general blather

Stairstep setup for pranayama

We learn Pranayama practices first while reclining and then later, maybe even years later, practice while sitting. This is one reason asana practice is key to pranayama – it makes you strong enough to be able to keep a steady seat for pranayama and the subsequent meditative yoga practices. (Asana means ‘seat’.)

The stairstep arrangement is one of the best reclining setups. I’ve written about it before, but not in quite so much fussy detail as here.

You need a block and three blankets (and a fourth underneath you if you like, and a fifth over you if you get chilly). This post assumes you use thunderbird yoga blankets but, of course, use whatever you have.

All three blankets are folded the same way, into a narrow rectangle. Note that in the case of thunderbird blankets, the fringe is on the long side.

Notice the difference between the folded ends and the woven ends. The folded ends give a firmer edge, so they will be placed where your body meets them.

Place the block at the top of your mat. It’s just used to prevent the setup from collapsing on the head end. Your head will not be on the block at all.

Now place a blanket with the woven edge up against the block. The bottom folded edge will go just above your waist at the bottom of your ribcage.

The folded edge of the second blanket is for your shoulder blades.

The third blanket gets an additional fold. This one supports your head. Be sure to pull it right down to the tops of your shoulders so that your neck is fully supported.

Lying down

  • Start by sitting about a hand’s width away from the bottom blanket. Put your forearms on the floor beside you and roll yourself down. Keep your knees bent until you are lying down.
  • Once you are lying down, check to make sure that the bottom blanket is not below your waist and is supporting your bottom ribs.
  • Check to make sure the second blanket is fully supporting your shoulder blades, all the way down to the tips. If it isn’t comfortable, sit all the way up and readjust the blanket.
  • Lift your hips and push with your feet a bit to pull down the skin of your shoulders.
  • Lift each shoulder, one by one, and roll your shoulder and upper arm out and under to make more room in the upper chest.
  • Adjust the head blanket down to your shoulders.
  • Extend first one leg down the mat, then the other.
  • Have your hands out to the sides in an A shape with palms up.
  • Your elbows and wrists should be touching the floor. If not, support them with blankets.
nuts and bolts, props

Setting up your home yoga space

It’s not always possible to have a dedicated yoga space. If you can do it, though, great! It might be a hallway, or a corner of your bedroom. Even in a limited space, try to keep your mat visible as a reminder that you’re trying for daily practice.

Freddie has no respect for the yoga mat.

I usually practice in our family room where I can keep a mat unrolled with a little stack of blankets. When I see it, I remember what I am supposed to do. It’s just a bit tricky to keep the dogs from taking it over.

Here are some ideas for props you can find around the house.

  • Blankets – If you have a firm wool blanket, you can use that. It’s likely to be bigger than the normal yoga blankets, but you can fold it in numerous different ways to meet your needs. Modern (non-wool) blankets tend to be too squishy for yoga. Big towels work very nicely, because they can create a firm base for, say, shoulder stand.
  • Blocks – Well, bricks. Really. Do you have any bricks outside? Clean them off and wrap them in dishtowels to make them easier to handle. For poses where you need a block that you won’t be putting weight on, you can use tissue boxes, preferably full. Or take some books you know you’ll never read and wrap them in duct tape.
  • Straps – Bathrobe ties, dishtowels, single bed sheets folded lengthways, martial arts belts from when your kid took tae kwon do, and many other items will work nicely, depending on what you need them for. Generally, they should be 6-8 feet long. Don’t use men’s ties – they are cut on the bias and are too stretchy to use.
  • Bolsters – Got an old quilt? Roll it up into a bolster and tie it together. You can do the same with several bath towels. Sofa and chair cushions are good in some cases.
  • Chairs – Best case would be to get a folding chair that you don’t care about and beat the back of it out. But try using your dining room chairs, or a footstool.

Look around for big things or architectural features of your house. Can you use your countertops? Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (backbend over a chair) over the arm of your sofa? Uttanasana (standing forward bend) with your hands on the bottom step of the staircase? I have a half-wall that is a good place to do hip stretches. A hallway can be used for walking up the wall into a handstand.