Once again, courtesy of Loretta, guidance on the June inversion focus:
Inversions are a fairly small but important group of asana. Looking through Light On Yoga there are really only a few poses and their variations. But just to underscore their importance in your yoga practice, it is interesting to note that while Mr. Iyengar devotes between one half to one page to most of the other asana, he devotes a full 27 pages to sirsasana and the sirsasana cycle and 32 pages to sarvangasana and the sarvangasana cycle.
As important as inversions are, they also come with lots of precautions. Here is the list of advantages and precautions from Yoga: The Iyengar Way:
The inverted poses revitalize the whole system. They take the weight off the legs, relieving strain. By inverting the inner organs, they activate parts that are sluggish. They improve circulation and tone the glandular system. They help concentration as blood is brought to the brain, and are a marvelous aid to sleep. Sirsasana in particular activates the pituitary gland. Sarvangasana strengthens the nervous system and the emotions; it activates the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
There should be no strain in the head, eyes, ears, neck, or throat. As the head is delicate, Sirsasana should always be done on a blanket. The blanket should be firm, not spongy. It is not advisable to repeat sirsasana as this irritates the brain and nerves. The variations may be learned once the balance is steady.
In sarvangasana, the neck should always be soft and relaxed. If the posture is done flat on the floor, there is a tendency for the neck to collapse and to feel pressure. To avoid this, the shoulders and elbows should be supported on folded blankets, the height of which should be varied according to the length and suppleness of the neck. The above arrangement may not be suitable for those with neck injuries or conditions such as cervical spondylosis. Other methods need to e tried, after consultation with a qualified teacher. Sarvangasana variations are easier if the blankets are not too high.
Although sarvangasana is learned before sirsasana, once the latter is learned it is practiced first: sirsasana after sarvangasana could injure the neck. Sirsasana, if practiced by itself, can produce a feeling of irritability, which is soothed by sarvangasana, so should always be followed by it.
Cautions: Do not do inverted postures during menstruation.
Do not do inverted postures if suffering from high blood pressure, heart problems, detached retina, or ear problems.
If suffering from neck injuries, seek advice.
During pregnancy, sirsasana, sarvangasana, and ardha halasana may be done with support, provided there is no discomfort or medical contraindication.
Remove contact lenses
OK did that scare you? While it was not my intention to do so, I do hope that no one will start an inversion practice without consulting a qualified teacher or at the very, very least consulting a good book. It’s almost impossible to teach everything that needs to be taught in a video, so I would suggest doing video inversion practices only if you have first done them with a live teacher.
The list of poses is a short list this month, but of course, it can be a lifetime practice to learn this short list. I’ve placed them in the order that I would normally practice them.
1)Adho mukha vrksasana (downward facing tree, AKA full arm balance, AKA hand stand)
2)Pinca mayurasana (peacock feather pose, AKA elbow balance, AKA forearm balance)
3)Salamba sirsasana I (supported head balance, AKA head stand)
4)Salamba sarvangasana (supported shoulder balance, AKA shoulder stand)
6)Setu bandha sarvangasana (supported bridge pose)
7)Viparita karani (while not a full inversion, this is a lovely, semi-inverted pose that everyone can do and a great way to end your practice)
Here are some suggestions from the book Cool Yoga Tricks for working up to these inverted poses:
Prep for adho mukha vrksasana:
Right angle handstand, AKA half handstand, AKA crazy dog. Place your hands a leg length away from the wall and walk your feet up the wall behind you until your body forms a 90-degree angle. Hold to your tolerance. You may need a buddy to tell you when your legs are at 90 degrees, until you get used to how it feels. If you do have a buddy, he or she can provide support by putting their hands on your shoulder blades. That helps you to avoid the feeling that you might tip over backwards (don’t worry, you won’t!) Once you feel comfortable you can experiment with raising one leg at a time.
Preps for pinca mayurasana:
a) Everyone’s favorite, dolphin pose. This is a great one for both stretching and strengthening your shoulders for the inversions and for things like urdhva dhanurasana (upward bow, wheel)
b) if you are ready for the next step, you can try crazy dolphin, which is the same as crazy dog, above, but your arms are in dolphin position.
Preps for sirsasana:
a) Traditionally pinca mayurasana is considered a prep for sirsasana, but many people find it more difficult because of tight shoulders
b) If you are not ready to use pinca mayurasana as a prep, you can start with dolphin with your hands clasped. Most people find this easier than dolphin with hands apart
c) the intermediate phase is the same as crazy dolphin, but with the head on the floor.
d)In Light On Yoga, Mr. Iyengar also suggests prasarita padottanasana (wide angle forward bend) with the head on the floor as a substitute for sirsasana, for people who can’t support their weight on their head and neck.
Preps for sarvangasana:
a) you can start with your feet on a chair and your shoulders on two or three folded blankets. Use the feet on the chair to press your hips up and get your weight up onto your shoulders. You probably will not be able to hold this for very long. But it’s good for practicing the set up for shoulder stand
b) the next step is to set up near the wall and walk your feet up on the wall to get up onto your shoulders
c) supported shoulder stand can also be done on a chair. There are excellent instructions for this and a really good picture on pages 118-119 of [I]Yoga: the Iyengar Way[/I]. You can also do halasana with your legs supported on a chair.
*Prop note: for those of us with bigger breasts who feel a bit smothered in shoulder stand or people with tight upper backs and necks or longer necks, you may try using a higher stack of blankets. Some people find it nice to reverse stack the blanket so you kind of have a little set of stair steps going up. It’s best to experiment with your set up to find the one that works the best for you. I find that I prefer 4 blankets, except for some of the variations.
For those of you who have experience and are comfortable in shoulder stand and want more juice, here are some variations you can try, also known as the sarvangasana cycle. One reason for doing variations is to increase your time in the pose. You can start in the full pose for a minute or more, then when you are ready, move into any or all of the variations. Again, there are excellent pictures and instructions for these in [I]Yoga: The Iyengar Way[/I], pages 111-115
1) eka pada sarvangasana (one legged should stand)
2) parsvaikapada sarvangasana (sideways one-legged shoulder stand)
3) karnapidasana (ear pressure pose)
4) parsva halasana (sideways plough pose)
5) supta konasana (supine angle)
6) parsva sarvangasana (sideways shoulder stand)
7) baddha konasana in sarvangasana (bound angle in shoulder stand) (not pictured in the sarvangasana cycle, but it is similar to the pose in the sirsasana cycle page 104)
8)upavista konasana in sarvangasana (wide angle in should stand)(not pictured in the sarvangasana cycle, but it is similar to the pose in the sirsasana cycle page 104)
9)Urdhva Padmasana in sarvangasana (lotus legs in shoulder stand)
10)Pindasana in sarvangasana (lotus legs with arms wrapped around them in shoulder stand)
11)Parsva urdhva padmasana in sarvangasana (sideways lotus in shoulder stand)
12)Parsva pindasana in sarvangasana (sideways pindasana in shoulder stand)
13)Setu bandha from sarvangasana (dropping legs down into setu bandha from sarvangasana, you can start out by dropping them down to a chair)
For those of you who have experience and are comfortable balancing in headstand, here are some variations you can try, also known as the sirsasana cycle. Although it won’t work for all the variations, it is not a bad idea to go back to the wall the first few times you try the variations, even if you are comfortable balancing away from the wall. These are pictured and described on pages 102-107 in Yoga: The Iyengar Way:
1)parsva sirsasana (sideways headstand)
2)parivrtta eka pada sirsasana (revolved one leg headstand)
3)eka pada sirsasana (one leg headstand)
4)parsvaika pada sirsasana (sideways one leg headstand)
5)baddha konasana in sirsasana (bound angle in headstand)
6)upavista konasana in sirsasana (wide angle in headstand)
7)parsva virasana in sirsasana (sideways hero in headstand)
8)urdhva dandasana (upward staff pose)
Vrshikasana (scorpion pose) is also a variation of pinca mayurasana and sirsana and it throws in back bending as well.
There really are not a lot of videos or other media that include inversions, probably for good reason. Again I would suggest that you not start an inversion practice, except under the supervision of a qualified teacher. If you have already had live instruction and want some media to help your home practice, here are some suggestions:
Rodney Yee’s Yoga for Intermediates
Shiva Rea’s Yoga Shakti
Yoga Journal’s Step-by-step Volume 3, this one also has a good instructional section that’s worth watching. It also gives good modifications.
An oldie but a goodie that has some good preps for inversions is Rodney Yee’s Yoga for Strength (not Power Yoga for Strength, that one is better for arm balances)
All of Ana Forrest’s media include dolphin pose, which is a great prep for inversions
Senior Iyengar teachers John Schumacher and Felicity Green both have audio practices that include excellent instruction on inversions: Schumacher's Foundations CD and Green's Advanced Beginner's Yoga Series II
Erich Schiffman's Backyard Series: Inversions
About.com Sirasana instructions
Teacher Ingela Abbott credits Felicity Green with passing on this technique for kicking up into arm balance.
• Bring the body into downward dog with the fingertips two inches from a wall. Decide which leg is the “pusher” leg and which is the “swinger.”
• Look to the thumbs for courage, and to bring strength into the torso.
• On an inhalation, lift the swinger leg, and lengthen through the spine.
• On the exhalation, fling up, with no thought of coming into the pose. (In fact, Ingela forbade anyone to come into the pose.)
• Repeat three times, then rest.
• Next, work with the action of the pusher leg. Hold the swinger up in the air, lengthen through the spine on the inhalation.
• With no help from the swinger leg, push off the ground on the exhalation.
• Repeat three times, then rest.
• Come into downward dog, fling with the swinger and push with the pusher. In time, and with regular practice, you’ll find yourself in arm balance.
• When should you work at kicking up with the second leg? Ingela recommends getting comfortable with the easier leg first, then working on the “slow” side.
- from the June 2002 Iyengar Yoga Vancouver Newsletter
Barbara Benagh on Salamba Sarvangasana
Erich Schiffmann's Setu Bandhasana or bridge pose instructions.
Strike a Royal Pose by Aadil Palkhivala
John Schumacher on Salamba Sirsasana (Headstand)
The Royal Couple by Kelly Andrews - lots of great pictures accompany this article.