Practice Lab: Inversions and Arm Balances (from "Light on Yoga")

I was in my usual state of exhaustion after teaching my Sunday classes and fishing around for something to practice when, to my surprise, I realized I was in the mood to do arm balances. I thought I might open up the courses in the back of “Light on Yoga” and see how Mr. Iyengar sequences them. They don’t show up all that often, and only then in the later and more advanced sequences. I did find a practice that looked rather fun with a bunch of Head Stand and Shoulder Stand variations, along with a couple of other poses that I don’t usually practice. The whole thing took about 90 minutes, but I was whipping through most of the poses.

The sequencing, as is often the case, is quite different from the way things usually get laid out these days, but it worked beautifully. I was happy to see the arm balances come after Shoulder Stand and forward bends, as I’ve found myself sequencing them that way lately myself. I had to modify it a little bit here and there to suit my abilities. It’s challenging, no doubt, but not nearly as insurmountable as you might think. (Be warned, though: it’s a bit wrist-y.) You can find the original sequence on p.474 of the Schocken edition. It’s day five of the seven day sequence at the end of course 2.

The Sequence

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart and hands flat on blocks
• The sequence in the book launches straight into Head Stand without so much as a by-your-leave. I usually need a little more wining and dining before I get to the main event.

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
Urdhva Dandasana (Upward Staff Pose)
Parshva Shirshasana (Side Head Stand)
Parivrttaikapada Shirshasana (Revolved Single Leg Head Stand)
Eka Pada Shirshasana (Single Leg Head Stand)
Parshvaikapada Shirshasana (Single Leg to the Side Head Stand)
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) in Head Stand
Parshva Baddha Konasana (Side Bound Angle Pose) in Head Stand
Pindasana (Embryo Pose) in Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) in Head Stand)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)
Salamba Sarvangasana 2 (Shoulder Stand 2)
Niralamba Sarvangasana 1(Unsupported Shoulder Stand 1)
Niralamba Sarvangasana 2(Unsupported Shoulder Stand 2)
Halasana (Plough Pose)
Karnapidasana (Pressure on the Ear Pose)
Supta Konasana (Reclined Angle Pose)
Parshva Halasana (Side Plough Pose)
Eka Pada Sarvangasana (Single Leg Shoulder Stand)
Parshvaikapada Sarvangasana (Single Leg to the Side Shoulder Stand)
• These were all done on a standard 3-blanket set up.

[Do each of the following three hip openers all on crossing and then all on the other]
Ankle to Knee Pose
Revolved Ankle to Knee Pose
• Twist to the side of the top foot.
Side Ankle to Knee Pose
• Extended forward over the side of the top foot.
Ankle to Knee Pose
• In the book, you go straight through to the second part of the Shoulder Stand cycle without stopping, but I needed a little extra prep before the Padmasanas (Lotus Poses) showed up.

Parshva Sarvangasana (Side Shoulder Stand)
Eka Pada Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Single Leg Bridge Pose in Shoulder Stand) drop-back
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose in Shoulder Stand) drop-back
• In the book the above two are reversed.
Urdhva Padmasana (Upward Lotus Pose)
Parshva Padmasana (Side Lotus Pose)
Pindasana (Embryo Pose)
Parshva Pindasana (Side Embryo Pose)
• For this second half of the cycle, I used a single blanket under the shoulders to make the balance and the drop-backs easier.

Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 1) head down variation
Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 1) head up variation
Supta Padangusthasana 3 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 3)
Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)
• He presents these variations in a different order in the book from the way they usually seem to be sequenced these days.
• Do the whole cycle all on one leg, then the other.

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)
Parivrtta Pashchimottanasana (Revolved Intense West Stretch Pose)

Kurmasana (Turtle Pose)
Supta Kurmasana (Sleeping Turtle Pose)

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana (Upward Extended Feet Pose)
• I had to throw this in here because I find the turtle poses are not so good for my psoas and sacrum. This helped to lengthen and balance everything out again.

Bhujapidasana (Pressure on the Arms Pose)

Ashtavakrasana (Ashtavakra’s Pose)

Mayurasana (Peacock Pose)

Padma Mayurasana (Lotus Peacock Pose)
• I did this with the legs in Baddha Konasana instead.

Urdhva Mukha Shvanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose)

Bakasana (Crow Pose)

Lolasana (Tremulous Pose)

Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Chaturanga Dandasana (Four Limbed Staff Pose)

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) 15 to 20 times
• Yes, that’s right: 15 to 20 times! I did 15, but no more than exhaling up/inhaling down. They weren’t the best Urdhva Dhanurasanas I’ve ever done, but they felt surprisingly good.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• This I did for about 15 minutes.

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