Basic Practice: Releasing the Legs and Hips

In this practice the goal is to soften the whole area of the upper leg/lower abdomen and back/hips by grounding down into the legs and feet. As the legs and feet ground, allow the torso to release as a unit away from the hips towards the head.

The Sequence:

Pashchima Baddha Hastasana (Elbows Clasped behind the back) in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) with a blanket behind the knees

Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana (Upward Bound Fingers Pose) in Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) with the toes turned under

Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) with the ankles crossed

Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose) with the top of one foot crossed over the arch of the other

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) variation
• Come into the pose with a rolled up blanket or a block under the balls of the feet to create a calf stretch.
• Do the pose with the knees a little bent for about a minute, then pull the thighs up to straighten the legs and hold for the same length of time.
• Keep the center of gravity shifting forward.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
• Step back out of the previous variation and place the feet flat without lifting the head up.

Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with a block between the thighs

Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Hands Pose) with a block between the thighs

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)/Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Hands Pose) variation with a block between the thighs
• Put the hands on the hips and, keeping the torso stacked up, flex the ankles to come into a mini-squat. Do not lean forward or back. Hold this position for a few breaths.
• Raise the arms overhead. Hold this position for few breaths.
• Rise up into Urdhva Hastasana by both grounding down into the feet and lifting up through the torso.

Utkatasana (Furious Pose) with a block between the thighs
• Put the hands on the hips and, keeping the torso stacked up, flex the ankles to come into a mini-squat. Do not lean forward or back. Hold this position for a few breaths.
• Hinge forward from the hip crease, keeping the weight centered on the feet and without pushing the chest and back forward or tucking the tailbone. Hold this position for a few breaths.
• Raise the arms overhead. Hold this position for a few breaths.
• Sink deeper into the pose and hold.
• Come out of the pose through Urdhva Hastasana.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with a block between the thighs.
• Put the hands on the hips and, keeping the torso stacked up, flex the ankles to come into a mini-squat. Do not lean forward or back. Hold this position for a few breaths.
• Hinge forward from the hip crease, keeping the weight centered on the feet and without pushing the chest and back forward or tucking the tailbone. Hold this position for a few breaths.
• Sink deeper into the legs and hinge further forward to place the hands on the floor. Hold this position for a few breaths. Place the hands on a block if necessary.
• Draw the block up to straighten the legs into the full pose.

Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose)
• Come into the pose with the front leg a little bent.
• Straighten the leg once in the pose by reaching down into the foot and pulling the thigh and hip up.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with a block between the thighs.
• Come into the pose from the squat as above.

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose) variation with the arms down
• Come into the flat back variation of pose with the front leg a little bent.
• Straighten the leg once in the pose by reaching down into the foot and pulling the thigh and hip up.
• Release the head and arms down.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with a block between the thighs.
• Come into the pose from the squat as above.

Prasarita Padottanasana 1 (Widespread Feet Pose 1)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with a block between the thighs.
• Come into the pose from the squat as above.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Child’s Pose

Adho Mukha Vajrasana (Downward Facing Thunderbolt Pose)

Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Adho Mukha Sukhasana (Downward Facing Comfortable Pose)

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) legs only into a forward bend, if possible

Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 1)

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)


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Intermediate Practice: Freeing the Neck and the First Four Ribs in Pranayama

In this practice, focus on freeing up the movement of the first four ribs. With each exhalation, allow them to drape down the body, retracting inwards away from the skin. With each inhalation, allow them to lift and open. Encourage this movement to happen slowly and evenly around their circumference.

The Sequence:

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) on ropes with the head supported

Rope Shirshasana (Head Stand)

Rope Child’s Pose
• Hang forward over the rope set up with the legs tucked in underneath you, against the wall as if in Child’s Pose.

Side Stretch over a bolster

Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose) over a chair

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a roll under the neck for traction

Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a sandbag on the the sternum

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Ujjayi 4 is an easy, full inhalation and exhalation performed in a reclined position.
• 5 minutes with a belt loosely tied around the waist at the level of the navel, softening and evening out the movement of the abdominal wall into and out of the belt.
• 5 minutes with the belt loosely around the lower ribs/diaphragm, softening and evening out the movement of the rib cage into and out of the belt.
• 5 minutes with the belt loosely around the upper ribs/top of the chest, softening and evening out the movement of the rib cage into and out of the belt.

Viloma Pranayama 1 (Interrupted Breath) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Viloma 1 is a full inhalation, divided into three increments by a brief pause before a long, easy exhalation.
• 5 minutes, filling first the lower abdomen, then the upper abdomen and finally the rib cage.

Ujjayi Pranayama 8 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Ujjayi 4 is an easy, full inhalation and exhalation performed in a seated position.
• Place a tennis ball, or a rolled up wash cloth, under each armpit to support the arms and rease the neck and shoulders.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)


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Intermediate Practice: Releasing the Abdominal Enclosure

In this practice think about softening and releasing the entire abdominal enclosure: the abdominal wall in the front, the lower back, the pelvic floor and the diaphragm.

The Sequence:

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)

Child’s Pose with a blanket roll under the abdomen

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning Pose) restorative version with the knees bent

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Shirshasana Cycle:
Child’s Pose in Head Stand
Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) in Head Stand
Upavishtha Konasana (Seated Angle Pose) in Head Stand
Child’s Pose in Head Stand

Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose) over a chair

Sarvangasana Chair Cycle:
Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) over a chair
Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) over a chair with the legs in Supta Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose), the feet resting on the back of the chair
Supta Konasana (Reclined Angle Pose)

Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 1)

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)

Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose)

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Ujjayi 4 is an easy, full inhalation and exhalation performed in a reclined position.
• 5 minutes with a folded up belt or wash cloth under the tailbone, softening and widening the muscles of the pelvic floor.
• 5 minutes with a belt loosely around the waist at the level of the navel, softening and evening out the movement of the abdominal wall into and out of the belt.
• 5 minutes with the belt loosely around the lower ribs/diaphragm, softening and evening out the movement of the rib cage into and out of the belt.

Viloma Pranayama 1 (Interrupted Breath) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Viloma 1 is a full inhalation, divided into three increments by a brief pause before a long, easy exhalation.
• 5 minutes, filling first the lower abdomen, then the upper abdomen and finally the rib cage.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)


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Intermediate Group Class: Freeing Up the Lower Back

In this class focus on allowing the exhalation to be long and easy and the inhalation free and unforced. Allow there to be movement in the lower back as you breathe in all of the poses.

The Sequence

Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Child’s Pose

Head Down Sequence:
[Do all of these at a stretch, keeping the head down and observing/freeing up the movement of the breath in the lower back throughout.]

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Child’s Pose

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
• 5 to 10 minutes.

Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)
• 5 to 10 minutes.

Halasana (Plough Pose)
• 3 to 5 minutes.

Adho Mukha Sukhasana (Downward Facing Comfortable Pose)
• 90 seconds each side.

Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) legs only forward bend
• 60 seconds each side.

Janu Shirshasana (Head of the Knee Pose)

Ardha Baddha Padma Pashchimottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Intense West Stretch Pose)

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Viloma Pranayama 2 (Interrupted Breath 2) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Interrupted exhalations.
• 5 minutes.

Viloma Pranayama 1 (Interrupted Breath 1) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Interrupted inhalations.
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 minutes.
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Intermediate Group Class: The Head, Neck and Top Ribs

This week we have our last exploration of the head and neck for the time being. In these semi-restorative long holdings we will be thinking about three things:
  • Embodying and releasing the atlanto-occipital joint, the joint between the skull and the top of the spine, located behind the cheekbones/roof of the mouth/root of the tongue and between the ears.
  • Expanding the neck ribs, those first two ribs to which the scalene muscles attach.
  • Expanding the neck ribs causes the scalenes to contract, so we must then think of lengthening the core of the neck--everything close to the cervical spine--while softening and widening the sheath of the neck--the soft tissue and organs that are more superficial.

The Sequence

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) on the ropes
• Hands and head supported by blocks.
• 3 to 5 minutes.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) on the ropes
• Hands and head supported by blocks.
• 3 to 5 minutes.

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
• 10 minutes.

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Salamba Sarvangasana 1 (Shoulder Stand 1)
• 10 minutes.

Halasana (Plough Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Tie a long belt to the middle hook of the rope wall and use it as a sling in which to rest the head.
• Make sure that the head is not too far off the floor. The back of the neck and the throat need to remain balanced.
• 5 minutes.

Ujjayi 4 Pranayama (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Ujjayi 4 is a complete inhalation followed by a complete, slightly longer exhalation.
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Tie a long belt to the middle hook of the rope wall and use it as a sling in which to rest the head.
• Make sure that the head is not too far off the floor. The back of the neck and the throat need to remain balanced.
• 5 minutes.


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Practice Lab: Head Stand Variations and Restorative

With all of this intense practice of late, I found I needed a bit of a break from the 10 to 20 Urdhva Dhanurasanas (Upward Bow Pose) at the end of each practice that Mr. Iyengar calls for in his sequences in “Light on Yoga”. The following is a semi-restorative sequence that includes the different arm-variations of Shirshasana (Head Stand). Whenever I’ve had them taught to me, we’ve always come into Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1) and then changed arm position while balancing. I’ve never been able to do that very well, so I thought I would look and see how he recommends doing it in the book. (I just realized that whenever you talk to an Iyengar yoga practitioner, you will always hear us referring to “he” and “the book” without further explanation. It’s a cultural shorthand where it’s a given we are always talking about Iyengar and Light on Yoga.)

In LoY he presents a variation of Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1) where you pinch the fingers together, turn the fingers up and touch the shoulders. It forces you to really reach through the shoulders and engage the upper back muscles to preserve the balance. After that, each arm variation is presented coming into the pose from the floor, so I thought I would try it. It makes a huge difference. The arm and upper back strength required to come up prepares the body for balance in the pose itself. The only one I was not able to come fully up in was Mukta Hasta Shirshasana (Free Hand Head Stand). I only made it up into Urdhva Dandasana (Upward Staff Pose), which is still something. Probably if I had done this variation first, when I was fresher, I might have made it up.

The Sequence

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with a roll under the neck for neck traction
• 5 minutes.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Virasana (Hero Pose) with arm variations:
• Urdhva Baddhanguliyasana Upward Bound Fingers Pose).
• Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) arms.
• Pashchima Namaskarasana (Reverse Prayer Pose).

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
• 2 minutes in the regular pose.
• 1 minute with the fingers pinched, touching the shoulders.
• 2 minutes in the regular pose with the second interlock of the fingers.

Shirshasana 2 (Head Stand 2)
• From the floor.
• 30 seconds.

Shirshasana 3 (Head Stand 3)
• From the floor.
• 30 seconds.

Baddha Hasta Shirshasana (Bound Hands Head Stand)
• From the floor.
• 30 seconds each crossing.

Mukta Hasta Shirshasana (Free Hand Head Stand)
• From the floor.
• 30 seconds.

Supta Virasana (Hero Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
• Legs bound in Ardha Padmasana (Half Lotus Pose).
• Lying back over a bolster across the back.
• 2 minutes each crossing.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) with Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)
• Over a bolster, legs bound with a belt.
• 5 minutes.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• Over a bolster.
• 5 minutes.

[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

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 10 minutes.


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Intermediate Group Class: Balancing the Secondary Curves

The Curves of the Spine
The secondary curves of the spine are the ones that start to develop in early infancy as the child begins to pick its head and legs up and strengthen its back. They are the lumbar and the cervical curves. In this practice, think of softening and widening across the inner and outer surfaces of the lumbar and cervical areas.

The Sequence

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) over a bolster with the legs in Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• Hold for 5 minutes.

Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose) over a chair
• Support the head.
• 5 minutes.

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose) over a bolster
• 5 minutes.

Paryankasana (Couch Pose)
• Turn the bolster sideways and add blankets for more height so that the head falls back below the shoulders.
• Allow the hips to lift so the arch of the body is fairly balanced between the hips and shoulders.
• Support the head.
• 5 minutes.

Hanging Child’s Pose on the ropes
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Hanging Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) on the ropes
• Come into this directly from the Child’s Pose.
• Slide the feet down to the floor (or to blocks if they don’t reach). Slide the rope into the abdomen to support the upper body.
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.
• Come up slowly from this so that the blood does not rush to the head.

Hanging Shirshasana (Head Stand) on the ropes
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)
• 5 to 10 minutes.

Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose) over a bolster
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) with support under the head and thighs
• 5 minutes

Ujjayi 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Full, expansive inhalations and exhalations.
• 5 minutes.

Ujjayi 8 (Victorious Breath 8) in any comfortable seated position
• Sit with your upper back resting on a foam block against the wall.
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
* 5 to 10 minutes.


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Intermediate Group Class: Balancing and Releasing the Lumbar Joints

The Curves of the Spine
In this week’s class we turn our attention to the two joints at either end of the lumbar spine: the lumbar-sacral joint and the lumbar-thoracic joint. The goal here was to first stretch out the muscle and fascia around these two joints and then to create dynamic balance in the soft tissue during pranayama. In each of the poses, think of the following actions:
  • Soften and widen the fascial walls that surround the two joints, especially those associated with the latissimus dorsi and the gluteus maximus.
  • Imagine each joint encased in a ball. Soften and expand the ball three-dimensionally.
  • Balance the weight so that it transfers evenly throughout the three-dimensional ball.
  • Imagine the balls moving away from each other, the lumbar-sacral ball connecting down to the feet, the lumbar thoracic ball connecting up to the head.
This practice makes extensive use of a rope wall.

The Sequence

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog) on the ropes
• Stack up a couple of blankets on a bolster and use them to support the head.
• Clasp the elbows and rest the forearms on the bolster as well.
• The props should be high enough to reduce the angle of the forward fold and make the pose more elongated.
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Supta Padangusthasana 1 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 1)
• Do this pose with a long belt looped around both the very top of the raised thigh and the descended foot.
• Press out into the belt to move the thighbone away from the head and to lengthen out the lower back and buttock of the raised leg. You might even have the foot of the descended leg against the wall to give you more grounding.
• Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)
• Same set-up as above.
• Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 1 (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose 1) leg facing forward
• Do this on the ropes with the raised leg supported by the middle rope hook.
• Loop a sandbag through a rope and slip the rope around the hip crease of the raised leg to create a similar effect to the belt in the previous poses.
• Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 2 (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose 2) leg to the side
• Same set-up as above.
• Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana 1 (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose 1) leg facing forward
• Same set-up as above.
• If possible, use a foam block or some other prop on the rope hook to raise the foot higher.
• Fold forward over the raised leg.
• Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Side stretch over a bolster
• Lie on your side over a bolster across the ribs so that the body curves and the side waist and ribs can stretch out.
• If you know for a fact that one side of your trunk is shorter or tighter than the other, stretch that side out first. Otherwise, stretch the right side first.
• Hold for 1 to 2 minutes on each side.

Hanging Child’s Pose on the ropes
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Hanging Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) on the ropes
• Come into this directly from the Child’s Pose.
• Slide the feet down to the floor (or to blocks if they don’t reach). Slide the rope into the abdomen to support the upper body.
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.
• Come up slowly from this so that the blood does not rush to the head.

Hanging Shirshasana (Head Stand) on the ropes
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) over bolsters with the legs bound in Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Fold a blanket lengthwise to create a ridge of support under the spine.
• Have a second blanket for a pillow.
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4)
• Ujjayi 4 is full and expansive inhalations with slightly longer, easy and complete exhalations.
• In the above position: take a belt and fold it in quarters; place the belt on the blanket under the top of the sacrum to give you feedback.
• As you do the pranayama, soften and release the soft tissue around the lumbar-sacral joint so that they expand and release in a balanced and easy fashion as you breath.
• 5 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4)
• In the above set-up, move the belt to the floating ribs for feedback on the lumbar-thoracic joint.
• 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Remove the blanket ridge under the back and lie flat on the floor with just a blanket under the head. Have a bolster under the knees as well if you desire.
• 5 minutes.


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Intermediate Group Class

Reclined Hero Pose over a bolster
In this practice, think of keeping the back of the neck soft and wide, allowing the head to be heavy and passive wherever possible. Also think of softening and widening the area around and below the lower tip of the sternum--the xyphoid process-- and the lower ribs.

The Sequence

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Child’s Pose with the head on a block
• 2 to 3 minutes.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) with head on a block
• 2 to 3 minutes.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
• Loop a belt around the base of the skull and the balls of the feet to draw the head down.
• 1 to 2 minutes.

Child’s Pose
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
Child’s Pose
• Do the above sequence in one continuous flow, holding each position for a minute or longer and keeping the head heavy and the back of the neck soft.

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
• 5 minutes.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• 1 minute.

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) with bolster across the back
• 5 minutes.

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)
• 5 minutes.

Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose)
• 3 to 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Allow the exhalations to soften and lengthen, getting slightly longer than the inhalations.
• Observe the diaphragm and allow it to release completely as you exhale so that the inhalations can be completely reflexive.
• Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Ujjayi 4 is a full and expansive breath in a reclined position where the exhalations are slightly longer than the inhalations.
• Place a belt loosely around the bottom of the breast bone so that it is around the rib cage at the level of the xyphoid process. Narrow it just enough to give you feedback, but not enough to restrict the breath.
• Soften and balance the movement into and away from the belt as you breath.
• Allow the upper abdomen/lower rib area and the mid chest to separate out in your awareness on either side of the belt.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Viloma Pranayama 1 (Interrupted Breath 1) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Viloma 1 is a full inhalation broken up into 3 to 5 separate and equal volumes with a brief and easy pause before a long, easy exhalation, done in a reclined position.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 minutes.


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Practice Lab

Side Bharadwaja's Pose over a bolster
This practice is a continuation of the ideas of a few weeks ago where we were releasing the ribcage. In addition, we will be dividing the trunk into four different segments, creating softness and fluidity in each.

The Sequence


Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) on ropes
• Come into the pose clasping the elbows with the arms and head resting on the support of a bolster and blankets stacked up to a comfortable height.
• Soften and widen the wall of the latissimus dorsi across the back ribs. Lengthen the outer armpits towards the elbows.
• With each exhalation, allow the rib cage to retract inwards, separating away from the latissimus in a soft and even manner.
• Soften the intracostal muscles
• Hold for 3 to 5 min.

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• Come into the pose with a bolster across the back, supporting the lower back ribs.
• Soften and widen the wall of the lower front ribs away from the xyphoid process (the bottom tip of the sternum).
• With each exhalation, allow the rib cage to retract inwards, separating away from the wall of connective tissue between the front ribs and the skin.
• Soften the intracostal muscles
• Hold for 3 to 5 min.

Rope Shirshasana (Hanging Head Stand)
• Soften and widen the walls of the front ribs and the latissimus.
• With the exhalations allow the entire ribcage to retract inwards away from the front and back walls of the body.
• Soften the intracostal muscles
• Hold for 3 to 5 min.

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)
• As above.
• Hold for 3 to 5 min.

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
• As above.
• Hold for 3 to 5 min.

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)
• Allow the exhalations to soften and lengthen, getting slightly longer than the inhalations.
• Observe the diaphragm and allow it to release completely as you exhale so that the inhalations can be completely reflexive.
• Soften and widen the very top band of the chest below the collarbones.
• Hold for 3 to 5 min.

Parshva Bharadwajasana (Side Bharadwaja’s Pose)
• Soften and widen the upper back, spreading and releasing the wall of soft tissue between the shoulder blades.
• Hold for 3 to 5 minutes on each side.

Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose)
• Soften the entire back body, but especially the full expanse of the latissimus, from the back of the sacrum to the outer armpits.
• As you exhale, allow the back body to fall away from the wall of the latissimus as a whole.
• Hold for 5 min.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Allow the exhalations to soften and lengthen, getting slightly longer than the inhalations.
• Observe the diaphragm and allow it to release completely as you exhale so that the inhalations can be completely reflexive.
• Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Ujjayi 4 is a full and expansive breath in a reclined position where the exhalations are slightly longer than the inhalations.
• Place a belt loosely around the waist with the buckle just below the navel. Narrow it just enough to give you feedback, but not enough to restrict the breath.
• Without pushing the breath into the abdomen, observe how the waist expands and releases into and away from the belt as you breath. Soften the circumference of the waist to allow the movement to be completely even in all directions.
• Allow the lower and upper abdomens to separate out in your awareness on either side of the belt.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Reposition the belt so that it is around the rib cage at the level of the xyphoid process. Soften and balance the movement into and away from the belt as you breath.
• Allow the upper abdomen/lower rib area and the mid chest to separate out in your awareness on either side of the belt.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Reposition the belt so that it is around the top chest, just under the armpits. Soften and balance the movement into and away from the belt as you breath.
• Allow the mid and upper chest to separate out in your awareness on either side of the belt.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Viloma Pranayama 1 (Interrupted Breath 1) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Viloma 1 is a full inhalation broken up into 3 to 5 separate and equal volumes with a brief and easy pause before a long, easy exhalation, done in a reclined position.
• In this case, divide the breath up into 3 segments, expanding into each of the three areas we worked on in Ujjayi Pranayama.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Viloma Pranayama 2 (Interrupted Breath 1) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Viloma 1 is a full exhalation broken up into 3 to 5 separate and equal volumes with a brief and easy pause before a full, easy inhalation, done in a reclined position.
• In this case, divide the breath up into 3 segments, releasing away from each of the three areas we worked on in Ujjayi Pranayama.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Allow the exhalations to soften and lengthen, getting slightly longer than the inhalations.
• Observe the diaphragm and allow it to release completely as you exhale so that the inhalations can be completely reflexive.
• Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.

Ujjayi Pranayama 8 (Victorious Breath 8) in any comfortable seated position
• Ujjayi 8 is similar to Ujjayi 4, except that it is performed seated upright.
• Practice this in 3 stages, just as when reclined, with the belt in each position.
• Practice each stage for 3 to 5 minutes.

Viloma Pranayama 4 (Interrupted Breath 4) in any comfortable seated position
• Viloma 4 is similar to Viloma 1, except that it is performed seated upright.
• Practice this as you did when reclined, in 3 segments expanding into each band and maintaining the independent separation of each part.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Viloma Pranayama 4 (Interrupted Breath 4) in any comfortable seated position
• Viloma 4 is similar to Viloma 2, except that it is performed seated upright.
• Practice this as you did when reclined, in 3 segments releasing each area and maintaining the independent separation of each part.
• Do this for 3 to 5 minutes.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Allow the exhalations to soften and lengthen, getting slightly longer than the inhalations.
• Observe the diaphragm and allow it to release completely as you exhale so that the inhalations can be completely reflexive.
• Do this for 2 to 3 minutes.


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Intermediate Group Class

Intense Side Stretch Pose variation
I’ve been rather consumed with this idea of the pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi coming together deep in the armpit. The way they feed in toward the upper arm bone means that pec major makes up part of the muscular ridge that forms the inner or front armpit, while latissimus dorsi makes up part of the ridge that forms the outer or back armpit. (When the arms are down it makes sense to me of thinking of these ridges as front and back. When the arms are up overhead, I usually think of them as inner and outer as a result of their position relative to the head.) I’ve found that working with the armpits, chest and back in this way creates incredible strength and stability through the shoulder girdle and core, including activating and expanding serratus anterior in a powerfully supportive way.

Think of the following points as you go through the practice:
  • Soften and widen the palms, the pecs and the lats.
  • Think of the inner and outer armpits as four pillars of connection and support of the arms into the trunk. Distribute the weight and/or stretch evenly between each of the four pillars of the armpits.
  • Soften and widen the deltoid (the shoulder cap muscle), wrapping it around the shoulder joint.
  • Hollow out the armpit deep into the joint.
  • Stretch the apex of the armpit, where the lat and the pec come together, towards the palms as you either take the sternum towards or away from the head, depending on the pose. Generally, when the arms are overhead move the sternum away from the head. When they are in front of you, move them towards the head. When the arms are clasped behind the back, widen the sternum and move it deeper into the body.

A note about props: I’ve found that foam blocks are not ideal for the Down Dog and Hand Stand variations presented here. They serve their purpose, just be aware that they can be a little slippery and the wrists tend to sink into them.

The Sequence

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• Lie back over a bolster arranged across the back.

Utkatasana (Furious Pose)
• Do the pose with a block between the thighs.
• Set yourself up close to a wall so that you can place your elbows and forearms on the wall without leaning forward any more than you would normally be in the pose.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Have the hands up on blocks. You might want to set yourself up with the blocks against a wall and the mat folded over the blocks if you find yourself slipping.

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
• Have the hands flat on either side of the feet, fingers lined up with the toes. Put blocks under the hands if necessary.

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
• First stage: Hand under the shoulders, palms flat, back flat. Use blocks if necessary.
• Second stage: Arms forward, head down. Palms flat again.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Hands on blocks.

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
• Do the pose with the hands clasping the elbows behind the back. Change the crossing when doing the second side.

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• Hands on blocks.

Parshvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
• Full pose with the hands in Pashchima Namaskarasana (Reverse Prayer Pose).

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)

Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
• Hands on blocks.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose)
• Arms alongside the ears as for Adho Mukha Shvanasana.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose)
• Hands clasping the elbows behind the back. Do both crossings.

Prasarita Padottanasana 2 (Wide Spread Feet Pose 2)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the feet apart
• With the hands flat on either side of the feet, fingers lined up with the toes.

Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1)

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) on a chair
• Lift the back of the armpit towards the ceiling.
• Roll the front of the armpit towards the floor.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 to 10 min.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Have a sandbag or some other weight along the length of the sternum.
• 5 min.

Ujjayi 4 (Victorious Breath 4) in Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• Be sure to take the sandbag/weight off the sternum for this.
• Full, easy expansive breaths.
• 5 min.

Ujjayi 8 (Victorious Breath 8) in any comfortable seated pose
• Put a tennis (or some other) ball under each armpit to support the arms.
• Full, easy expansive breaths.
• 5 min.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• 5 to 10 min.


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Restorative Poses

Syanasana with Curtis
I was lucky enough to be able to do a photo shoot last summer of a bunch of poses (200 in 5 hours--an act of folly I do not recommend!) with help from my dear friends Lee and Curtis. I’m slowly getting around to processing them and adding them to the site. Just added are a whole bunch of new entries in the Restorative Poses section. I hope you’ll check them out and maybe give one or two of them a try. They’re great fun. My personal favorite at the moment is Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose).




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Sequence To Prepare For A Hot Day

We're looking at some filthy hot and sticky days here in New York City of temperatures in the 90's and heat indexes at around 100. I love the Summer (and I say that without irony). Here's a short practice designed to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system to keep you cool and hydrated. I'm off to do it now before heading out to my first class.


Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
• head resting on blocks

Prasarita Padottanasana 1 (Wide Spread Feet Pose1)
• head supported on floor or on blocks

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
• variation: over chair

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• over bolster

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)

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Deep Relaxation

Here's a scratch track from a CD I'm working on of guided relaxations. Remember, don't listen to this while driving or operating heavy machinery!

Enjoy!


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A Short, Simple Practice

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) - 10 min

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) - 3 min

Shirshasana (Head Stand) - 2 min
• Baddha Konasana Variation - 2 min
• Upavishtha Konasana variation - 2 min

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) - 1-2 min

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) over chair - 3 min
• Supta Baddha Konasana variation - 3 min

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) 10 min
• legs on chair
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Restorative Heat, Lower Back and Neck Practice

The past few days have been filthy hot and humid days, so I wanted to teach something to refresh and restore. On top of that it turned out that there were a handful of neck, shoulder and lower back issues to deal with. I had my work cut for me. This is what I came up with:

Matsyasana (Fish Pose) - 2-3 min each crossing of the legs
• over bolster
• legs in simple cross-legged pose with the knees belted for support
• roll buttock flesh towards heels
• elbows clasped, with arms over head, except for those with shoulder issues, who should keep arms by their sides

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Child's Pose - 2-3 min
• belt loop pulled tight around tops of thighs and ankles
• head on block if neccessary

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) - 3-5 min
• legs belted
• thin folded blanket across upper back
• blanket under head

Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana 2 lunge
• hands on blocks

Supta Padangusthasana 2 (Reclined Big Toe Pose 2) - 1-2 min each side
• leg to side, resting on bolster
• bend knee of raised leg if necessary to maintain depth of hip crease

Utthita Marichyasana (Extended Marichis' Pose)
• foot on chair

Ardha Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Half Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• hands on chair
• heels on floor
• push chair away from you, pull thighs back

Bharadwajasana on chair
• seated sideways on chair
• block between knees
• keep knees even

Bharadwajasana on chair
• with bolster on chair seat
• block between knees
• keep knees even

Ardha Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Half Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• hands on chair
• heels on floor
• push chair away from you, pull thighs back

Hip Opener on chair
• sit on chair with one ankle on opposite thigh
• roll thigh of raised leg out in hip socket
• hinge forward from hip creases

Pavana Mukatasana on chair (Wind Relieveing Pose) - 1-2 min
• sit well back in chair with heels outside chair legs and fold forward

Adho Mukha Sukhasana (Downward Facing Comfortable Pose) - 1-2 min each corrsing of legs
• sit up on 2 or 3 folded blankets
• cross forearms and rest head on chair

Simple back bend over roll - 2-3 min
• lie back with rolled up blanket under shoulder blades/upper back

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)
OR
Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) over bolster
• hold for 3-5 min
• people with neck issues do Setu Bandha
• people with lower back issues to Viparita Karani on low blankets

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) 5-10 min


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Pranayama/Meditation Practice: Diaphragm and Temples

The goal of this practice is to bring sensitivity and balance to both the diaphragm and the temples. Softening the diaphragm and keeping it soft during pranayama allows for efficient breathing and the fine-tuning of the breath, the powerhouse of the energy body. The temples act as an energetic bridge between the senses of hearing and sight. Maintaining softness and balance in the entire region from the opening of the ear to the outermost corner of the eye is pranayama in its most fundamental sense of the regulation of fluctuations of the energy body.

We begin with a few poses to open up and bring intelligence to the abdomen and ribcage. We follow that up with simple pranayama both reclined and seated. The practice ends with a Shavasana (Corpse Pose) that focuses on pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, in preparation for a seated meditation.

Perform all these poses with a head wrap, if available, unless otherwise noted.


Rope Shirshasana - 5 min
• alternate pose: Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) - 3-5 min
• head resting on blocks

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose) - 3-5 min
• over bolster

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) - 3-5 min
• over bolster

Parshva Bharadwajasana (Side Bharadwaja's Pose) - 3-5 min each side
• over bolster

Child's Pose - 3-5 min
• over bolster

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) - 3-5 min
• over bolster

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)
• 3-5 min: breathing with full tidal volume only
• 3-5 min: Ujjayi 4 breath
• 3-5 min: Viloma 2 breath
• use the exhalations to find release in the diaphragm

Any comfortable seated pose
• 3-5 min: breathing with full tidal volume only
• 3-5 min: Ujjayi 8 breath
• 3-5 min: Viloma 5 breath
• use the exhalations to find release in the diaphragm

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• without head wrap
• 5-10 min: successive release of skin, tongue, nasal passages ears, eyes and brain
• 5-10 min: soften and balance the diaphragm and the two temples

Any comfortable seated pose - 5-10 min
• without head wrap
• soften and balance the two temples
• draw the wandering mind back to the sounds that come into your awareness. Allow all the sounds to wash over you without singling out any one of them.

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The Tension-Free Mind

My very dear friend Kristen Davis came over to practice yesterday and we were both pretty wiped out with exhaustion, so we did an old favorite restorative practice from Mira Mehta's excellent book, "Health Through Yoga." Ms. Mehta calls the practice "The Tension-Free Mind."

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• over crossed bolsters

Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
• any leg variation
• over a bolster

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose)
• over a bolster

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
• head resting on a bolster

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
• head resting on blocks or on a chair

Shirshasana (Head Stand)

Janu Shirshasana (Head of the Knee Pose)
• with head wrap
• head on bolster

Triang Mukhaikapada Pashchimottanasana (Three Limbs Supported Intense West Stretch Pose)
• with head wrap
• head on bolster

Pashchimottanasana (Intense West Stretch Pose)
• with head wrap
• head on bolster

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
• with head wrap
• on chair

Ardha Halasana (Half Plough Pose)
• with head wrap
• on chair

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose)
• with head wrap
• on bench or bolster

Viparita Karani (Upside Down Pose)
• with head wrap
• on chair

Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
• with head wrap
• bolster under trunk

Viloma 2 (Interrupted Exhalation)
• with head wrap
• in Shavasana with bolster under trunk



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Pranayama Practice

Simple Supported Backbend - 5-10 min
• Fold two blankets lengthwise and two blankets widthwise.
• Take the long blankets and place them under the upper back and the short blankets under the head. Leave a small groove in between for the shoulders to hang into. Lie back with the soles of the feet flat on the floor and the knees up in the air.
• Soften the muscles of the neck, chest, shoulders and upper back.

Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) - 5-10 min
• Soften the lower abdomen and hollow out the pelvis, releasing the muscles that line the pelvic bones.
• Soften the ribcage and all the muscles that line the inner ribs.
• Soften the lungs, allowing them to deflate evenly, retracting inwards away from the ribs cage.
• Soften the diaphragm

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) - 5-10 in
• Use same set-up as simple back bend above, with a bolster under the knees.
• Soften and observe the movement of the diaphragm.
• Allow the stomach and the liver to move freely, descending as the diaphragm moves down with the inhalation, and rising as the diaphragm releases with the exhalation. Soften the organs and the ribs as much as possible to allow the most freedom of movement.

Setu Bandha (Bridge Pose) - 5-10 min
• Restorative set-up over a bolster or folded blankets, with thighs belted.
• Balance the movement in the abdomen with the movement in the rib cage so that neither one overpowers the other.
• After several minutes of this, begin to increase the inhalations and exhalations to a full tidal volume (the amount of air you can inhale and exhale without the muscles of the chest, back or core engaging to assist) for the remainder of the time.

Viparita Kaarani (Upside Down Pose) - 10-15min
• First establish a full tidal volume and continue for several minutes.
• With the exhalations, imagine the bottom of the lungs chasing away from the diaphragm and the diaphragm chasing away from the liver and stomach to create some separation between each of these three parts.
• Ujjayi 4: Increase the breath to full Ujjayi breathing. Use the inhalations to create room around the stomach and liver, the exhalations to separate lungs, diaphragm and organs. Continue for 3-5 minutes.
• Viloma 2 (Variation): At the bottom of each exhalation, create a brief pause where the breath is suspended, without hardening the breathing muscles. Use the pause to increase the separation of lungs, diaphragm and organs. Continue for 3-5 minutes.

Parshva Bharadwajasana (Side Bharadwaja's Pose) - 3-5 minutes each side
• Lie to the side over a bolster.
• Ujjayi 4: Use the breath to increase the space around whichever organ is elevated. On the inhalation, expand the ribs from the spine to the front. On the exhalation allow the organ to slide up and expand into the space created.

Seated Breath Observation - 3-5 min
• Establish a full tidal volume.

Ujjayi 8 - 3-5 min
Increase the breath to full Ujjayi breathing. Use the inhalations to create room around the stomach and liver, the exhalations to separate lungs, diaphragm and organs.

Viloma 5 (Variation) - 3-5 min
At the bottom of each exhalation, create a brief pause where the breath is suspended, without hardening the breathing muscles. Use the pause to increase the separation of lungs, diaphragm and organs.

Shavasana (Corpse Pose) - 5-10 min
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BKS Iyengar Personal Restorative Sequence

My friend Erin gave me this sequence, given by Mr. Iyengar in a class in Pune, India on 2/18/94. The holdings are wicked long, and not to be attempted unless you are very experienced, especially head stand. The sequence is great, though, ending in Tadasana. Modify the timings according to your capacity.

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose)
10 min

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
10 min

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
5 min

Shirshasana (Head Stand) 25 min, including:
• Parshva Shirshasana (Side Head Stand) 2 min
• Parivrtta Eka Pada Shirshasana (Revolved Single Leg Head Stand) 2 min
• Parshva Virasana Shirshasana (Legs in Hero Pose) 2 min

Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
10 min

Viparita Dandasana (Inverted Staff Pose over chair)
10 min

Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand)
10 min

Halasana (Plough Pose)
10 min

Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose)
5 min

Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose)
5 min

Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose)
5 min

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
5 min

Total = 120 minutes
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