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.
Varying your approach to a familiar pose can be fascinating. You might ask yourself: How can I make a challenging pose more accessible? How can I change my approach in order to gain new insight into myself, as well as the asana? What might I learn by trying familiar things in different ways?
Take using a chair as a launch pad for Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) and Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) for example. If you find typically these poses challenging, using the chair in this way might be helpful. In Kurmasana on the chair, you are only responsible for lifting the lower portion of your legs. This is a great way to cultivate strength in the thighs, especially in the knee extension. Since your arms do not need to be pinned under your legs (as in the classic version of Kurmasana), you can get the feel of the sense of direction for the legs, back, and arms required by the pose without the potential strain on the back, shoulders, or elbows.
When you add the step of lifting the seat off the chair from Kurmasana to Tittibhasana, you learn how you must shift your weight onto your arms. You learn how you must center yourself in order to maximize the downward pressure of the hands and lift of the abdominal wall as you float your buttocks up and off of the chair. It’s a fun (and challenging) balance game to toggle back and forth between being on the chair and lifting off the chair. It’s also a great way to build mobility as you learn how to control and refine your movements. You might feel like you are on a miniature seesaw as you move from Tortoise to Firefly and back again. Give it a try!
Kurmasana to Tittibhasana With a Chair
Sit back in the seat of a chair with your legs wide and your knees bent. Bend forward at your hips and place your arms on the floor (or on blocks) in between your legs. I have my heels lifted on the blocks, which is helpful, as the chair seat is a bit high for me.
Keep your abdominal muscles engaged and with an exhalation, begin the process of straightening your knees as fully as possible. Repeat the bending and straightening of your legs a few times, then try and stay in the pose with your knees extending, toes spreading, and abdominal muscles engaged. Breathe into the back of your body, allowing the skin and muscles fibers to spread and elongate.
Shift your buttocks further forward on the seat of the chair. Exhale and as you press your hands into the floor or the blocks, shift your weight forward onto your arms. Lift your abdominal wall, hips, and buttocks simultaneously. Straighten your legs as you did before. It might be harder to straighten your legs in this variation, because your thighs are no longer supported on the seat of the chair. Stay in the pose for a few breaths. Focus on moving the breath into your back ribs region.
Exhale as you lower your hips. Inhale and exhale as you lift again. Repeat this transition, moving back and forth a few times if possible. Coordinate the lowering and lifting of your buttocks with the movement of your breath as you move from the chair to the air and back again.