Sunday, September 03, 2006


I sort of left you dangling last week, without any lead-in to doing Shoulder Stands, so I thought I would give you a solid, chest-opening sequence leading to the Queen of all yoga poses (so they say).

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana is, both an intense inversion but also a calming, relaxing pose. Once you find your balance and stretch your feet overhead, the blood flow increases to the brain and the lower body is released from its usual fight against gravity. If you line your head up properly and let the weight of the body settle on the shoulders and upper arms, it is a very soothing position that feels great for the back, feet and legs—especially at the end of the day.

Let’s move into this beneficial pose slowly, and I’ll give you several modifications if you don’t feel ready to try going all the way into the position:

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana Sequence
Sukhasana (Easy Pose)-Study the alignment of the torso, so you will be able to recreate it upside down. Lengthen the side ribs, so there is space between the bottom of the rib cage and the top of the pelvis.

Dandasana, with Namaste hands in back (Staff Pose)-Press the sides of your feet against a block and press the backs of the legs to the floor. Keep lengthening through the side ribs as you bring your arms behind your back—either just crossed at the lower back, or palms pressed together with the fingers pointing down or (most challenging) up. You are in an Un-inverted Plow Pose.

Virasana with Gomukhasana arms (Hero pose with Cow’s Head arms)-Sit with a block or folded blanket between your heels, so you can keep the spine long as you sit back. Breathe into the stretch on the tops of the thighs and to release the hip joints. Then, use the belt, if necessary, to help bring your hands towards the spine in back, while stretching the elbows away from each other.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)-As you did in Easy Pose, take a moment to really deepen the alignment of the whole body, especially the chest.

Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend)-Keep the length in the side ribs as you fold forwards from the hip crease to reach a block or the floor. Try to recreate the alignment of Mountain with the upper body.

Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)-With the arms stretched to either side, notice the openness of both the front and back chest. Try to maintain this openness as you stretch out over the right leg, while keeping the hips facing forwards. Repeat to the left.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)-There are a couple of approaches to this pose, so you can decide which is most appropriate for you…once in the pose, stay as long as you like, but always keep the spine aligned and the chest open. Breathing should be easy and relaxed; if the neck and chest feel crowded try to lengthen the side ribs and keep the back of the neck long (don’t look at your chest).
1. From Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose)-Lie on the floor next to the wall, so that the backs of your hips are against the wall and your legs stretch up the wall over the hips. Your blanket is folded under the shoulders so that your head and neck rest on the floor; this is so you can keep the body’s weight on the shoulders and upper arms. Bend your knees and press the soles of the feet to the wall as you begin to lift your hips. With the upper arms close to the side ribs, bend the elbows and press your hands to your lower back to help lift. Make sure the shoulders are rolled under as you press your hips up until they are lined up with the shoulders (as you did in Staff pose). You can stay here, or if you are ready, straighten one leg and then the other away from the wall into Shoulder Stand. Slowly lower the hips and release the hands, then lie on the floor with the knees bent when you come down.

2. From Halasana(Plow Pose)-Lie down with your shoulders on the blanket, head off, about 3 feet away from the wall. Roll the hips and legs up and back—as if doing a backwards summersault—until the feet come to rest on the wall. Roll the shoulders under, lengthen the side ribs and lift the hips so that they are even with the shoulders. Keep the upper arms close to the body and bend the elbows so you can help lift the lower back with your hands. When the torso is aligned, press the feet to the wall and press the backs of the legs to the ceiling; enjoy Plow Pose, which is basically an upside-down Staff Pose. When you are ready, lift one leg and then the other, so the ankles-hips-shoulders are all lined up in Shoulder Stand. Slowly lower the hips and release the hands, then lie on the floor with the knees bent when you come down.

Supine Twist-When you are ready, bring the knees to the chest and then roll both knees to one side as you ground the back of the shoulders to the floor and stretch the arms to the side. Look towards the opposite shoulder from the knees, if you want a deeper twist in the upper back. Repeat to the other side.

Savasana (Corpse Pose)-Release the knees and stretch your legs out. Take a minute to realign your whole torso, so the neck is long and the head is lined up with the tailbone. Sink into the support of the floor and concentrate on letting all muscles relax.
©Brenda K. Plakans. All Rights Reserved.

p.s. The test has now concluded…I missed my old title, so brought it back with “yoga” included, so it would be easy to search for by theme. The address is still the same, so if you bookmarked it, that isn’t affected.


Madame Purl said...

Love this series. I'm printing it out to put with my yoga stuff. I'll have to try it out tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

So, I started a new yoga class this week. The teacher said at one point "in yoga you are only as old as your spine." Can you explain what she meant by this? I would have asked but I was in bridge pose which requires every once of my focus and all of my unspoken words.

Brenda Plakans said...

She sounds like a chiropracter ...and I mean that in a good way! Iyengar yoga is all about alignment and that usually means arranging the body so that the spine is long and the head, hips and shoulders are balanced. The muscles work most efficiently when the skeleton can support your weight evenly.

Sadly, as we age, parts of the body (the lower back and hips, especially) get stiff and lose their mobility. As that happens, other parts of the body have to overcompensate, which leads to various aches and pains. To avoid this, or slow it down, you have to keep the muscles and skeleton limber through use ( and exercise).

So, I think your teacher was implying that you have to be aware of what your body's abilities are. Bridge pose is an excellent way to increase flexibility and build strength in your back. It may be challenging at first (if your spine is "old"), but as you continue you will find it becomes easier.

Not a Fountain of Youth, exactly, but maybe a sip...