The Yoga Toolkit for Your Home Practice
Have you ever learned a musical instrument, or do you know someone who has? There is an expectation that to progress and to make the most of your lessons there will be a certain amount of practice at home during the week. In this way, technique is embedded and musicality can flourish. It is the same with yoga. We need both; classes and practice.
The Iyengar yoga system offers an amazingly comprehensive approach to yogic practice and study. Arguably it is the most comprehensive and accessible form of classical yoga in contemporary practice. Many people, however, find it difficult to make the leap from attending classes to practising alone at home on any kind of regular basis.
Every craftsperson, every artist, every scientist, needs to develop an intimate knowledge of the tools at their disposal, and also of the materials they have to work with. As yogis our materials are our body, mind and breath. Our tools, in the Iyengar system at least, are primarily asana and pranayama. So don’t be shy. Pick up your tools. Try them out, find out how they work, how they react with the materials you have to hand. The experiments and creations that will emanate are ephemeral, so don’t be afraid. If you feel it goes a bit wrong, nobody cares. Nobody even knows. There is no judgement. Learn something and start again. There is no such thing as going wrong if the process is one of genuine enquiry.
It takes some time to build up the knowledge of vinyasa (sequencing) required to self-direct your home practice. This is where I hope that we might be of some help. We’ll be sharing some short, simple practice programmes that you can try between classes to develop your experience of sequencing, and as an aid to developing that magical chain of unbroken rhythm in practice day to day, week to week and year to year. We will be posting sequences in two categories; Beginners and Improvers. Your instinct and experience will tell you which is suitable for you. You should be practising poses that you have already learned in class. If in doubt, ask your teacher. Don’t hold back. Don’t push too hard. Have fun.
We will be using photographs as a visual aid to sequencing. Photographs are an imperfect medium for the exposition of yoga-asanas. They are too static. Your asanas should be more full of life, of vibration, than the images you see. The photographs will also depict the asanas of a practice in progress; of a practitioner/s who encounter/s many difficulties and set-backs in performing the poses. So apologies in advance for all of the mistakes. We don’t doubt that you can do better. The photographs are there only to guide you in the sequencing; how you practise the asanas is up to you and should be inspired both by what you’ve learned to date and your acute observation of the present-tense conditions of body, mind and breath.
These sequences are not an alternative to attending class on a regular basis, and we actively encourage everyone using them to seek out their local Iyengar yoga teacher if they don’t already have one. We invite and encourage questions and comments. Let us know how you get on, which sequences work for you, which not so much, what you notice and what you want to explore further. This is an intensely personal and individual voyage of discovery, supported by a community of supportive peers. We’re in this together.
Focus on alignment and stability in the feet. Can you lift the inner ankles and the knee-caps?
Standing Balances Improvers
For the balancing poses, grip the hips in. Notice the progression in the orientation of the hips in the sequence Ardha Chandrasana, Virabhadrasana 3, Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana. You can try linking all three on one side, then all three on the other. What changes?
Standing Twists Beginners/General
In times of stress, practice what is familiar. If you are new to Iyengar yoga this will be the basic standing poses. Keep your feet on the ground, and don’t forget to lie down in savasana at the end.
Standing Twists Improvers
Here’s a sequence to help you feel grounded. Wring out your anxiety with the twists, using the inhalation to extend and the exhalation to rotate further. How do the legs and hips aid balance in the standing twists.
Forward Bends Beginners/General
Practice the forward-bending poses with the head up to keep the chest lifted and open the heart region.
Forward Bends Improvers
Forward bends can be immensely restful for the mind. Work on the extension and expansion of the back of the legs in order to soften and lengthen the font of the body and find a peaceful repose in the head, neck and brain.
Suitable for all levels
Do all of these poses with a deep relaxation of the abdomen, head and face.
Concentrate on drawing the coccyx into the body in all the poses. Keep the breath soft and even.
In the backbending poses take care not to strain in the face and throat. Relax the eyes, ears, jaw and tongue. If the shoulders are tight, in Urdhva Dhanurasana place the hands on bricks.
For maximum freedom of movement sit on one or two blocks or folded blankets.
In the final stage of the twists the abdomen may become compressed or the back rounded, and it is difficult to lift up. It is therefore helpful to remain working in the intermediate stage, with the elbow pressed against the knee or the hands pressed into the floor.