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.
How to Practice Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana With a Chair and a Block
Place a blanket on the floor over your sticky mat. From Dandasana (Staff Pose), externally rotate your left leg at the hip, bend the knee and bring the foot in toward your groin. Place another blanket over the top of your right leg. Have a block nearby. Position the top of the folding chair into the very top of your right thigh near the hip. The weight of the chair will help the top of your right leg to settle toward the floor. Hold the legs of chair with both hands, then externally rotate the right arm and bring the right arm forward to hold the front leg of the chair. Reach your left arm overhead to hold the back leg of the chair.
As you fold over the right leg, the chair might help lengthen and traction the sides of your trunk away from the hips and toward the right foot. Once the chair is close to your straight leg, tilt the front portion of the chair down to touch the floor. Let go of the chair legs momentarily so that you can place a block on the seat of the chair to support your head.
Take hold of the chair legs once again. Pull the top of the chair deeper into your right hip as you lengthen both sides of your trunk and roll your chest and head up toward the ceiling. Let your breath spread out and flow through your body like water flowing in a long, wide river. Close your eyes and abide in the pose, with your head well supported on the block. Stay for several breaths if you are able to. When you are ready to come up, let go of the chair legs, turn your face and trunk toward the floor, and slowly sit up. Come back to Dandasana and repeat on the other side.