National Iyengar Yoga Day
21st January 2023
For National Iyengar Yoga Day 2023 we explored ways to develop and enrich our yoga practice at home.
How can we motivate ourselves to get on the mat and build a regular practice?
Here we’ve shared insights, tips and advice from Iyengar family and our teacher members, along with sequences and other resources.
“Sometimes the body says, “Yes,” and the mind says, “Excuse me today.” Sometimes the mind says, “Yes,” and the body, “Excuse me.” I always say, “Let us go ahead.”
“Do not burden your mind with the idea of doing too many asanas. Do not feel pressure on the mind that it is a time consuming practice. Start the practice with the freedom of the mind.”
Geeta S. Iyengar
- Do one pose that you’re familiar with while the kettle (or toaster) is on
- Set the clock 20 minutes early to fit in a 20 minute morning practice
- Practice one posture you know, one you don’t
- Try starting the day by doing Adho Mukha Virasana and Adho Mukha Svanasana
- If you like structure, follow sequences from a book, e.g. Light on Yoga or Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health
- Avoid getting stuck in a repetitive or mechanical practice
- Sometimes it’s good to just practice and start small, it doesn’t have to be advanced
- Don’t feel guilty if you miss a practice, it’s OK to take a day off!
“I remember reading an interview with BKS Iyengar when I was in India. The question asked about starting a home practice and Iyengar said, look at your week and choose a time when you can practice. For example, five minutes before breakfast three times a week on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
If Monday morning comes round and you’re eating your breakfast and you remember you have forgotten to practice, don’t think, ‘oh I’ll catch up and do ten minutes on Saturday to make up’ because then you will miss Wednesday and Friday too. Consider that time gone like water under the bridge; then you will want to practise Wednesday. If you end up practising longer than five minutes or in the evening for five minutes, that doesn’t count either, as it is not in the time you have set aside.
I took this approach with organising practice for assessment, only it was an action that I was wanting to understand a short daily practice. Now my practice is more to explore the breath in an asana. I remember Geeta saying it’s in your own practice that the jewels are given.”
“One of my teachers said Guruji had given the advice to set your alarm clock 20 minutes earlier and have those 20 minutes before the day starts as your time. And that was life changing, it stayed with me until I did teacher training 20 years later.
More recently, Genie Hammond’s advice on what to practise was do one pose that you know and love, and one that you don’t get or don’t like. If you practice just those two poses every day for a week you’ll find something new in the one you love, and you’ll get over your situation with the other one.“
“One of the things that stopped me beating myself up about not practising on the days when that didn’t happen was Guruji’s advice (as passed on by my teacher, Ali Dashti) to at least lay out your mat, put your yoga clothes on, acknowledge that this is part of your life…then if you’ve decided not to practice you can put it away again, but you’ve had that moment of connection and often one thing leads to another and you’ll end up doing 20 or 30 minutes of practice.
B.K.S. Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health is a fantastic resource with poses that can help for so many conditions. If you’re thinking about home practice and looking for a book, that might be the one to get.”
“I’ve done a lot of years of yoga and it’s changed throughout that time. With babies, small children and teenagers your practice totally changes with the seasons, and with the childrens’ ages. I used to come home in the evening and that’s when I would do my practice; with teenagers, I’d come home and their music would be on, so it was harder to find space for me and sometimes I’d practice in the bathroom!
When I did my senior training and my kids were at school I didn’t think I would do the assessments because I didn’t have time to practice, but my mum [Iyengar yoga teacher Lillian Biggs] said, “Of course you have – you get them to school, forget about the cleaning and washing, two days a week you only do practice. And I did – four hours for each of those days. Sometimes, you can put life to one side.
Patanjali talks about the stages of practice and of the levels of the sadhaka in the Yoga Sutras (Sutra 1:22). If we apply this to practice it will mean that a mild practitioner can have a mild practice (e.g. attending classes and may do, but probably does not do, any home practice).
A medium practitioner then moves into the next stage, attending classes and taking on other forms of learning (e.g. their home practice gets established and they may start to read and study.)
An intense practitioner would be one whose whole being is immersed in yoga, both on and off the mat. But most of us practitioners would not be at the intense stage.
Each of these three stages can be further subdivided into the three steps of mild, medium and intense. For instance a ‘medium practitioner’ can have a mild, medium or intense approach to their yoga, and so on.
There certainly should not be guilt around not practising enough.”
“For me the best book for home practice is Yoga for Sports, either by following it through from front to back or by picking a sequence that suits one’s circumstances on any particular day.
The three day course given in the first section of Appendix 1 in Light on Yoga (p 393-394) is also very rewarding, and as claimed ‘will benefit the body and bring harmony to the mind’.
Eyal Shifroni’s books are also good.”
“We learn yoga in class, we do yoga in our own practice.”
This is the advice I give: it’s the way I saw Geeta and Guruji share their practice with us at the institute in Pune. Even when they were older and more frail, they shared it as an example to us all.
I have benefitted so much from Iyengar yoga and cannot imagine my life without it. By the age of 43 I was suffering pain and stiffness with no significant medical cause. Iyengar yoga has transformed me into a 69 year old with a remarkable range of movement, compared with that middle aged woman. It’s seen me through so many things – happy, sad, joyful, – and many life stages.”
“Students often say that it’s worry that stops them doing home practice: they worried if they did it at home without a teacher they would “do it wrong”.
My advice is to start by doing a pose you already know, e.g. Adho Mukha Svanasana, Urdhva Hastasana, Badangulliasana, while the kettle is boiling and leave it at that. But do SOMETHING!
I feel this is a worry we need to listen to and address as teachers. It also made me be more aware of not giving too many instructions.”
“I think it is quite important to try and find a regular practice slot if at all possible – I know it’s not possible for everyone.
With the harder poses, treat them as something to play with. Break them down – ask yourself, what is it that’s difficult for me in this? Is there something from another pose that is similar that can help you make a connection?
It has helped me to broaden my sense of what practice is. Sometimes I will do a practice at least 50 per cent of which is chanting, and less Asana or Pranayama practice. I think when you’re at a place where you’re a bit stressed or finding it hard to focus when you’re on the mat, that can be really helpful. Yoga is more than just Asana – it’s our route into yoga, but it’s not the only thing.”
“When I’m busy, I will set a timer for whatever amount of time I can spare, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, anywhere up to 20 minutes. I use Alexa or Echo to ‘set 15 minute timer’ quite a bit. I then do a Savasana with chest supported and weights on my thighs. I got some 2kg, 3kg and 5kg sandbag weights from Aldi which are great. I cover my eyes and let go. I find it creates space and calms me down. Afterwards I feel more grounded and I am able to focus better on the task in hand. I am less scattered and able to quell feelings of overwhelm.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to start but once we get going and build it into our daily routine the effects are always so positive it’s always worth it so good to encourage students in this way. It’s so important to assess how we are both physically and mentally and chose our sequences accordingly.
A short, simple practice is best. Just getting the mat out is the first step and then you are away!”