are essentially a single physical form interpreted three different ways relative to gravity.

These four poses (UMS, AMS, Staff, and Boat) are presented sequentially in the text, at least in part, because they are clearly related to one another in physical form. Each one provides a preparation or compliment for the one following. And they can easily be practiced in a continuous flow-style movement: from UMS, the hips lift and the chest presses back into AMS; from AMS, the legs jump through the arms to sit for Staff pose; from Staff pose, the body rocks back to balance on the buttocks for Boat pose; from Boat pose, the hands press into the floor next to the hips, the legs swing back through the arms, and the chest lifts for UMS; and so on. In other words, not only are these poses really important individually, but this mini-sequence is also the beginning of the Sun Salutation components. This is the first place that LoY presents a kind of "vinyasa."

The next pose is Ardha Navasana (Half Boat pose) which provides additional core strengthening. It is a more intense version of Full Boat. What make it more difficult is the clasp of the arms behind the head plus the repositioning of the torso and legs much closer to the ground. But those characteristics are what makes it so effective -- they challenge the muscle groups in a different way than Full Boat. Also the abdominal strengthening postures are included here to prepare you, in part, for the inversions that are not far away when the sequence is viewed as a whole.

Gomukhasana (Cow-face pose) takes a break from the strong core work, but not for long. Here is the beginning of more focused attention on the mobility of the hips, knees, and ankles. The standing poses, belly-down back bends, and core work that precede this pose emphasize generating heat and stability. This is something a little different: it highlights stretching and flexibility more so than strength. And it serves as a transition pose between what has already happened and what is about to happen. By combining the stability of the UMS arms and Staff pose spine with the strength of the Boat pose abdomen and the bendy Cow-face legs, you get the next pose: Lolasana (Pendant pose).

Pendant pose is the first of many arm-balances presented in the text. And, not only is it the peak at the end of its own mini-sequence (UMS + Staff + Boat + Cow-face = Pendant), it is also another component of the traditional Sun Salutation insofar as it prepares you to jump and swing the legs either forward or backward through the arms.

Mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles continues to be the primary focus in the next pose which is Siddhasana (Adept's Seat pose). But, different from the previous poses, now we see the first posture which utilizes external rotation and abduction at the hips. In this way, it is both a kind of counter-pose to what preceded it (Cow-face and Pendant both position the legs in internal rotation and adduction) as well as a sneak-peak into what is developing.

After that brief break, we go back to the internal rotation and adduction position of the hips and legs to practice several different stages of Virasana (Hero pose), and the focus is still on mobility in the hips, knees, and ankles. The deep flexion of the knees, the stretch for the ankles, and the upper-body seated on the feet in this way make Hero pose similar to Cow-face pose.

But the adduction of the thighs is lessened in Hero pose making it less intense for the hips. Notice that in Cow-face the legs are crossed above the knees so that the thighs move beyond the midline whereas in Hero pose the thighs are joined at the midline. In some ways, it would make sense to place Cow-face after Hero pose as it is a more difficult position for the legs, and therefore Hero could serve as a preparation for Cow-face. You certainly could do that. However, the advantage of practicing Cow-face first is that the challenge of Hero pose is greatly dissipated if you have already prepared the hips in the more extreme form; that is to say, if you can comfortably practice Cow-face legs, then you can surely practice Hero legs as the latter is less demanding. And, if by the time you enter Hero pose, your hips and knees are adequately prepared, you can focus your attention on other important components of the posture, such as the feet and upper-body.

There are four different positions for the feet in Hero pose, and each one provides a slightly different stretch for the lower legs, particularly the ankles. The final form is when the feet rest on either side of the hips (rather than underneath them) and are pointed straight back so that the inner and outer ankles are equally extended. At this point the upper-body experiences four additional stages of Hero pose.

After the forward folded stages of Hero pose come the supine stages known as Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero pose) and Paryankasana (Couch pose). These two poses continue the theme of ankle, knee, and hip mobility, and they add a focus of stretching the hip-flexor muscles along the front of the thighs and into the lower abdomen. Tightness in the hip-flexors will prevent the femur bone from sitting properly inside the hip-socket. If the femur bone is improperly positioned, it will limit your ability to fold the legs into Lotus pose. So even though these poses don't much resemble Lotus in their physical form, practicing them first is a huge part of preparing for it.

Then, you simply flip over to a prone position and repeat the same basic form while on your belly for Bhekasana (Frog pose). It continues to open the hip-flexors and strengthen the spine, and the contact of the hands against the top of the feet further stretches the ankles in cotninued preparation for Lotus pose.

Similar to Siddhasana seen earlier in this sequence, Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle pose) serves as both a counter-pose to what has just taken place (the deep internal rotation, adduction, and hip-flexion of the Hero pose variations) as well as a sneak-peak at what follows (Lotus pose is next). All of the preceding attention to the hips, knees, and ankles has presumably prepared the body to achieve this mild hip-opener with relative ease. At this point, the lower body is quite supple, any pressure otherwise experienced in the ankles or knees has likely been relieved, and, not only do the thighs open easily now that they are properly positioned within the hip-socket, it probably feels very good to allow them to do so. Of course, if you got to this point and didn't feel supple in the hips, knees, or ankles, then you probably would not want to proceed into Lotus pose.

The only posture left is the peak of our mini-sequence: Padmasana. Utilizing everything we have covered up to this point -- stable spine, uplifted chest and upper-back, strong belly, open hips, bendy knees, and mobile ankles -- each foot is carefully positioned over the top of the opposite thigh to create Lotus pose.

You can certainly see the similarities between Siddhasana, Baddha Konasana, and Padmasana, and why they would commonly be used as preparations for each other.

And it is understandable that the direct correlation between Hero pose and Lotus pose is often overlooked. They don't appear at first to have that much in common. But if you look closely, you can see traces of Hero legs in Lotus legs. And, of course, their relationship makes much more sense when viewed from the context of the particular sequences of events we just explored.

Again, this is definitely not the most conventional means of sequencing Lotus pose. And it probably isn't the best way to initially learn the pose. This particular sequence is probably most effective for those people for whom these poses are already well-established. They can each be broken down and their component parts better understood by placing them in other postural arrangements. Then this unique mini-sequence can be explored and experimented with.

As I mentioned earlier, Lotus pose is often used during pranayama and meditation practice, and for that you want the body to be as comfortable and stress-free as possible. That makes a build-up to Lotus itself a fantastic peak-pose sequence. But, of course, this isn't the end of sequencing in the book. Now that Lotus pose has entered the practice, it plays a major role in many of the subsequent asana. The next section of the book revisits most of the basic forms we were just introduced to but now with Lotus legs -- arm-balancing (Tolasana and Kukkutasana), back bending (Simhasana and Matsyasana), forward folding (Baddha Padmasana), etc. Then, all of that hip-opening is utilized in a series of poses focused on basic forward folding techniques. Following that, Lotus legs shows up again in several variations of inversions, more challenging arm-balances, and deeper forward bends later on, all of which have their own mini-sequences embedded within.

This short thirty-page section alone is rich and deep with work that could keep us studying for a very long time. As you see, not only are the individual poses essential for their own sakes, there are sequences inside of sequences which have the potential to unlock all new avenues of understanding and awareness and experiences.

Barring any limitations which would prevent a safe practice, I encourage you to try this mini-sequence and see how your body responds to it. Or find your own mini-sequence to play with. As a whole, LoY may not be conventional in its sequential presentation, but it does have order. And sometimes the unconventional approach takes you exactly where you wanted to go all along, just in a brand new way.