Why are Yoga Asanas so important in our Yoga Practice?

What is a Yoga Asana and why is it of such importance in Yoga? In almost every yoga class, at least to some extent, we practice asanas, otherwise known as the yoga poses. On a physical level, they provide us with strength, endurance, flexibility, openness and a healthier posture. However, after an asana class, we often feel that it also had a profound effect on our state of mind. We can safely assume that the effects of yoga poses go way beyond just a physical result.

Read more about what Yoga is and where it comes from


What is a Yoga Asana and why do we practice them?

The word asana means pose in Sanskrit. Yoga poses were created thousands of years ago in India by the first yogis. According to Hindu theology, Shiva was the first yogi and granted humanity the incredible gift of Yoga. Whichever it was a divine gift or a human invention, we can assume that the first yogis had a deep insight into the workings of the body. Yoga poses have positive effects on the grossest parts of the body; our muscles, connecting tissues and skeleton, as well as our organs and more subtle parts like our nervous system. However, the most prominent goal of yoga poses was to prepare the body to sit uninterrupted in meditation. It was believed that one who could sit in meditation for a long time, had a chance to reach enlightenment; the ultimate purpose of any Yoga practice.

However, asanas are so much more than just preparation for seated meditation. They offer a safe environment where we can investigate the ever-present dance between control and surrender within us. In their microcosm, we can experience the whole spectrum of our inner world. Through extensive practise, we start to understand, on an experimental level, how we can reconcile the opposing energies within the system. Once this understanding matures, we can apply it on a physical, mental, emotional and energetic level. The body, with all its layers, has truly become a temple, fit to receive the light of the Soul.


Effortless Effort in a Yoga Pose

There is something that is considered to be a perfect Asana. Although this is a tricky subject in which our striving ego easily can be entangled, still it is an important goal to work on. We need to fully prepare our outer body, our mental understanding as well as our inner experience of the pose. At the point the openness and strength of the body, the intellectual understanding as well as our energies have reached a specific point, we start to experience a deep sense of wholeness while performing a pose. Only through prolonged practice can we slowly grow towards this perfect awareness.

This sense of perfection goes well beyond how the pose looks like from the outside. It consists of a subtle balance where the external form and internal experience flow together. In other words, the object of experience (the physical asana)? and the experience itself become one. This is called Asana Siddhi. We can stay in poses without effort, even while the body working very hard. This is a state of effortless effort where the duality between the pose and the practitioner has vanished completely.


The real-life reality of our Yoga Asana Practice

There is often a big difference between the ultimate goal of perfection in asana, and our practical day to day lives. In reality, our bodies are ageing, stiff or we suffer from injuries. All this can prevent us from reaching what a perfect pose is considered to look like. What an asana practice does for us in this reality, aside from keeping us as fit as possible, is letting us fully accept the current state of our body. Even more so, it lets us get to know the limitations of our physical body and work with that. Still, it also teaches us not to become stale or lazy. Even within the limitations our body sets up for us, we still can improve every time we come to the mat. It teaches us where we need to be hard on ourselves, and where we need to be soft. Often, we turn these two aspects around in our lives. Asana is teaching is to fully accept where we are, while also inviting us to evolve further. When we start to experience that these two things can happen simultaneously, we can start to apply this wisdom to all aspects of life.


How do we practice Yoga Asana at LiveYoga Amsterdam?

At LiveYoga Amsterdam we highly value the correct alignment in yoga poses. We are forever inspired by BKS Iyengar and his deep insight on how to use the body in our asana practice. Our team of experienced teachers has a profound insight in the workings of the body. We will help you to start understanding your own body and its current state more profoundly. We regard safety as essential and therefore will always make our instructions personal and applying to your body specifically. Never will you find us push you further. Rather do we give you tips and tricks that can help you in the long run to create more openness. From here, bit by bit we can start to experience the more subtle and profound effects of Yoga Asanas. We want to offer a glimpse of what the ultimate goal of perfecting an asana looks like, while never losing sight of the current state of your body and what is needed today.

Read more about BKS Iyengar and who he was


Why do Yoga Studios in Amsterdam offer so many styles of Yoga?

Yoga studios in Amsterdam offer a lot of different yoga styles. To discover the origin of all these styles of Yoga, we need to take a look at the past. Yoga originated in India thousands of years ago. And, although different styles of Yoga already existed also back then, these different forms were mainly focussed on either the body (Hatha), the mind (Jnana), the heart (Bhakti) or a combination of all these paths (Raja). The vast amount of different physical styles of Yoga was not yet so cultivated as it is today.

Over the last 150 years, Yoga made its way from India into the rest of the world. To make Yoga easier to access for Western people, the physical aspect of Yoga (Hatha Yoga) was the main aspect that was adapted. In the West, we are schooled differently than in India. Our world view today is based on a scientific and objective way of reviewing the world. That is why, for us, entering a subjective practice like Yoga is easier through something relatable like the body. From this starting point, slowly we can start to experience the deeper, holistic benefits Yoga has to offer.

Read more about what Yoga and the realization of Yoga really means!?


How did so many styles of Yoga came into existence?

There is a vast amount of different people in the world, all with different constitutions and preferences. To make the practice of Yoga more accessible for a wider audience, there was a need for different, more specific branches. That is why certain aspects of Hatha Yoga were split off into different styles of Yoga. For instance, to satisfy people with active minds, the flow aspect of Hatha Yoga was adapted into different Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga classes. For the more introspective types of people, Yin Yoga was distilled from the Restorative aspect of Hatha Yoga.

It is good to realize we all need different styles at different times in our lives. The one day, Vinyasa Yoga serves us and the other day Yin Yoga will help us enormously. This only shows the wide range the whole teaching of Hatha Yoga encompasses. All these paths are as beautiful and important as the other. They can all equally serve as a path towards the realization of Yoga. We can choose one path and stick to it religiously, or combine different styles in our practice next to each other. Both can learn and teach us a lot. There is no right or wrong in this matter.

Check our class page for all the different styles of Yoga we currently offer.


What is Iyengar Yoga?

We, as LiveYoga Amsterdam, started out with being purely an Iyengar Yoga Studio. B.K.S Iyengar was a Hatha Yoga teacher from India who, in particular, emphasized the importance of aligning the body properly in poses (asanas). To do so, he invented the use of Yoga props to help students align in poses that, otherwise, their body could not perform. During his 60 years of teaching Yoga, he developed a methodical system in which his teaching was preserved. This is what is called Iyengar Yoga today. Iyengar self did not agree with that name by the way. He claimed that he simply was teaching Hatha Yoga like it was described in the ancient scriptures.


What styles of Yoga do we teach at LiveYoga Amsterdam?

We recognize that different students are served with different styles and not just Iyengar Yoga. Even students that love the style of Iyengar, are sometimes served by a different approach. Because we do not want to be dogmatic, we move with the changes of the time while also maintaining true to the core principles that Iyengar shared with us. Just like Yoga teaches us, the inner core is unchanging but the outer layers change constantly. We honour that cosmic dance between the permanent and the transient and try to keep it alive.

Because of this, our schedule has changed accordingly while staying grounded in our core principles. You will see that nowadays, next to Iyengar Yoga, we offer Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Pilates, Iyengar Flow, Restorative Yoga, Sun Salutations, Meditation and different kinds of Breathing classes. Still, in all our classes, you will find that inner and outer alignment is a very important part of our teachings. The wisdom Iyengar shared with us during his life is still very much alive, even years after he left his body.


Sanskrit Dictionary ? the language of yoga

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


Sanskrit English Asanas (Sanskrit) Poses (English)
Tada mountain Tadasana Mountain pose
Vrksa tree Vrksasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana Tree pose, Full Arm balance pose
Utthita extended, streched Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana Extended trianlge pose, Extended lateral angle pose, Extended hand-to-big-toe pose.
Tri three Utthita Trikonasana Extended trianlge pose
Kona angle Utthita Trikonasana, Baddha Konasana, Supta Konasana Extended trianlge pose, Bound angle pose, Reclining angle pose
Trikona traingle Utthita Trikonasana Extended trianlge pose
Parivrtta revolved, turned round or back Parivrtta Trikonasana, parivrtta Parsvakonasana, Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana Revolving triangle, Revolving lateral angle pose, Revolving head-to-knee pose
Parsva side, flank Utthita Parsvakonasana, Parsva Halasana Extended lateral angle pose, Side Plough pose
Vira hero, warrior Virasana Hero pose
Virabhadra name of a hero in Siva?s army Virabhadrasana (I,II,III) Warrior (I,II,III)
Supta supine, lying down Supta Virasana, Supta Baddha Konasana, Supta Padangusthasana Reclining Hero pose, Rclining bound angle pose, Reclining hand-to-big-toe pose
Ardha half Ardha Chandrasana, Ardha Matsyendrasana (I,II, III) Half-moon pose, Half spinal twists
Chandra moon Ardha Chandrasana Half-moon pose
Hasta hand Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, Padahastasana Extended hand-to-big-toe pose. Hand under foot pose
Pada foot Padangusthasana, Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, Prasarita Padottanasana Hand-to-big-toe pose, Extended hand-to-big-toe pose, Wide-legged forward extension
Angustha the big toe Padangusthasana Hand-to-big-toe pose
Ut intense Parsvottanasana Intense side stretch pose
Tan to extend, stretch, lengthen Parsvottanasana Intense side stretch pose
Uttana intense strecth Parsvottanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana, Uttanasana, Paschimottanasana Intense side stretch pose, Intense standing forward extension, Intense seated forward extension
Prasarita expanded, spread Prasarita Padottanasana Wide-legged forward extension
Ustra camel Ustrasana Camel pose
Utkata powerful, fierce, uneven Utkatasana Chair pose
Garuda eagle Garudasana Eagle pose
Salabha locust Salabhasana Locust pose
Dhanu bow Dhanurasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana Bow pose, Upward Bow or Full Wheel pose
Danda staff, rod Dandasana Staff pose
Chatur four Chaturanga dandasana Four-Limbed Staff pose
Anga limb, parts Chaturanga dandasana Four-Limbed Staff pose
Bhujanga serpent Bhujangasana Cobra pose
Urdhva upwards Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Urdhva Dandasana Upward facing dog pose. Upward staff pose
Adho downwards Adho Mukha Svanasana Downward facing dog pose
Mukha face, mouth Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Gomukhasana, Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana Upward facing dog pose, Downward facing dog pose, Cow-face pose, Upward facing intense west stretch, Full arm balance pose
Svana dog Urdhva Mukha Svanasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana Upward facing dog pose, Downward facing dog pose
Paripurna entire, complete Paripurna Navasana Full Boat pose
Nava ship, boat Paripurna Navasana, Ardha Navasana Full Boat pose, Half boat pose
Go cow Gomukhasana Cow face pose
Siddha Semi-divine being, inspired sage, seer, prophet Siddhasana Accomplished pose
Baddha caught, restrained Baddha Konasana Bound angle pose
Padma lotus Padmasana Lotus pose
Matsya fish Matsyasana Fish pose
Matsyendra Lord of the fish, one of founders of Hatha Vidya Matsyendrasana Spinal twist
Janu knee Janu Sirsasana Head to knee forward extension
Sirsa head Sirsasana Head stand
Paschima the west (back of body) Paschimottanasana Seated forward extension pose.
Marichi Ray of light. Name of a sage. Son of Brahma and grandfather of Surya Marichyasana (I,II) Marichi?s pose. Twist
Surya sun Surya Namaskar Sun salutation
Upavistha seated Upavistha Konasana Wide-angle seated forward extension pose
Purva the east (front of body) Purvottanasana Upward Plank pose
Salamba with support Salamba Sirsasana, Salamba Sarvangasana Supported Head-stand, Supported shoulder-stand
Sarva all Salamba Sarvangasana Supported All limbs pose (Shoulder stand)
Eka one Eka Pada Sirsasana, Eka Pada Sarvangasana, Eka Pada Viparita Dandasana One-legged head stand, One-legged shoulder stand, One-legged inverted staff pose
Hala plough Halasana Plough pose
Karna ear Karnapidasana Ear-pressure pose
Pida pain, discomfort, pressure Karnapidasana Ear-pressure pose
Setu Bridge, dam, dike Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Bridge pose
Bandha Construction/formation Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Bridge pose
Mayura peacock Mayurasana Peacock pose
Bharadvaja name of sage Bharadvajasana Bharadvaja?s twist pose
Mala garland Malasana Garland pose
Hamsa swan Hamsasana Swan pose
Pincha chin or feather Pincha Mayurasana Forearm balance pose
Kurma tortoise Kurmasana Tortoise pose
Skanda name of Kartikeya the god of war Skandasana God of War pose
Hanuman name of a powerful monkey Hanumanasana Monkey pose
Dwi two, both Dwi Padda Viparita Dandasana Two-legged Inverted Staff pose
Viparita reversed, inverted Dwi Padda Viparita Dandasana Two-legged Inverted Staff pose
Sava corpse Savasana Corpse pose

Half Moon Pose

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.

Pose Benefits:

  • 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
  • Osteoporosis
  • High blood pressure or eye strain (avoid looking up)

The Great Wall

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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

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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

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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.

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How Pilates Can Strengthen Your Yoga Practice

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.

How Yoga and Pilates Can Complement Each Other

Pilates can complement your yoga practice.

Pilates can help you open your chest more fully and lengthen your spine in poses like Half Moon.

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

How Pilates and Yoga Are Similar.

Some Pilates exercises and asanas have a lot in common. For example, Side Lift is much like?Vasisthasana?(Side Plank Pose).

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

Pilates Helps Yogis Engage Their Core in Poses Like Headstand.

Pilates can give yogis greater awareness of their center, which comes in handy in poses like?Sirsasana?(Headstand).

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

Pilates Can Help Yogis Lengthen Their Side Body in Poses Like Downward-Facing Dog.

Many of us tend to shorten the side body in poses like?Adho Mukha Svanasana?(Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Pilates can come to the rescue.

Paul Miller

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.


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Yoga for high blood pressure

High blood pressure ? what doctors call hypertension ? affects one in three adults in the United States. Elevated blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke, heart failure, and kidney disease, is often described as a ?silent killer.? Recognizable symptoms do exist ? fatigue, nosebleeds, nervous tension, ringing in the ears, dizziness, bursts of anger, headaches ? but not generally until blood pressure is dangerously high.

Stress as the culprit

Blood pressure ? the force blood exerts against the walls of your arteries as it travels through the circulatory system ? fluctuates during the day, increasing during exertion or stress and decreasing when the body is at rest. Most doctors agree that a blood pressure reading of less than 120/80 is ideal for adults, and diagnose hypertension when those numbers reach 140/90. The top number (the systolic pressure) refers to the amount of pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or contracts. The bottom number measures the diastolic pressure, or how much pressure remains in the arteries between beats when the heart is relaxed.

Although several conditions can cause secondary high blood pressure (kidney disease, hormone abnormalities, type 2 diabetes), more often than not a high-stress lifestyle can lead to what doctors call ?essential? hypertension, where there is no disease-specific cause.
Yoga, when performed mindfully, can reduce this type of stress-induced hypertension while addressing its underlying causes. It pacifies the sympathetic nervous system and slows down the heart while teaching the muscles and mind to relax deeply.


Balasana ? yoga for high blood pressure


Pranayama can also be extremely beneficial. Research studies demonstrate that conscious breathing quickly lowers blood pressure. Practising pranayama while lying down encourages the breath to arise smoothly from a relaxed state, without any force. If you do choose to sit, keep your spine straight and lift your chest, while keeping your head down in jalandhara bandha, so that there is no strain on the heart.

While a general yoga practice has a pacifying effect and can bring the nervous system into balance, some asanas work better than others for actually lowering blood pressure ? and simple modifications make others more beneficial. For example, do cooling poses, such as forward bends where the head is supported ? to bring a sense of calm to the head, neck, face, and diaphragm. Modify any standing poses in which the arms are normally extended overhead (like?virabhadrasana I) by placing your hands on your hips. In?trikonasana?(triangle pose), look down toward the floor instead of up at the ceiling to keep blood pressure from rising. Steer clear of poses that compress the front of the diaphragm, such as?dhanurasana(bow pose) and?mayurasana?(peacock pose), which can drive blood pressure up.

Anyone with untreated high blood pressure should avoid unsupported inversions, such as?shirshasana?(headstand pose) or?adho mukha vrikshasana?(handstand pose) ? or any other pose in which they can feel pressure in the throat or temples, or that cause respiration to become heavy or difficult.

Yoga asana’s

Practising a modified?halasana?(plough pose) is a good way to experience the benefits of inversions without the potentially harmful effects because you can learn to bear weight on the upper body and lengthen the sides of the neck without any strain. So if your blood pressure reads on the high side, stick to the modified version below.
Forward bends and other introverted asanas teach us how to quiet the brain and lengthen and soften the neck along the path of the carotid artery. When doing these poses to lower blood pressure, support the head, which has a cooling, calming effect on the whole body.


Iyengar yoga and releasing lower back pain

Iyengar Yoga helps back painChronic back pain is defined as pain that lasts more than three months. Notoriously it is difficult to treat. Not surprisingly, it drives many sufferers to turn to alternative and complementary therapies in search of relief. The?Spine?study is the second of two randomized trials to test Iyengar yoga.

Chronic lower back pain


90 adults participated in a year-long trial comparing the effects of Iyengar yoga therapy with those of standard medical care.
Participants ranged in age from 23 to 66, and all were suffering chronic low back pain.
About half of them were assigned to 24 weeks of a twice-weekly, 90-minute regimen approved by B.K.S. Iyengar and taught by a certified Iyengar yoga instructor and two assistants with experience in teaching yoga therapy to people with chronic low back pain. On days when they didn?t have a yoga class, they were instructed to practice at home for 30 minutes using a DVD, props, and an instruction manual.
The rest of the participants (the control group) continued with usual medical care and were followed with monthly telephone calls to gather information about their medications or other therapies.

All subjects reported on functional disability, pain intensity, depression, and medication use at the start of the study, midway through (12 weeks), immediately afterward (24 weeks), and at a follow-up six months later.


Compared with the control group, the Iyengar group experienced a 29% reduction in functional disability, a 42% reduction in pain, and a 46% reduction in depressive symptoms at 24 weeks. There was also a greater trend toward lower medication use in the yoga group. There were no reports of adverse effects.

Six months after the trial ended, 68% of the yoga group was still practicing yoga ? on average, three days a week for at least 30 minutes. Their levels of functional disability, pain, and depression had increased slightly but were still lower than those of the control group.


A small number of participants, as well as reliance on the participants? own reports of symptoms and disability. Also, the control group, on average, had been suffering back pain longer than the yoga group. Still, the results are consistent with findings from other studies of yoga for low back pain.