On this page, you can find various yoga sequences suitable for level I.
Four general sequences
These Iyengar Yoga Level 1 Sequences include foundation poses from the Teacher-in-Training certification including Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand). Timings are given for some poses; students are encouraged to do others according to their capacity; repetitions are recommended over timings, to avoid strain.
This Basic standing sequence includes?the basic standing poses with restorative supine poses towards the end of the practice. Students are encouraged to stay in the pose according to their capacity; repetitions are recommended over timings, to avoid strain.
This 20-Minute-Yoga-Fix-Sequence is ideal for ?on the go? or if you are short of time. The sequence includes 10 asanas only and is designed to energise the body and calm the mind. Students are encouraged to stay in the pose according to their capacity; repetitions are recommended over timings, to avoid strain.
Sanskrit is the original language of yoga. The names of the asanas (postures) often help to understand the pose. Some are names of sages from a known legend/poem, while others are names of animals, body parts, movements, and more.
The Sanskrit names of asanas are used in most Iyengar classes. I found that I could benefit more from the asana if I know the Sanskrit name. I immediately prepare for the following asana and don?t have to wait and see what others are doing first.
I made this list when I wanted to learn the Sanskrit names. I chose the words that were part of the most common asanas practised in class at the time. It is not a complete list but it should get you going.
Sanskrit ? English Dictionary
Vrksasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana
Tree pose, Full Arm balance pose
Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana
Visit our schedule page to find out when we teach Iyengar Yoga at LiveYoga Amsterdam.
Every other week we have workshops based on the Iyengar Style of Yoga. Visit our Event page.
ABOUT SAGE PATANJALI
According to Indian mythology, Patanjali was the incarnation of lord Adisesa. Legend says he fell into the praying hands of Ganukia who had no children. One day she was praying to the Sun God while a little snake in the water in the palms of her hands turned into a human shape. She raised him as her child and named him Patanjali; pata = fall, anjali = the folding of the hands during prayer.
Patanjali is the author of three important commentaries; the Mahabhasya, on grammar for right speech, Ayurveda, medicine for health, and The Yoga Sutras ? showing how through Yoga practice we can gain control on our mind and emotions, overcome obstacles and attain union with the divine.
INVOCATION TO PATANJALI | ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Salutation to the noblest sage ? Patanjali,?who gave us yoga for serenity of mind, grammar for purity of speech, and medicine for the health of the body.
I prostrate before Patanjali, whose upper body has a human form, whose arms hold a conch and disk, and whose crowned by a thousand headed cobra,
O incarnation of Adisesa, my?salutations to Thee.
ABOUT THE SYMBOLS IN THE INVOCATION:
The conch and the disk are symbols for alarm and destruction in the case of a danger such as evil thoughts or disease. Through the practice of yoga, one learns to recognize and eliminate these evil thoughts or diseases and reach God.
The Cobra has many symbols, every religion had some sort of serpent worship. In the ?Hathayoga Paradipika? the Lord of Serpents, Ananta (=infinite, eternal), supports the earth and protects it. It is believed that snakes shed their skins and emerge as new, therefore they are a symbol of eternity, fertility, regeneration, evolution and wisdom. It?s venom is poisonous but medicinal, it represents the practice of Yoga in which we learn how to convert emotions like anger, greed and lust to control, contentment, love and compassion.
The Human Torso?symbolises?the essence of Yoga, our evolution through the yoga practice. As Patanjali transformed from a small snake into a human body, so does anyone can grow, expand their intelligence and transform.
Northwestern Medicine scientists have discovered for the first time that the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.
Visit our class page to find out which of our breathing classes suits you!
Breathing is not just for oxygen; it?s now linked to brain function and behaviour.
These effects on behaviour depend critically on whether you inhale or exhale and whether you breathe through the nose or mouth.
In the study, individuals were able to identify a fearful face more quickly if they encountered the face when breathing in compared to breathing out. Individuals also were more likely to remember an object if they encountered it on the inhaled breath than the exhaled one. The effect disappeared if breathing was through the mouth.
?One of the major findings in this study is that there is a dramatic difference in brain activity in the amygdala and hippocampus during inhalation compared with exhalation,? said lead author Christina Zelano, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. ?When you breathe in, we discovered you are stimulating neurons in the olfactory cortex, amygdala and hippocampus, all across the limbic system.?
Northwestern scientists first discovered these differences in brain activity while studying seven patients with epilepsy who were scheduled for brain surgery. A week prior to surgery, a surgeon implanted electrodes into the patients? brains in order to identify the origin of their seizures. This allowed scientists to acquire electro-physiological data directly from their brains. The recorded electrical signals showed brain activity fluctuated with breathing. The activity occurs in brain areas where emotions, memory and smells are processed.
This discovery led scientists to ask whether cognitive functions typically associated with these brain areas ? in particular fear processing and memory ? could also be affected by breathing.
The amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing, in particular, fear-related emotions. So scientists asked about 60 subjects to make rapid decisions on emotional expressions in the lab environment while recording their breathing. Presented with pictures of faces showing expressions of either fear or surprise, the subjects had to indicate, as quickly as they could, which emotion each face was expressing. NeuroscienceNews.com image is for illustrative purposes only.
The amygdala is strongly linked to emotional processing, in particular, fear-related emotions. So scientists asked about 60 subjects to make rapid decisions on emotional expressions in the lab environment while recording their breathing. Presented with pictures of faces showing expressions of either fear or surprise, the subjects had to indicate, as quickly as they could, which emotion each face was expressing.
When faces were encountered during inhalation, subjects recognized them as fearful more quickly than when faces were encountered during exhalation. This was not true for faces expressing surprise. These effects diminished when subjects performed the same task while breathing through their mouths. Thus the effect was specific to fearful stimuli during nasal breathing only.
In an experiment aimed at assessing?memory function?? tied to the hippocampus ? the same subjects were shown pictures of objects on a computer screen and told to remember them. Later, they were asked to recall those objects. Researchers found that recall was better if the images were encountered during inhalation.
The findings imply that rapid breathing may confer an advantage when someone is in a dangerous situation, Zelano said.
Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function
The need to breathe links the mammalian olfactory system inextricably to the respiratory rhythms that draw air through the nose. In rodents and other small animals, slow oscillations of local field potential activity are driven at the rate of breathing (?2?12 Hz) in olfactory bulb and cortex, and faster oscillatory bursts are coupled to specific phases of the respiratory cycle. These dynamic rhythms are thought to regulate cortical excitability and coordinate network interactions, helping to shape olfactory coding, memory, and behavior. However, while respiratory oscillations are a ubiquitous hallmark of olfactory system function in animals, direct evidence for such patterns is lacking in humans. In this study, we acquired intracranial EEG data from rare patients (Ps) with medically refractory epilepsy, enabling us to test the hypothesis that cortical oscillatory activity would be entrained to the human respiratory cycle, albeit at the much slower rhythm of ?0.16?0.33 Hz. Our results reveal that natural breathing synchronizes electrical activity in human piriform (olfactory) cortex, as well as in limbic-related brain areas, including amygdala and hippocampus. Notably, oscillatory power peaked during inspiration and dissipated when breathing was diverted from nose to mouth. Parallel behavioral experiments showed that breathing phase enhances fear discrimination and memory retrieval. Our findings provide a unique framework for understanding the pivotal role of nasal breathing in coordinating neuronal oscillations to support stimulus processing and behavior.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT?Animal studies have long shown that olfactory oscillatory activity emerges in line with the natural rhythm of breathing, even in the absence of an odor stimulus. Whether the breathing cycle induces cortical oscillations in the human brain is poorly understood. In this study, we collected intracranial EEG data from rare patients with medically intractable epilepsy, and found evidence for respiratory entrainment of local field potential activity in human piriform cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus. These effects diminished when breathing was diverted to the mouth, highlighting the importance of nasal airflow for generating respiratory oscillations. Finally, behavioral data in healthy subjects suggest that breathing phase systematically influences cognitive tasks related to amygdala and hippocampal functions.
?Nasal Respiration Entrains Human Limbic Oscillations and Modulates Cognitive Function? by Christina Zelano, Heidi Jiang, Guangyu Zhou, Nikita Arora, Stephan Schuele, Joshua Rosenow and Jay A. Gottfried in?Journal of Neuroscience. Published online December 7 2016 doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2586-16.2016
The Sanskrit word chandra refers to the brilliance of the moon. In a pose like Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), the extension of your torso in one direction and the uplifted leg in the other draws a line that represents the flat edge of a half moon, while the energy in your extended arms and standing leg radiate out like beams in the night sky. Half Moon Pose is a great asana for learning how to balance and grow awareness in what can at first seem a disorienting position. The pose can also ease lower-back problems, relieving sacrum pain, sciatica pain, and lumbar aches. Note, though, that Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) is both the entrance and the exit to Ardha Chandrasana, so you’ll need to be comfortable with that pose first. Because of the external rotation of the standing leg, opening of the chest, and lateral extension of the spine, Ardha Chandrasana is like a balancing version of Triangle, and you may just find that your Triangle improves because of Half Moon.
The idea of “radiating out” in a balancing pose may sound out of reach. But I’ve found that if you concentrate on creating stability in your standing leg, hip, shoulder blades, and tailbone, you’ll have a strong foundation from which to extend and expand in all directions. The variations here will help you build that foundation so you can balance with confidence and shine in all directions. In the first variation, with your back against the wall, you can experience the shape of the pose without having to struggle to keep your balance; in the second variation, you’ll focus on the stretch of the torso and top leg in opposite directions. In the final pose, you can put all of the components together, so that with strength and stability, you can stretch and expand like a brilliant moon.
Helps with some kinds of lower back pain
Strengthens back, legs, hips, and abdomen
Increases flexibility of spinal muscles
Eases premenstrual tension
Recent hip or knee replacement
High blood pressure or eye strain (avoid looking up)
The Great Wall
Doing this pose with your back against a wall gives you a chance to feel the shape without much of the challenge of balancing, allowing you to work on the proper alignment and the muscle actions in the legs, hips, back, and shoulders. The wall can also alleviate any fear of falling backward, and thus build confidence in the pose.
For this variation I recommend using a block for your hand. The block is helpful if you have a stiff back or tight hamstrings. It essentially raises the floor so that you can lift your torso and experience the lightness and sense of expansion of Ardha Chandrasana.
To begin, stand with your back against a sturdy wall. Step your feet wide apart, place a block in between the outer edge of the right foot and the wall, and extend your arms to the sides. Turn your right foot and leg out 90 degrees so that the inner edge of the foot is parallel to the wall. Turn the left toes in slightly, but keep the back of your left heel in contact with the wall. Exhale and extend the torso over your right leg, place your right hand on the block, and come into Triangle Pose. Bend the right leg deeply, and step your left foot halfway toward the right foot as you move the right hand and block about a foot (or more if you’re tall) forward. Straighten and firm the left leg and keep the right leg bent as you lift the left leg up until the foot is slightly above the pelvis. Turn your right knee out, aiming for the right foot’s little toe, as you pull the quadriceps up and straighten the right leg.
Press your left thighbone and heel into the wall. Extend the back of your left heel along the wall away from your head as you lengthen your chest away from the left heel. Roll the shoulders back and extend the left arm up in line with the right arm.
Do you feel light and free? Or have you relaxed the muscles, collapsed the chest, and bent the standing knee in order to balance? To radiate extension, inhale as you lengthen your tailbone and buttock toward the left foot. Turn your chest toward the ceiling and the left side of the waist toward the wall. Your head and left shoulder, arm, and heel should be on the wall. Your right buttock may be touching too, but don’t lean it on the wall.
To come out of the pose, exhale and bend the right knee deeply. Now reach back with the left leg to place the left foot back down on the floor. Put your right hand on your right ankle and straighten both legs, returning to Utthita Trikonasana. Come up on the inhalation, and repeat on your left side.
Moving Up and Out
In this variation, the wall does not aid with balance as much as it gives the raised foot something to press into, which helps bring more life into your uplifted leg and align it with the spine. Stand with the outer edge of your left foot against the wall and step your feet apart so that the distance between them is a little less than it would be for Triangle. Your body is perpendicular to the wall this time, not leaning against it. Turn the right foot 90 degrees away from the wall. Place a block on the outside of your right foot. With your right hand on the block and right knee bent, step the left foot forward toward the right foot, and move the block forward 12 inches or more. Then raise the left leg and place the sole of the left foot on the wall. Rest your left hand on your left hip with your elbow bent.
Take a look at both legs to make sure you’re set up properly. The left foot should be a little higher than the left side of the pelvis and parallel to the floor, with the arch in line with the right heel. The right leg should be perpendicular to the floor. If it’s not, you may need to step your right foot closer to or farther from the wall. Finally, take the back of your head in line with your buttocks.
Once you’re set up, bend both knees. Turn your right thigh out so that your kneecap points over the right toes. On the inhalation, pull your right kneecap and quadriceps up as you straighten your right leg, maintaining the rotation. Now push your left foot into the wall and straighten the left leg by pressing the front of the thigh back. As you lengthen the left Achilles tendon and inner heel into the wall with the foot flexed, lengthen the entire backside of the left leg from the buttocks toward the wall. Now extend your chest and torso away from the wall.
Then, once again, bend the right knee and turn the right leg out as you lengthen both buttocks toward the wall, away from your head. Straighten the right knee, keeping the buttocks and outer right thigh turning toward the wall as you pull the right thigh muscles up from the knee to the hip. Repeating this will help train and strengthen your legs and hips, so that instead of sinking into your hip and knee, your joints support the lift of the spine. Move your shoulder blades forward into the chest, inhale, and revolve your chest toward the ceiling. If you feel balanced, turn your head to look up.
You can hold the pose for 30 seconds to one minute; to come down, exhale and bend the right leg, step the left foot back to the floor at the wall, and straighten both legs before standing up. Now turn around and repeat on the other side.
On Your Own
When you do the final pose without the support of a wall, you’ll combine the alignment of the back body that you learned in the first variation with the alignment of the uplifted leg that you learned in the second. The back of the body needs to be strong to support you as the wall did. The standing leg and its hip and the shoulder blades need to be firm to help you balance.
Begin by coming into Utthita Trikonasana. Then enter the pose as you did for the variations. As you inhale, extend the left leg fully and look straight ahead (not at the floor), with your chin in line with your breastbone. Lengthen the chest to the right so that the right armpit comes directly over the right hand.
Keeping your left leg absolutely straight and your inner left thigh firm, inhale and lift your left leg up toward the ceiling. Reach out from your inner left thigh through your inner heel, broaden the bottom of the left foot, and extend the entire backside of your left leg. Start with your foot flexed, and then press out through your big toe.
Balance the weight evenly on all four corners of your right foot, turn the right leg out, and pull the quadriceps up as you straighten the right leg. Refine the work of the standing leg by cutting your outer right hip, buttock, and tailbone back away from your head without throwing the left leg forward or back.
Now extend your torso to the right as you lengthen the right armpit forward away from the right thigh. Inhale and extend the left arm up toward the ceiling; use the pull of the left arm to draw the left side of the chest up and away from the right arm. Move the shoulder blades in toward your chest, and open your chest as you turn your trunk toward the ceiling. As you inhale, roll both shoulders back, the way you did when you had the wall behind you, and revolve your chest upward. If you feel stable, turn your head to look up at the top hand. With your legs, hips, spine, and shoulders aligned, you can elongate your lower back by lengthening your top leg and your torso away from one another.
To come out of the pose, bend your right knee deeply and reach back with the left leg to take a large step back with the left foot. Straighten the right leg and return to Utthita Trikonasana. Repeat on the other side. See if you can maintain some of the opening from Half Moon Pose at the end in Triangle so that the radiating quality of firmness and expansion of Ardha Chandrasana becomes accessible in all of your yoga asanas.
The practice of Ashtanga yoga involves eight parts, or limbs, of which the first two are yamas and niyamas. Learn more about how these basic guidelines help create the conditions for real yoga to germinate within you.
Yamas?are social observances?the way that you regulate behavior in relation to others. They are also powerfully transformative for the individual, bringing greater clarity and stability to the mind. Within this first limb of yoga, there are five yamas and each one can be considered a specific?sa?dhana?(a practice leading directly to a goal) that moves you closer to the state of yoga. The last yama,?aparigraha?(non-grasping), is the culmination of perfection of the yamas. Patan?jali calls the yamas?maha?vrata,?which means great vows.
1.?Ahimsa?is synonymous with non-violence. It literally means not causing injury or pain to any other living being. You should aim to practice ahimsa not only by your actions, but also in your speech and thoughts as well. When you follow ahimsa at all times, you are not shadowed by the potential threats that come back to you as a result of your actions, whether physical, verbal, or mental. Patan?jali says that one who practices ahimsa perfectly will influence all around him and they will also become non-violent.
2.?Satya?means truthfulness or honesty. You should practice it not just in words, but also in your thoughts and deeds. You should not speak the truth if it brings pain to others, but find ways to communicate truthfully without causing pain. A poignant quote from Mark Twain sums up this principle: ?If you tell the truth, you don?t have to remember anything.? Hence, when you are always truthful, you do not experience the confusion and stress that results from lying or manipulating the truth, having to try to remember what you have previously fabricated. As you practice satya, you will become more aware of the way that you may manipulate the truth in order to obtain desired outcomes even at a very subtle level. Patan?jali states that the actions of one who is perfect in satya will always be productive.
3.?Asteya?means not stealing and should be practiced in all areas of life. There is a beautiful story about a boy who found?a man?s wallet and when he returned it to the distressed owner, he was offered a reward. The boy responded, ?Why should I receive a reward for simply doing what is right?? This attitude of asteya inherent in the boy?s mind made?it very clear in terms of what is and isn?t his. Patan?jali says that when you practice asteya perfectly everything that you need will be available to you and you will be contented with the things that you do have.
4.?Brahmacarya?is the practice of sexual continence. For a monk or serious spiritual aspirant, absolute celibacy is inferred. In traditional society, brahmacarya is practiced by students during their spiritual training or studentship until their studies are finished and they get married. Once married, they should maintain an appropriate relationship with their partner. Sexual activity has the potential to divert you from the yogic or spiritual path when used inappropriately or excessively and depletes energy that can be channeled into spiritual progress. When that energy is harnessed and directed toward the goal of yoga, it is tremendously potent. Hence, Patan?jali says that if you follow strict celibacy, you will gain great physical and spiritual vitality.
5.?Aparigraha?literally means non-grasping (non-possessiveness.) It infers that you should only take that which is necessary for maintaining yourself in a healthy way. Aparigraha extends to all areas of life and is an attitude toward not only food and physical possessions, but also to relationships with others and the world. By following aparigraha, you aim to cultivate an attitude in which you do not desire anything unnecessary. Practice of aparigraha brings an increased awareness of your underlying tendencies or desires. There is a greater awareness of your deeper motivations. Patan?jali says that the result of being firmly established in aparigraha is an understanding of the reason for your?janma,?which may be interpreted as an understanding of your existence.
THE BASICS OF?NIYAMAS
Niyamas?are described as personal observances. They are internal disciplines: Attitudes or qualities that you should apply to both your practice and daily life in order to progress in yoga.?Similar to yamas, there?are five niyamas.
1.?S?auca?means cleanliness or purification.?Bahir s?auca, external purity, relates to cleanliness of your body and your immediate environment.?Antah? s?auca, internal or mental purity, relates to your thoughts and intentions. Patan?jali says that by practicing internal purity, you will gain a happy disposition, greater concentration, control of your senses and become aware of your own soul.
2.?Sam?tos?a?means contentment. You should practice being content with whatever your situation is and try never to feel regret. This does not mean that you need to accept bad situations, but rather that you should strive to improve them, maintaining contentment and recognizing that you can more effectively overcome difficulties if you have the clarity of mind that comes from a sense of contentment at all times. Patan?jali says that by practicing contentment you will experience unsurpassed joy.
3.?Tapas?literally means work or heat. It is the effort that you take to discipline the body and the sense organs. Being disciplined in yoga practice and adhering to a healthy diet are two examples. Another would be the effort it takes to keep your attention and focus on the path of yoga at all times, applying the effort required to achieve the goal of yoga. Patan?jali says that by tapas the body and the senses become purified, strengthening them for perfection in yoga.
4.?Sva?dhya?ya?is self-study. Traditionally this referred to chanting and studying texts within your family lineage taught to you by a guru or teacher. These texts were deeply philosophical and contemplation on their meaning gave great spiritual insights, particularly the relationship between the?Ji?va?tman,?or individual soul, and the?Parama?tman,?or god. In the context of yoga, it means that you should diligently study what you have learned from your teacher and go very seriously into the philosophy and practice of yoga, not simply accepting the words of the teacher on face value, but contemplating the meaning deeply for yourself.
5.?I?s?varapran?idha?na?translates to?depositing yourself in the supreme soul?(I?s?vara.)?It can also be interpreted to mean depositing I?s?vara within yourself. Pata?jali does not define ??vara as a particular form of God thus in yoga practice the word ??vara can be interpreted in a way that is relevant for other spiritual traditions. It is only required that you place complete faith or devotion in the higher principle that you connect with. Patan?jali states that if you have i?s?varapran?idha?na, you will attain perfect absorption in the eighth limb of?sama?dhi.
My teachers have often said, and it has been borne out by experience, that without yamas and niyamas it is not possible to practice yoga at all. The practice of the other limbs of As?t?a?n?ga yoga only bear fruit when you follow them to the best of your ability and at all times.
During my first few months of yoga classes, the?teacher?taught us to?backbend deeply during the first step of?Sun Salutation. Not only were we encouraged to bend backward deeply, we were also taught to drop our heads back as far as we could. Occasionally a student would pass out in the middle of the movement. Luckily, no one ever hurt themselves in their fall to the floor. I was intrigued to discover that other students in the class perceived the fainting not as a physical problem, but as some form of spiritual event.
For many years I’ve suspected that this sudden fainting?this withdrawal from the world?was not a spiritual event at all, but simply a physiological one. People probably fainted because taking the head back can momentarily block the vertebral arteries in the neck, reducing the supply of blood and oxygen to the brain. As I look back, however, I think my fellow students’ confusion mirrors the confusion we all have about the yoga practice of?pratyahara?about what it means to withdraw from the senses and the world.
In the?Yoga Sutra?of?Patanjali?the most ancient and revered sourcebook for yoga practice?the second chapter is filled with teachings about the ashtanga (eight-limbed) yoga system. The system is presented as a series of practices which begin with “external limbs” like ethical precepts and move toward more “internal limbs” like?meditation. The fifth step or limb is called?pratyahara?and is defined as “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.” Almost without exception yoga students are puzzled by this limb. We seem to inherently understand the basic ethical teachings like?satya?(the practice of truthfulness), and the basic physical teachings like?asana?(the practice of posture), and?pranayama?(the use of breath to affect the mind). But for most of us the practice of pratyahara remains elusive.
One way to begin to understand pratyahara on an experiential level is to focus on a familiar yoga posture,?Savasana?(Corpse Pose). This pose is done lying supine on the floor and is the practice of relaxing deeply. The first stage of Savasana involves physiological relaxation. In this stage, as you become comfortable, there is first an awareness of the muscles gradually relaxing, then of the breath slowing, and finally of the body completely letting go. While delicious, this first stage is only the beginning of the practice.
For years I interpreted the teachings I heard about pratyahara to mean that I must literally, physically withdraw from the world in order to be a true disciple of yoga. I reacted with dismay to this teaching. I was an engaged person, busy studying physical therapy in school to improve my yoga teaching. In addition, I was married and contemplating having several children. I sometimes worried that unless I separated myself from all these commitments, I was doomed to be an inferior yoga student.
Today I feel differently. I realize that life involves interactions with other people, and that often those interactions include an element of conflict. In fact, I don’t even need another person to be in conflict. I can be, and occasionally am, in conflict within myself. Sometimes I’m tempted to withdraw to avoid these conflicts, but I know that this withdrawal is not what pratyahara is about.
I like to think that for Patanjali pratyahara meant something different than a simple withdrawal from life. To me, pratyahara means that even as I participate in the task at hand, I have a space between the world around me and my responses to that world. In other words, no matter how much I practice?meditation?and postures and breathing, there will still be many times when I act in response to people and situations. Responding to the world isn’t a problem in and of itself; the problem comes when I respond with knee-jerk reactions rather than with actions that I choose.
Ultimately, the practice of pratyahara?in fact, all the practices of yoga?enable me to choose my responses instead of merely reacting. I can choose to dance with any stimulus that comes my way, or I can choose to step back and not respond to that stimulus. The variable is not what’s around me, but how I choose to use my energy. If I retreat to a cave in the mountains, I can still agitate my nervous system; I can still generate thoughts and relive past reactions. To me, practicing pratyahara doesn’t mean running away from stimulation (which is basically impossible). Rather, practicing pratyahara means remaining in the middle of a stimulating environment and consciously?not reacting,?but instead?choosing?how to respond.
How To Practice?Pratyahara
I also incorporate the practice of pratyahara into my asana practice. When I remain still within a pose, I often have numerous thoughts. Sometimes I’m in conflict about whether to stay in the pose or come out of it. Sometimes I catch myself judging whether I’m doing the pose well or not so well. At these times, when I realize my mind is busy, I practice pratyahara by withdrawing my energy from my thoughts?about?the pose and focusing instead on the pose itself.
Another way I have begun to practice pratyahara is to pay attention to my need to seek out stimulation as an escape. I try to notice when I want to escape from my life by finding highly stimulating environments. For example, sometimes I want to go to a movie to escape; sometimes I want to go to the mall. I don’t think going to the mall or to a movie is in and of itself problematic. But when I use these stimulating activities to escape, it can interfere with my intention to be consciously present in every moment.
When I was a child, I loved to go on carnival rides. The stimulation of the roller coaster would shut out all other awareness. Now that I am a student of yoga, I am more aware of the urge to drown out my conflicts with overstimulation. Whenever I can notice my attempt to escape into stimulation, I am using pratyahara as a powerful tool to improve my daily life. In these moments I begin to understand the difference between withdrawing and escaping, between pratyahara and forgetting my practice. Learning to incorporate my yoga practice into my daily life in this way is a challenge, but it is a challenge that gives meaning and direction to my life.
For many of us, especially those of us who sit at a desk all day, a consistent goal is to add more movement to our lives. And when people go looking for a new?exercise program, many turn to yoga thanks to it?s huge?list of benefits, such as weight loss, increased strength, and stress relief. But this new exercise routine brings up some questions, like how often should you do yoga, where should you do it, and how can you avoid injury.
To answer those questions and more, we turned to the experts.
The answer to how often you should do yoga is dependent upon many different factors, including how much time you have, your ability to commit financially, your personal goals, your?fitness level, and your experience with yoga.
So although there?s not exactly a magic, one-size-fits-all answer to this question, Lizzie Brooks, E-RYT yoga teacher in Austin, Texas, provides some helpful insight into how often you should do yoga. ?Some yoga is always better than no yoga. So if you can only do one class a week, obviously that?s better than none,? she says.
However, since your body has a habit of reverting back to old tension patterns, you might want to make an effort to do yoga more than one day a week. ?If you can up your yoga to at least three classes a week, your body and brain will ?remember? the poses better,? Brooks adds.
How much yoga should I do as a beginner?
People who are just starting yoga can follow the same guidelines listed above, with a few additional suggestions.
According to?Yoga52?instructor Odette Hughes, yoga beginners should listen to their bodies to know what?s right for them. ?Starting with one class a week is a good general guideline so that you can gain familiarity with the postures and new ways of moving,? Hughes says. ?When you start feeling like you need more challenge, then start to increase your practice duration or do a harder class.?
But be cautious of overloading right out of the gate. ?I see folks go hard and fast for months only to burn out,? Brooks says. This is where ?listening to your body? really comes into play. If you feel like your body needs time to rest between yoga classes, then let it rest. If you feel discomfort or pain in a pose or movement, then modify it or opt out of it.
?Pain is your body?s signal that something is not working for it,? Hughes says. ?Even if another person doesn?t feel the same thing in the same pose, you need to listen to your own body. As long as you do this and don?t push yourself too hard, yoga will be therapeutic and not too taxing to your body.?
Can you get injured by doing yoga too much or too little?
As with most everything in life, balance is key. Both too much and too little movement can be detrimental to health, and this holds true for yoga, too.
?Our muscles become achy and imbalanced when we don?t move enough,? Hughes says. ?Our cultural habit of sitting for hours every day really harms our body and often contributes to pain we experience.? Adding some yoga into your routine is a great way to help you move more throughout your week.
As to the reverse, it?s also possible to do too much yoga. ?You can injure yourself in any type of exercise,? Brooks says. ?I see students pushing way too hard in poses and I remind them to pull back.? Instead of thinking that more is always better, listen to your body and slow down if it feels like you?re doing too much.
Do I need a yoga instructor, or can I do yoga at home?
Though a home practice gives you tons of flexibility with your schedule, having a teacher guide you through your yoga practice also has a lot of benefits. ?I am a huge fan of a home practice, but I feel that going to public classes first can give a student a bit more guidance and insight on healthy movement,? says Brooks.
However, yoga studios can be expensive and inconvenient. Luckily, if you find the right at-home yoga materials, you can get the benefits of an instructor wherever you are. Take?Yoga52?for example, which can be streamed from any device connected to the Internet. ?This program gives you all the benefits of yoga with an instructor thanks to the very precise and thorough instructions,? says Marie Grujicic-Delage, a Yoga52 instructor.
This gives you the best of both worlds: starting yoga with an instructor?and?doing it from the comfort of your home on your own schedule.
There?s no one-size-fits-all answer to how much yoga is right for you. What?s most important is listening to your body and adding more movement as it?s ready. Start somewhere, and find how much yoga is right for you.
Yoga and Pilates don?t have to be two separate practices. Here?s how they can work together to help strengthen your core, lengthen your side body, and improve your alignment. Through years of yoga classes, I’ve gamely moved into Ardha Chandrasana?(Half Moon Pose) hundreds of times?balancing precariously with one hand on the floor, the other reaching skyward, and one leg shooting back from my hips. I thought I had it mastered. Then I enrolled in a Pilates class to assist my recovery from an injury, and when I came back to Half Moon, I discovered a whole new dimension to it.
Pilates not only helped me strengthen my core, it taught me how to consciously tap into the power there to create greater stability and better alignment. In Half Moon, I can now open my chest more fully and lengthen my spine in a way I had never experienced?and I can hold the pose much longer. I have really strong legs and had been using them to compensate for a weak midsection. But the deeper awareness of my core strength that I gained through Pilates has given me greater control over my movements; I discovered a center of gravity that allows me to glide in and out of the pose with fluidity and grace.
I’m not alone in bringing Pilates to my yoga mat, of course. Many yogis are recognizing that Pilates?an 85-year-old system of body conditioning designed by German ?migr? Joseph Pilates, is a rewarding complement to asana practice. And some, like me, are finding that Pilates’s focus on building and engaging a strong core can propel their yoga practice into new realms.
How Yoga and Pilates Are Similar
Interestingly, much of Joseph Pilates’s technique was derived from his study of Eastern philosophy, and many say this included yoga. In his book?Pilates’ Return to Life Through Contrology, he wrote that age is gauged not by years but by the suppleness of the spine. He also noted that full, deep breathing is a key component to efficient movement. And a stint on any Pilates mat reveals similarities between Pilates exercises and asanas: Side Lift is much like?Vasisthasana?(Side Plank Pose), Roll Over is reminiscent of?Halasana?(Plow Pose), and Swimming could be mistaken for?Salabhasana?(Locust Pose).
How Yoga and Pilates Are Different
But the similarities stop there. While yogis are instructed to either hold poses or flow quickly through them in vinyasas, Pilates is a rhythmic practice of precise movements repeated five to 10 times for each exercise. “There is a method to the practice, with a simultaneous emphasis on flow of movement, but a controlled flow,” explains Rebecca Slovin, a certified Pilates and yoga instructor in San Francisco. By focusing on targeted movements that develop core strength, Pilates can help yogis build a stable center, lengthen the side body, and increase awareness of alignment. “Pilates helps some of my [yoga] students slow down and work deeper,” Slovin says. Ultimately, she says, it can help yogis get stronger, avoid injury, and sometimes advance into poses that they hadn’t previously felt were possible.
Pilates Helps Yogis Engage Their Core
When you hear the word?Pilates, you might think of an apparatus involving pulleys, springs, or a movable platform used for a resistance workout. While equipment is an integral part of Pilates practice, the ultimate goal is to get to the mat work?a series of 34 exercises outlined in?Return to Life.?Done correctly, mat work is a lot harder than performing the hundreds of moves designed for the Universal Reformer, the Trapeze Table, the Step Barrel, and other types of Pilates equipment, because without the support of the apparatuses, students must rely solely on their own strength.
But whether practitioners work with an apparatus or on a mat, the emphasis is on using the breath to channel core energy into the center of the body and out to the limbs. “In Pilates, we say the periphery comes out of the core,” says former dancer Bob Liekens, a yoga teacher and the education director of Power Pilates, a training center based in New York. “Most of the energy in yoga is out in the periphery, but in Pilates, we learn how to bring it back to the center and send it out again.”
The core, also called the Powerhouse, is the body’s center of gravity; it is composed of the muscles of the lower abdomen, lower back, buttocks, and pelvic floor. Jillian Hessel, a Pilates instructor and yogi in Los Angeles who instructs the sequence of Pilates exercises shown here, explains how to locate your Powerhouse: Stand with one hand on your lower abdomen and the other on your lower back. Inhale deeply through your nose and then exhale through your mouth while pulling the lower abdominals up and into the spine, simultaneously drawing your pelvic floor muscles up and squeezing the base of your buttocks together.
The aim is to engage and strengthen the transversus abdominis (the deepest layer of abs that wrap around the torso horizontally), the obliques, the lower back muscles, and the pelvic floor during complex movements. By doing so, you develop a strong, corsetlike support system that protects your back from injury. “Many dancers and yogis who come to Pilates are hyperflexible,” Liekens says. And sometimes these extremely bendy people rely so heavily on their flexibility that they just let their muscles stretch rather than engaging and strengthening them.
“If the center is not realized or strengthened, then the structure is weak and the energy is not being channeled properly,” Liekens says. Exercises such as Seal and Swimming are ideal for challenging the core muscles and building strength, even in those who enjoy a great deal of flexibility. “As the poses get more advanced, rather than just breathing into them, you start to use your belly brain?that strong, deep core that gives you endurance and a center from which to grow,” Slovin says.
Over time, this greater awareness of your center can help you integrate movement between the front and back body, which comes in handy in a posture like?Sirsasana(Headstand), in which a loose midsection can cause you to fall over. “In Pilates, you’re constantly asking, ‘Where is my center?'” Slovin says. “And as you move more from that center, you’re more efficient and more grounded.”
Pilates Can Help Yogis Lengthen Their Side Body
By strengthening the muscular corset of the Powerhouse, Pilates can help you get in touch with your side body?from the tops of the thighs to the armpits. Many of us tend to shorten the side body in poses like?Adho Mukha Svanasana?(Downward-Facing Dog Pose),?Trikonasana?(Triangle Pose), and forward bends, leading us to stifle the full postures. Pilates can come to the rescue. “When you use the muscles in your center efficiently, you’re much more able to lengthen the side body,” Slovin explains. “It’s like a star. If the middle is burned out, the light doesn’t emanate outward.”
In the same way that some yoga styles use props, Pilates uses equipment to help create body awareness in specific areas. To encourage you to connect with your side body, a Pilates instructor might ask you to lie on your side over a Step Barrel, an apparatus that looks like a well-padded wine barrel positioned on its side and with a seat attached. As your side body drapes over the rounded barrel, you can feel the space between your ribs and hips and create a greater sense of length in the waist?an awareness that is helpful to recall in a pose like Ardha Chandrasana or Trikonasana.
For me, finding length in my side body while engaging my core transformed the way I do?Chaturanga Dandasana?(Four-Limbed Staff Pose). For years, I hadn’t engaged my abdominal muscles properly, so I strained my trapezius muscles. My neck hurt and my shoulders were uncomfortably sore following any challenging vinyasa class. By learning to engage my newfound stomach muscles, I discovered how to distribute the effort evenly throughout my body and ease the strain on my trapezius muscles. Now I can flow through a vinyasa without having to stop and rest my arms.
Side-body awareness can come to your aid in?Urdhva Mukha Svanasana?(Upward-Facing Dog Pose) and?Bhujangasana?(Cobra Pose) as well. Instead of pushing out your chest to get into the backbend, you might find yourself focusing on grounding the pelvis, pulling in the floating ribs, and lengthening the sides to create a stable, beautiful pose. In postures like?Supta Padangusthasana?(Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose), your side-body consciousness can guide your alignment so that you don’t compress your torso as you pull your leg toward your body. By maintaining length in your torso and using your core strength, you find stability, even when you cross the leg over your body for the twist.
Pilates Can Help Yogis Improve Their Alignment
Much Pilates mat work is done lying down, with the arms and legs both moving at the same time; this can help you perceive and correct your body’s alignment. “Because Pilates focuses on balancing the musculature, it helps create symmetry between the left and right sides of the body,” says Melanie Casey, a San Francisco yoga instructor who also teaches Pilates. “By working both sides simultaneously, you’re able to compare the strength of both sides and work them equally. That’s the goal.”
For example, having asked you to lie faceup on a Styrofoam roller and breathe into your ribs, a Pilates instructor might then point out that one side of your back is stronger than the other. Once you know this, you can bring awareness to the different sides of your back and work on correcting the imbalance every time you think of it. In this same position, you can use your awareness of proper alignment to balance your inhalations and exhalations evenly on both sides. Taking this knowledge back to your yoga mat, you may discover that a simple?Balasana?(Child’s Pose) provides the ideal opportunity to practice engaging your back muscles evenly and distributing the breath equally between the left and right sides of the back body.
The understanding of my body’s alignment that I gained through Pilates allowed me to take my?Parivrtta Trikonasana?(Revolved Triangle Pose) to the next level. Often, when I did this twisting Triangle in yoga class, I received the same adjustment: My teacher would come up behind me and square my hips. With increased awareness of my body’s alignment, however, I became more mindful and figured out how to adjust my hips on my own. I am now able to move my pelvis into position and keep it there even as I twist. With the help of my Pilates-enhanced obliques, I have become more stable in the pose and am able to lengthen my side body while articulating the twist deeply.
Pilates Can Help Yogis with Their Breathwork
Many people say Joseph Pilates borrowed much of his breathwork technique from yogic pranayama. He was asthmatic as a child and lived through the great influenza epidemic of World War I, which killed more people than the combat itself. He developed opinionated theories about the importance of proper breathing, believing that the bottom of the lungs was a repository for infection, germs, and disease, and that only by fully exhaling could you cleanse toxins. By recruiting the deep abdominal muscles, he thought, you could more forcefully exhale air from the lungs.
In Pilates breathing, unlike in yogic?pranayama, students exhale through the mouth and aim to attain a “scooped,” or flattened, abdominal wall on the exhalation. Some yogis even use what they learn from Pilates’s focus on the lower abdomen to inform the breathwork in their?yoga practice. “Pilates breathing is really a form of pranayama that focuses on the lower bandhas,” Jillian Hessel says. Although she learned about the bandhas in asana, neither her Iyengar Yoga practice nor professional dance training strengthened her core?or her understanding of the abstract concepts of?Mula Bandha?(Root Lock) and?Uddiyana Bandha?(Upward Abdominal Lock)?the way Pilates breathwork has.
How to Use Pilates During Yoga Class
Yoga and pilates are, of course, distinct practices, but there might be times?perhaps when you’ve hit a plateau in your asana practice or are in an experimental mood?when you want to play with some Pilates techniques on your yoga mat. Mary Bischof Stoede, a certified yoga and Pilates teacher at?The Pilates Center?in Boulder, Colorado, suggests trying one of Pilates’ breathing techniques?in through the nose and out through the mouth while pulling the abdomen in and up?during yoga practice. “This will assist you in Mula Bandha, because when you exhale through the mouth, you have no choice but to engage that area below the navel,” she says.
Stoede suggests doing Pilates exercises before you begin your asana practice. “The movement flow in Pilates is largely about strengthening the inner core, so start with that very physical practice,” she says. “Then you can slowly move into the quietness of your yoga practice.” Some students start their yoga practice with the classic Pilates move called the Hundreds, which warms the muscles, and prepares the spine for flexion, extension, and twists.
Rebecca Slovin recommends incorporating Pilates principles throughout asana practice. When in?Halasana, you can use the deeper awareness of your midsection that you’ve learned in Pilates to help you pull the navel to the spine. In?Virabhadrasana I?(Warrior Pose I), you can activate your core to engage the pelvic floor, which will enable you to move your sitting bones closer to the floor while reaching out with your arms. Slovin also suggests blending some Pilates into your seated poses; try Roll Over or scooping your abdomen inward as you move into?Paschimottanasana?(Seated Forward Bend).
However you choose to bring Pilates into your yoga practice, Hessel points out that while the slow and controlled movements make the risk of injury extremely low for a healthy person, those with a history of back or neck pain?particularly a disk problem?should check with a doctor before starting a Pilates mat program. Hessel says they should also seek out a professional teacher rather than trying to learn Pilates on their own, since it’s easier to modify exercises for an injured individual within the context of a private lesson.
Joseph Pilates wrote that one’s self-confidence and health come from a balanced trinity of body, mind, and spirit?a belief that probably sounds pretty familiar to most yogis. The sheer physical emphasis of Pilates can give yogis a new body awareness about their strengths and weaknesses, help them become more mindful of their limitations, and give them insight into how the body moves. After experiencing the emphasis on precise, controlled movement and core strength, you may find that a simple?Tadasana?(Mountain Pose) becomes an opportunity to explore your newfound corset of muscles, or that a Handstand becomes a vehicle in which to engage the obliques and obtain balance.
Anybody can cook, even if it?s only a fried egg ? but?not?just anyone has the discipline to fast. This ancient practice of abstaining from eating for a day, or sometimes even a week or more has a history of curing a whole host of health problems, but even a?brief?fast can completely re-boot your immune system.
This practice isn?t without criticism by modern nutritionists and unbelievers, but research implies that when the body is hungry in short spurts, it can kick-start stem cells into producing new white blood cells.
White blood cells, also known as leukocytes, are the cells which the immune system uses to fight against foreign invaders like viruses and bad bacteria.
Scientists at the University of Southern California found that fasting could be particularly beneficial for people suffering from damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients on chemotherapy, or people with auto-immune disorders.
Valter Longo?has conducted a body of scientific research about fasting which is absolutely astounding, as well.
He published a fascinating?paper in the Journal of Cell Biology?based on work he did on yeast cells. ?The results were considered so unlikely he almost didn?t get his paper published. ?What Longo discovered was that when he starved a colony of yeast cells, about 95% of the cells would commit suicide, using the controlled death mechanism of?apoptosis. They would disassemble their proteins, dissolve the cell membranes, and turn themselves into food for the remaining 5%.
Longo?s work suggests that if the fasting body is able to?rejuvenate and multiply the bone marrow cells that are responsible for blood and immunity (hematopoietic stem cells), then it is obvious that the body could do this as well or better when it has plenty to eat.
Ancient Fasting Techniques
Moreover, in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is understood that our body?s metabolism and digestion are often under strain form the foods we put into our bodies on a daily basis.
For Buddhist monks in the Theravada tradition, all eating is confined to the morning hours, implying a daily fast of 16 hours, since they don?t consume food just before bed or while sleeping. The idea is that the body has plenty of time to process the food we put into it.
We eat when we are stressed. We eat on the run, and we eat things that we know the body doesn?t really want. Other times we skip meals, causing a drop in our blood-glucose levels, or we eat bad food combinations. Our poor digestive system has barely had a chance to fully digest the last meal we?ve eaten before we put the next one in!
What Fast is Right for You?
There are few choices if you want to reboot your whole immune system with a brief fast.
Selective fasting means that you abstain from only certain foods or for certain hours of the day.
In this fasting diet, you?consume only water?for a specified duration. It not only helps you to feel full, but also helps to cleanse toxins form the entire digestive tract as you abstain from food.
This might be one of the more difficult fasts to complete, because you are consuming zero calories, but it has hailed as a cure-all for chronic pain, arthritis, migraines, and more.
Intermittent fasting is often confused with dieting, but it more closely resembles making a?conscious decision?to skip certain meals. You fast and then feast on purpose, (consuming only healthy foods). Intermittent fasting means that you eat your calories during a specific window of the day, and choosing not to eat food during the rest. This is similar to what the?Theravada Monks?practice.
Working Out on an Empty Stomach
You can also do a half-day fast and?add a moderate workout. This combination of fasting and exercise maximizes the impact of cellular functions which break down fat and free up glycogen for energy-use. It forces your body to burn fat without eating up muscle. A word of caution, though. You might not have as much energy to do a hard-core workout as when you have eaten.
Caveat: fasting can be harmful. If you have any serious health conditions, and you?re seriously thinking of trying this, you should consult your doctor first.