Yoga Journal co-founder Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, and her daughter, Lizzie Lasater, have partnered with YJ to bring you a six-week interactive online course on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Through study of this fundamental text, the Lasaters, with more than 50 years of combined teaching experience, will support you in deepening your practice and broadening your understanding of yoga. Sign up now for a transformative journey to learn, practice, and live the sutra.
We all feel better after taking a yoga class, yet finding inspiration on the mat when practicing alone can be more difficult. Cultivating a home practice certainly requires commitment, but it also requires softness— a quality that urges us to let go of our physical, mental, and emotional attachment, whether it’s a desire to get into a certain pose or a too-tight grip on a certain outcome we’re hoping our practice will provide.
In his classic Yoga Sutra, Patanjali provides a few verses that speak directly to these seemingly opposing aspects of our yoga practice. After defining yoga as “a state in which the fluctuations of the mind are no longer dominant,” he states that freedom from these fluctuations comes from “consistent practice and supreme detachment.” These two guiding concepts—abhyasa (determined effort, i.e., consistent practice) and vairagya (detachment)—can become the key to noticing and then releasing any resistance you might encounter around establishing your home practice. The following sequence will help you work with both abhyasa and vairagya, urging you to honor both strength and surrender, courage and calm.
Upward Salute in Mountain Pose
Utthita Hastasana in Tadasana
Bring your mat perpendicular to the wall. Stand facing the wall with your feet hip-distance apart. Turning your heels slightly out, bring the outer edges of your feet parallel with the sides of your mat. Inhale and sweep your arms overhead. Don’t hold your shoulder blades down; instead, let them spread like wings up and across your back. Extend your fingertips toward the ceiling, with palms facing each other, and press down through your feet to lift your energy upward. Soften your eyes and take a few slow, deep breaths. Slowly lower your arms to your sides with an exhalation. Repeat once.
See also Watch + Learn: Mountain Pose
Downward-Facing Dog Pose, variation
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Face the wall, standing about an arm’s length away. Separate your feet by at least one foot; drop your chin and bend forward at your hips, placing your palms on the wall a little above shoulder height. Spread your fingers as you press strongly into the thumb side of your hands. Move your hips away from the wall, lengthening your spine. Reposition your feet so that your hips, knees, and ankles stack vertically. Engage your abdominal muscles slightly to lift them up toward your spine. Stay in the pose for several breaths, and then walk your feet toward the wall to come to standing.
Warrior Pose III, variation
Find your way back to Down Dog at the wall. With an inhalation, lift your right leg. Press strongly into the wall as you lengthen along the horizontal axis. Allow your outer right hip to lift slightly, positioning your pelvis in an asymmetrical but balanced way. Feel the strength of your consistent effort (abhyasa) as you press into the wall and lengthen your body toward the center of the room. Stay 3 to 5 breaths before you release the leg and move to the second side.
Half Moon Pose, variation
Begin again in Down Dog at the wall. Lift your right leg toward Warrior III with an inhalation, and then rotate your pelvis as you continue to lift your right hip and turn your torso to the right. Bring your left fingertips down to the floor (or a block). Move your right fingertips up the wall, creating a point of stability around which to rotate your horizontal axis. Resist the urge to rotate your head; instead, look straight ahead and let your neck remain an extension of your spine. Exhaling, release your right leg to the floor and repeat on the other side.
Standing Forward Bend
After taking Half Moon on your second side, release your left leg to the floor and melt into this forward bend. Soften the back of your neck and let your head hang. Cross your arms and hold your elbows. If the stretch on the back of your legs is too intense, consider putting your hands on blocks, elbows straight, and then moving your feet farther apart. Remain in the pose for a few breaths with a spirit of surrender (vairagya). Take a long inhalation as you come up to standing.
Extended Triangle Pose
Spread your legs wide, at least four feet apart, turning your left toes out and your right toes slightly inward. With an inhalation, raise your arms parallel to the floor. Bring your attention to your pelvis and imagine it as a bowl of water. Descend from your outer left hip joint as you tip this pelvic bowl slightly forward and down to let the imaginary water pour down your left leg. Bring your left fingertips down to rest on your ankle or a block, and stretch your right arm toward the ceiling.
Extended Side Angle Pose, with block
From Triangle Pose, move into Utthita Parsvakonasana by bending your left knee so that it’s directly over your ankle. (You may need to increase the distance between your feet.) Stretch your left arm downward, press your left hand into a block for support, and then extend your top (right) hand up and over your head, turning your palm toward the floor. To come out, inhale and straighten your left knee while you stretch upward and outward from your right arm in a big, sweeping circle.
Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend
Turn your right toes inward as you reach both hands to your ankles. If you’re flexible in this pose, experiment with curling your tailbone slightly under to allow your spine to make a long, gentle curve. If you like, use a block to support your head—though if you do, make sure your chin is tucked and the back of your neck is long. Focus on your exhalations as you soften into the pose, feeling the surrender (vairagya) that comes with resting deeply here. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths, and then inhale to rise.
Warrior Pose II
Rotate your left toes outward as you bend your left knee and move back through Extended Side Angle Pose on the left side. Exhale and turn your right heel away from you; with a strong inhalation, press into your back foot as you rise up into Warrior Pose II. The powerful action in your legs lets you experience abhyasa as your arms spread wide, taking your gaze past your left fingertips. To come out, straighten your left leg and shift your stance in preparation for taking Triangle Pose (pose 6) on the right side.
See also Stand Strong in Warrior II Pose
After flowing through poses 6 through 9 on your right side, sit on the floor in the center of your mat. Shift your weight back so you are sitting on the lower part of your sacrum as you bring your knees toward your chest. Slightly round your back in order to fully engage your abdominal muscles as stabilizers. Balance on the middle portion of your sacrum as you straighten your legs and stretch your arms out parallel to the floor, thumb side of your hands facing the ceiling. Hold for 5 breaths, keeping the breath as soft and free as possible.
See also Strong to Your Core: Full Boat Pose
Reclining Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose, with strap
After Boat Pose, lie back on the floor and enjoy this moment of vairagya. When you’re ready, exhale as you lift your straightened left leg and loop your yoga strap around the middle of your left arch. Hold the strap loosely so that your elbows are on the floor and your arms and shoulders can relax. Press your right inner heel strongly into the floor to help you maintain awareness of your right leg as you straighten your left knee. Keep your breath natural during the pose. Hold for 5 breaths, and then repeat on the second side.
Revolved Abdomen Pose, with twist
Return to Supta Padangusthasana with your left leg raised. Hold both ends of the strap in your right hand so the back of your hand faces you. Coming into a twist, bring your left leg across your body and down to the floor. Straighten and extend your right leg and left hand (not visible in photo) away from your body to create the pose’s dynamic action. Focus on your exhalations as you let go into the stretch. Hold for 5 breaths, and then repeat on the second side.
See also Show Your Spine Some Love
Bound Angle Pose, with head support
Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together; position your heels at least eight inches from your body. Support the weight of your head using a yoga block, bolster, or even the seat of a chair. Make sure that your chin is tucked, and that the back of your neck is long. Stay for a few rounds of slow, even breathing, noticing a gradual increase in your feeling of release. (It’s very important for the health of your lower back that the pelvis tilts forward. If you find this difficult, stay seated vertically while bowing your chin, or sit on the corner of folded blankets to facilitate this tilted movement.)
Take a few moments to set up your body in a position of deep comfort. Support your head and shoulders, your knees, and the backs of your ankles and wrists. Switch your phone into airplane mode and set a timer for 15 minutes. Cover your body with a blanket, and your eyes with an eye pillow or soft cloth. In a gesture of surrender, open your arms wide and turn your palms up to face the ceiling. Let your chin gently move downward as you release the back of your skull away from your spine. Notice how light and soft your breath becomes.
Practice tip Savasana is a perfect place to practice vairagya. Let go deeply into this moment and release control over the breath as you allow yourself to feel held and whole.
About Our Pros
Teacher Judith Hanson Lasater has taught yoga since 1971. In addition to co-founding Yoga Journal, she has written eight books on yoga and teaches extensively throughout the United States and internationally. Model Lizzie Lasater, Judith’s daughter, teaches yoga online and at international workshops and conferences.