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Iyengar 201: Play with Arm Balancing in This Tortoise Pose-to-Firefly Transition with a Chair

Using a chair as a launch pad to toggle between Kurmasana and Tittibhasana is a great way to build mobility and challenge your balance. Ready to give it a try?

Join Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Carrie Owerko for our new online course Iyengar 201—a mindful and fun journey into a more advanced practice. You’ll learn different pose modifications and creative uses for props, all designed to help you work with physical and mental challenges. And you’ll walk away with the skills you need to adapt to whatever life throws at you, on and off the mat. Sign up now.

Varying your approach to a familiar pose can be fascinating. You might ask yourself: How can I make a challenging pose more accessible? How can I change my approach in order to gain new insight into myself, as well as the asana? What might I learn by trying familiar things in different ways?

Take using a chair as a launch pad for Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) and Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) for example. If you find typically these poses challenging, using the chair in this way might be helpful. In Kurmasana on the chair, you are only responsible for lifting the lower portion of your legs. This is a great way to cultivate strength in the thighs, especially in the knee extension. Since your arms do not need to be pinned under your legs (as in the classic version of Kurmasana), you can get the feel of the sense of direction for the legs, back, and arms required by the pose without the potential strain on the back, shoulders, or elbows.

When you add the step of lifting the seat off the chair from Kurmasana to Tittibhasana, you learn how you must shift your weight onto your arms. You learn how you must center yourself in order to maximize the downward pressure of the hands and lift of the abdominal wall as you float your buttocks up and off of the chair. It’s a fun (and challenging) balance game to toggle back and forth between being on the chair and lifting off the chair. It’s also a great way to build mobility as you learn how to control and refine your movements. You might feel like you are on a miniature seesaw as you move from Tortoise to Firefly and back again. Give it a try!

Kurmasana to Tittibhasana With a Chair

Ready to learn more novel approaches to familiar poses? Sign up for Iyengar 201 now.

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Iyengar 201: Find Your Most Grounded and Spacious Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana With a Chair

Learn how to use a chair and a block in Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose to both ground and expand the posture all at once.

Join Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Carrie Owerko for our new online course Iyengar 201—a mindful and fun journey into a more advanced practice. You’ll learn different pose modifications and creative uses for props, all designed to help you work with physical and mental challenges. And you’ll walk away with the skills you need to adapt to whatever life throws at you, on and off the mat. Sign up now.

BKS Iyengar often used metaphors and analogies in his teaching. I remember in one class, we were doing Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) and he told us to “move the back side ribs down like a waterfall—shoot the top arm up like a flame!” I remember how that image brought life to the pose, imparting a sense of direction and igniting what felt like the spirit or essence of the pose.

Water metaphors come up again and again in the teachings of Mr. Iyengar, his daughter Geeta, and son Prashant. They often use the metaphor of a river and its banks: the body (which is mostly water), along with the fluid nature of our breath and intelligence, can flow like a river as we move into and out of a pose. The skin of the body might form the banks of the river, and/or the sense of direction of the pose might also provide the banks. 

For instance, in Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose), the sides of the trunk are like the banks of a river. Sometimes, we might feel quite congested or dammed up along one of our “banks.” This often manifests as an excessive shortening on the side of the trunk closest to the straight leg.

Like metaphors, props can also help give a pose a sense of direction, making room for process, variation, and imagination, as well as a moment-by-moment, continuous unfolding within the pose. In Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana, for example, a folding chair can help the tops of our thighs root toward the floor, which can feel very grounding. The chair legs also provide a type of traction to both sides of the trunk, especially the underneath side, which tends to shorten. The width of the chair legs can help create a feeling of spaciousness in the top of the chest and shoulder regions. The chair (and a block) also provide wonderful support for the head, so the brain and sense of perception can relax and rest in the pose. 

How to Practice Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana With a Chair and a Block

Ready to learn more fun, creative ways to use props? Sign up for Iyengar 201 now.

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Iyengar 201: Challenge Your Brain & Body with a New Take on Half Moon

Variations on classic poses helps create new pathways within your nervous system and open you up to possibility.

Join Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Carrie Owerko for our new online course Iyengar 201—a mindful and fun journey into a more advanced practice. You’ll learn different pose modifications and creative uses for props, all designed to help you work with physical and mental challenges. And you’ll walk away with the skills you need to adapt to whatever life throws at you, on and off the mat. Sign up now.

I remember being in India and BKS Iyengar (then in his nineties) jumping up in the middle of one of the classes while his daughter was teaching Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose). In this pose, the hand on the ground is usually a few inches in front of the forward leg foot (also on the ground). This relationship helps provide stability in the pose. If one were to keep the hand in line with the forward leg foot, that would make the pose significantly harder. Well, that’s exactly what Mr. Iyengar asked us to do. He was having us do a variation of the pose that challenged our ability to balance even more. Now we were learning how to be stable in more than one limb orientation of the pose. How marvelous! Because life is like that. There is always some variable that is unexpected. Does it throw you off balance? If it does, how might you find your equilibrium, and return to stability? 

Very often, Mr. Iyengar would use props or a variation of a pose to help make the seemingly impossible feel more possible. In doing so, a pathway was created within our nervous system—a pathway to possibility. So it wasn’t a question of can we or can’t we, it was a question of how might we.

He would also (as in the Ardha Chandrasana example) make poses more challenging by varying them in some way. This was another way of waking us up, of growing new pathways and connections within ourselves, so that we could be stable and fluid in the variety of unpredictable circumstances that life presents. These variations were not impossible, but challenging enough to allow for a fresh awakening. We stretched more than our muscles—we stretched our intelligence and our sense of what was possible. The practice was about delving into the process of how we learn and how we grow, not about perfecting a performance.

Try This Parighasana Variation of Ardha Chandrasana

The variation of Ardha Chandrasana shown in the photo above is basically an inverted Parighasana (Gate Pose). It provides a wonderful balance challenge by requiring a truly stable base as the sides of the trunk, spine, and head flow toward the floor. Flip the image and imagine you are kneeling on the aerial leg with your trunk and arms elongating toward the straight leg. Do you see Parighasana? Try it, and observe how, though the shape of the pose and joint configurations are similar, the body’s relationship to gravity changes how things work. 

Try It

1. From Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle) move into Ardha Chandrasana  by bending your right leg and shifting your weight from both legs to only the right hand and right leg. Pull up the muscles of your right leg and keep the outer right hip and buttock firm. Press out through your left heel as if you were pressing your leg into a wall.

2. With an exhalation, reach your left arm over your head as you slowly allow the sides of your trunk to elongate down toward the floor. Keep the muscles of your hips and buttocks engaged. Then bend your left leg at the knee as if you were kneeling on it in Parighasana. Allow your head and neck to relax so that the crown of your head points more and more toward the floor. Can you feel the Parighasana in this variation of Ardha Chandrasana? How does it feel different than the classic version of Parighasana?

3. Now bend your right leg and slowly move out of Ardha Chandrasana into Utthita Parvakonasana (extended side angle), then back to Utthita Trikonasana. Inhale and come up.

Ready to learn more? Sign up for Iyengar 201 now.

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Iyengar 201: 8 Reasons to Take This Course—& Advance Your Practice

Are you looking to advance and bring freshness to your Iyengar practice, expand your repertoire as a teacher, or simply step out of your comfort zone in a fun and intelligent way? Then our new course, Iyengar 201, is for you.

Join Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Carrie Owerko for our new online course Iyengar 201—a mindful and fun journey into a more advanced practice. You’ll learn different pose modifications and the creative use of props, all designed to help you work with physical and mental challenges. And you’ll walk away with the skills you need to adapt to whatever life throws at you, on and off the mat. Sign up now.

Are you looking to advance and bring freshness to your Iyengar practice, expand your repertoire as a teacher, or simply step out of your comfort zone in a fun and intelligent way? Then our new course, Iyengar 201, is for you. Here are 8 things you will learn in this adventurous sequel to our popular Iyengar 101 course:


1. Accessible variations of advanced poses

Maybe your practice has stalled as you’ve been dealing with major life change, or you’ve put it on hold to tend to an injury. In this course, you’ll learn how to adapt poses, including more advanced poses, for issues like knee problems, shoulder problems, strength issues, hip issues, and sacral or lower back issues. You’ll explore therapeutic variations of the classic yoga poses, as well as some novel pose variations that are great for everyone! For instance, maybe you’re hesitant to go deeper with your backbends or arm balancing poses. Take a pose like Eka Pada Galavasana (Flying Pigeon Pose), which can be quite challenging. We look at how you can do this pose (and others) with support, while learning the sense of direction and muscular engagement necessary to do the pose unsupported. This way you can have the experience of “flight” with less fear.

2. How to advance your practice with props

Props are great teachers. They can provide support, a sense of direction, and even challenge your current capacities. Like a good teacher, they can help bring a sense of possibility to what might otherwise seem impossible. Take a pose like Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose). In this course, we explore the pose a few different ways. We do it unsupported, but also with various props to help ignite intelligence in areas of the body that may be dull or stiff, like the upper back and shoulder region. We try a variation that doesn’t require the arms to bear the weight of the body (which is great for those with wrist issues), yet still teaches the arms how to work in the unsupported version of the pose.

3. How to use your imagination.

An advanced practice requires a well-trained imagination. For example, you don’t always need a block—you can change embodiments simply by getting a little creative. In Iyengar 101, we worked on integration, or bringing the differentiated parts of the self into a coherent whole. In Iyengar 201, we go even deeper by expanding our sense of what is possible. We invite more of our imagination into the practice, explore new poses and creative uses of props, and learn how we can grow new pathways of connection within ourselves. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding an appropriate metaphor to help support the sense of direction in a pose. Or exploring a variable of focus, like imagining your eyes and ears are in the center of your chest and seeing from that area of the body in a backbend. It can be quite powerful to exercise the mind (and change your experience) in this way.

4. How to use stay resilient

When you practice playfully, you are more inclined to try new things, or do familiar things in different ways. This course adds variability to poses you may already be familiar with, and practicing variability can help build resilience. Resilience is your capacity to adapt to the various changes and stresses of life, bounce back when you are thrown off track, and stay open and engaged even when life presents the difficult or unexpected. You can increase your resilience by getting out of your comfort zone on a regular basis. And with play, that process can be fun. 

5. How to break out of your rut (if you are in one) and find inspiration

If you’ve been practicing or teaching by rote and doing the same things in the same way for a long time, or feeling like you’re not growing, this course can help. Repetition is extremely important in this practice, but so is freshness, openness, and variability. Yoga teachers and longtime practitioners can sometimes get stuck or become mechanical in their approach. In this course, we are getting unstuck, building on what we learned in Iyengar 101, and waking ourselves up to the practice of possibility.   

6. How to challenge yourself

There are more challenging poses in this course, including a bit more work on inversions and backbends. We take some of the poses that we worked on in the first course in a supported way, and try those poses without support. We will also learn how to approach (and use support) for some of the newer and more challenging poses. 

7. How to tap into the power of possibility

Recognizing that we are not the fixed, unchanging entities that we think we are is part of what we are learning in yoga. Sometimes we have very fixed ideas about who we are and how we are, as well as who other people are, and how they are. However, we are actually always changing and evolving. This practice will help you look at change with much more curiosity. Sure, there are changes in life that we have no control over, yet we also have a say in the direction of some of this change. We can choose growth and possibility as long as we are breathing and our heart is beating.

8. How to become less dependent on your teacher

By cultivating your capacity for variability and focusing more on the direction of a pose (as opposed to becoming overly fixated on shape), you will develop more awareness, self-reliance, and physical autonomy. You’ll become less dependent on your teacher for every instruction and correction, and you gain a deeper understanding of what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you’re a teacher, you will be better able to help yourself, and help your students help themselves.

Eager to get started? Sign up for Iyengar 201 now.

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