Five Pillars Yoga

Posts Tagged ‘Iyengar’

Yoga Lab: Heart Openers

The transition from summer to fall calls to mind incredible harvests, warm evenings and lovely weekends under the sun enjoying our favorite outdoor activities. This time of year also marks the return back to school, work and commitments, which can lead to an influx of stress as life speeds up and new routines take shape. A thoughtful high school teacher who came to yoga class recently put it so well: “Summer was a time where I was learning to be with myself in a healthy way… now my challenge is to be with other people again and this is when my yoga practice is really important.”


One way to create a graceful transition as life speeds up is to practice heart opening postures. During practice, we can allow the mantra love and be loved to be our guide. The way we relate to other people reflects our relationship with ourselves… so the practice of opening our hearts and cultivating nonjudgmental self-awareness during yoga practice can support healthy relationships off the mat.


Heart openers, also known as front extensions and more commonly referred to as backbends, support both psychological and physical health. Iyengar recommended heart opening postures to alleviate depression and anxiety, because these postures relieve the tension that builds up around the heart and they stimulate the thyroid and pituitary glands, energizing and balancing the entire body. Heart openers stretch across the shoulders and the chest, while opening the hip flexors. They also strengthen and tone the muscles in the back, arms and legs.


As you move into heart opening postures, imagine lifting and opening your heart, expanding across the chest, rather than bending over backwards. Like many postures in yoga, this offers a wonderful metaphor to support life. On a very practical level, this prevents over-stretching (and crunching) the flexible part of the lower back.


Three Tips For Heart Opening Postures:


  1. Warm up before moving into heart opening postures.
  2. Lift through the chest to avoid crunching the lower back: think “front extension” rather than “backbend.”
  3. If you have back or neck injuries, some heart openers can be helpful, but other postures should be avoided. Research individual postures with yoga journal’s step by step instructions to learn more and prevent injury. And check out this additional article by yoga journal to protect yourself in backbends.


The art and science of yoga invites you to learn from your direct experience and observe the effects in your body. To maintain inner peace and allow your loving heart to guide the way in life, check out this heart opening sequence by yoga journal.


Go deeper with this video: 





Breathe Deep

Known for his ability to merge the practical and the mystical, B.K.S. Iyengar was one of the most influential yogis of all time. He has been credited with bringing yoga to the West, and, by introducing props such as bolsters, blocks, blankets, hammocks, and straps, Iynegar was able to make difficult yoga postures available to everyone!

The breath is the foundation of the yoga practice. As we coordinate breath with movement during the asana practice (yoga postures), we move into meditation and can even connect more deeply to ourselves and to the universal as a whole.

Iyenger has said, “During inhalation, the breath should move exactly like clouds spreading in the sky.” So, as we inhale, we observe the breath filling our lungs, expanding through our bodies with ease. He adds, “When the breath is nicely exhaled towards the heart, the heart is purified from the desires and emotions that disturb it.” With each exhale, we cleanse and purify the body.

It’s really that simple.

But! After viewing the following video, you might never think of the breath the same again. Iyengar’s demonstration will blow you away (yes, pun intended!) with the length and vibration of his inhale and exhale. It is well worth the 2 minutes 40 seconds!



Thanks to Nora for sharing this inspiring video with us!

The Benefits of Props in Savasana

The art and science of yoga may completely transform your relationship to relaxation. Savasana or “corpse pose,” offered at the end of yoga class, is one of the most fundamental, deeply-rewarding experiences in the practice. Taking time to support the body with props, introduced into yoga practice by B.K.S. Iyengar, helps to facilitate comfort and alignment in relaxation. Relaxation allows us to slow down enough to receive the effects of the practice and become interested in our inner worlds. Through the process of relaxation, we boost our immunity, reduce stress, release muscle tension, reverse the effects of aging, and begin to reconnect to our true nature.

Perhaps Iyengar’s ability to use gravity to his advantage and consciously relax attributed to his long, healthy life of 95 years! In this photo Iyengar is not only fully supported by blankets, bolsters and a strap, he is going deep with the addition of 75 pounds of added weight!

Go Deep: Check out how props might deepen your relaxation in your next savasana. Try a bolster or rolled up blanket under the knees, or a folded blanket placed on the pelvis and belly, or even just a thinly-folded blanket under the head.


Thanks to Nora (a fabulous teacher here at the studio) for sharing this image with us and this great reminder about Right Relaxation.