Join Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Carrie Owerko for our new online course Iyengar 201—a mindful and fun journey into a more advanced practice. You’ll learn different pose modifications and creative uses for props, all designed to help you work with physical and mental challenges. And you’ll walk away with the skills you need to adapt to whatever life throws at you, on and off the mat. Sign up now.
BKS Iyengar often used metaphors and analogies in his teaching. I remember in one class, we were doing Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) and he told us to "move the back side ribs down like a waterfall—shoot the top arm up like a flame!" I remember how that image brought life to the pose, imparting a sense of direction and igniting what felt like the spirit or essence of the pose.
Water metaphors come up again and again in the teachings of Mr. Iyengar, his daughter Geeta, and son Prashant. They often use the metaphor of a river and its banks: the body (which is mostly water), along with the fluid nature of our breath and intelligence, can flow like a river as we move into and out of a pose. The skin of the body might form the banks of the river, and/or the sense of direction of the pose might also provide the banks.
For instance, in Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana (Revolved Head-to-Knee Pose), the sides of the trunk are like the banks of a river. Sometimes, we might feel quite congested or dammed up along one of our "banks." This often manifests as an excessive shortening on the side of the trunk closest to the straight leg.
Like metaphors, props can also help give a pose a sense of direction, making room for process, variation, and imagination, as well as a moment-by-moment, continuous unfolding within the pose. In Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana, for example, a folding chair can help the tops of our thighs root toward the floor, which can feel very grounding. The chair legs also provide a type of traction to both sides of the trunk, especially the underneath side, which tends to shorten. The width of the chair legs can help create a feeling of spaciousness in the top of the chest and shoulder regions. The chair (and a block) also provide wonderful support for the head, so the brain and sense of perception can relax and rest in the pose.