A Calm, Sharp Mind

Sharanya Narayanan practises supta padangusthasana to stay composed and focused during the coronavirus lockdown.

Before we went into self-quarantine in Goa, I spent most of my week teaching classes. My day began at 8 am and I spent about six hours teaching and got home only around sunset. The first few days of lockdown were actually a much-needed break from my busy routine. At the same time, it wasn’t a break that I enjoyed – the food and grocery system in the villages around Siolim is very unorganised and people were nervous. There was a feeling of panic in the air. 

In a very short time, social distancing has become a normal way of life. After the first few days of lockdown, I started to feel the lack of interaction with my community. I missed my life before lockdown and the people I love. To be able to see each other and not feel fear of one another, especially during times like these, is important for the spirit. As strange as the protocol is, I’m grateful that here in Goa, people have been kind, respectful and neighbours have found a way to be helpful to each other while adhering to social distancing.

Once I was able to process the gravity of what it meant to live in lockdown for a long period of time, I turned to yoga to find acceptance and the strength to alter my life to suit its new reality. I started by trying to stream a video of myself teaching a live class on Facebook Live. The purpose of doing this class was to be online with friends and fellow practitioners, so we can motivate each other to take care of ourselves.

With nowhere to go and not much to do, it is important to take care of your health. Yoga has always been an effective way to keep the body and the mind active, and the internet is a great platform to be able to continue connecting, sharing, building and growing through each other.

My first experiment on Facebook Live was a success, so I decided to document my daily attempts. I call them the Quarantine Experiments. They’re a collection of yoga classes that I offer for free and also a reflection of how I am coping with this new reality. I offer a free 60-minute live class every day at 9 am (IST).

I teach a hatha yoga class, following the principles of the Iyengar system, and one of the asana combinations I like to practise and teach often is supta padangusthasana using a belt and brick.

These asanas are gentle variations of each other. I enjoy them because they correctly align the hips and relax the spine at the same time. The props allow you to take your time and ease into the pose.  Supta padangusthasana develops the strength and length of the hamstring muscles and aids in the improvement of digestion. These asanas lower blood pressure and keep the nervous system calm, so it’s a good idea to try them if the lockdown is making you jittery.

Supta means ‘supine’ or ‘lying down.’ This position allows the breath to flow more gently, which in turn keeps both the body and the mind calm. It’s a good way to keep your mind sharp yet relaxed, and your body strong yet supple. I’ve deconstructed eka pada supta padangusthasana and dwi pada supta padangusthasana below. Please do not try these asanas if you’ve never practised yoga before. If you suffer from headaches or diarrhoea, avoid these postures as it might exacerbate the problem.

Throughout the supta padangushtasana series, it is important to make sure that you do not shift the position of the hips off centre. The hips allow the rest of the body to develop an understanding of the right or safe kind of alignment. The relationship between the thighs, hips and lumbar spine can be clearly understood through the practice of supta padangushtasana and that’s what makes it a very special pose to try.

Asanas to Stay Calm and Focused

Eka Pada Supta Padangusthasana

Lie on your back with your legs stretched out on the floor. Keep your inner ankles moving in towards each other. Lengthen your arms by your side and turn your palms upwards to face the ceiling. Take a few breaths here and try to release your head, neck and shoulders into the floor.

Inhale and bend your right knee in towards your belly, interlock your fingers across your right shin and keep both your feet flexed at the ankles. Exhale and slide your shoulder blades down your back, allowing your shoulders to drop further away from your ears. Hold this position for 5-10 deep breaths.

Take your belt/strap and loop it across the sole of your right foot. Try to place it closer to your heel than to your toes. Hold either side of the belt/strap in each of your hands (allow your elbows to rest on the floor). Inhale and straighten the right leg up to 90 degrees. Try to grip the belt with your pointer fingers and thumbs so as to stay more relaxed in your wrists and palms. Engage the right thigh muscles down into the right hip. Engage the left thigh muscles up towards the left hip bone. This helps to stabilise the position of the hips and therefore support the lumbar spine better. In general, engaging the thighs provides better support to the hamstring muscles. Keep both the feet flexed, slide your shoulder blades down your back and relax the back of the neck. Hold this position for as long as you can. Make sure that you complete each breath, allowing it to slow down gradually.

Take a block and place it on the floor, in line with your right hip or slightly below it, at a sufficient distance from you. Then take both sides of the belt/strap into your right hand and bring your left arm down to the floor, in line with your left shoulder. Keep your thighs engaged and your feet flexed here. Then, squeeze the right side of your buttock and allow your inner right thigh and leg to rotate outwards. Once you find this position, guide the leg down slowly to the block. This is a good moment to make any adjustment you might need to the position of the block. Keep your right elbow bent and drop it into the floor without releasing the belt/strap from your hand. In case your left hip has lifted off the ground, you will need to raise your block higher up. The block isn’t used to bear the weight of your leg. Instead, it offers you resistance, widening the pelvis, which allows you to stabilise your left hip back into the ground. Turn your head to the left side. Hold this position for as long as you can. Make sure that you complete each breath, allowing it to slow down gradually. Bring your leg back up over your right hip when you have finished.

Now, place the block in line with your left hip or slightly below it, at a sufficient distance from you. Take both sides of the belt/strap into your left hand and bring your right arm down to the floor, in line with your right shoulder. Keep both the thigh muscles engaged and the feet flexed at the ankles. Guide your right leg over to the left side and place it, in line with your left hip, on the block. This will cause your right hip to actually roll off the ground and come to settle on top of the left hip, creating a twist in the spine. Allow the back of both your shoulders to be spread out on the floor and turn your head to the right side, if possible. If not, just keep your head straight on the floor. Hold this position for as long as you can. Make sure you complete each breath, allowing it to slow down gradually. Bring your leg back up over your right hip when you have finished, release the belt/strap and bring your leg down to the floor. Repeat all the above steps with the left leg raised in the belt.

Dwi Pada Supta Padangusthasana

Lie on your back with your legs stretched out on the floor. Keep your inner ankles moving in towards each other. Lengthen your arms by your side and turn your palms upwards to face the ceiling. Take a few breaths here and try to release your head, neck and shoulders into the floor.

Inhale and bend both knees in towards your belly, interlock your fingers across your right shin and keep both your feet flexed at the ankles. Exhale and slide your shoulder blades down your back, allowing your shoulders to drop further away from your ears. Hold this position for 5-10 deep breaths.

Take your belt/strap and loop it across the soles of both your feet. Try to place it closer to your heels than to your toes. Hold either side of the belt/strap in each of your hands (allow your elbows to rest on the floor). Inhale and straighten both legs up. Try to grip the belt with your pointer fingers and thumbs so as to stay more relaxed in your wrists and palms. Engage your thigh muscles down to the front of the hips. This helps to stabilise the position of the hips and therefore support the lumbar spine better. It also supports the hamstring muscles. Try to release your tailbone towards the floor. Keep both feet flexed, slide your shoulder blades down your back and relax the back of the neck. Hold this position for as long as you can. Make sure that you complete each breath, allowing it to slow down gradually.

Take a block and place it on the floor, in line with your right hip or slightly below it, at a sufficient distance from you. Then take both sides of the belt/strap into your right hand and bring your left arm down to the floor, in line with your left shoulder. Keep your thighs engaged and your feet flexed. Once you find this position, guide the legs down slowly to the block. This is a good moment to make any adjustment you might need to the position of the block. Keep your right elbow bent and drop it into the floor without releasing the belt/strap from your hand. Here the left hip will actually roll off the ground and come to settle on top of the right hip. You know your position is accurate when you are able to place your left inner ankle directly on top of the right inner ankle. Hold this position for as long as you can. Make sure that you complete each breath, allowing it to slow down gradually. Bring both your legs back up to assume the previous position when you have finished, and repeat dropping your legs to your left side.

Sharanya Narayana is an Iyengar and Hatha Yoga teacher based in Goa, India.
For her teaching schedules, write to her at sharanya.narayanan@gmail.com or call +91 9980714420.

April 14, 2020
Photos Simon Meier

Leave a Reply