general blather

Make your own sandbags

Are you practicing at home and wishing you had access to that nice pile of sandbags at the studio? It’s not hard to make your own if you have access to a sewing machine.

What you need for each sandbag:

  • 10 lbs of aquarium gravel (or sand, but the gravel is easier to work with)
  • Two pieces of denim 19″x9″ OR one pants leg off an old pair of jeans cut to size. You can use the inseam as one of the seams.
  • A 9″ length of webbing OR you can just cut off a strip of the hem from the jeans.
  1. Pin the webbing into a loop across one short end of the denim so that the loop is against the right side and the cut ends of the loop line up with the cut end of the denim.
  2. Sew across the ends of the webbing using a 3/8″ seam allowance.
  3. With right sides of both denim pieces together, sew around three sides, using a 1/2″ seam allowance, leaving the short side without the loop open.
  4. Sew another seam 1/8″ from the first seam, towards the seam allowance. This is reinforcement to prevent leaking sand. Trim the corners and turn the bag right side out.
  5. Fill with the aquarium sand. Suggestion: Put the bag in a large saucepan in the kitchen, open end of the bag up. If you have a canning funnel, it will help keep the bag open as you fill it with sand.
  6. Pin the end of the bag closed, seam allowance folded in, and topstitch twice along the end.

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.

general blather

Seated Pranayama

Once you get comfortable doing Pranayama, you will be sitting most of the time. Whatever seated position you choose, have your knees level with or lower than your hips. Keep your pelvis upright, not tipping back so that you are struggling to stay up, and not tilting forward so that your abdomen is falling out of the pelvic bowl.

I am pretty tightly woven, so I tend to sit on a high support. Using a belt in this way gives you a very steady seat. The belt is just below your waist at the back, across the top of your pelvis. Position the buckle to be easy to adjust, with the strap end coming toward you. And oh, please, don’t let that hard buckle be right on your knee!
Virasana is a very stable pose.
Sit between your feet, and keep them pointing straight back.
Sitting against the wall is a good transition when you are learning. The wall gives you helpful feedback – where IS your back? When you first sit down at the wall, put your hands beside you, lift your buttocks and lean forward to push them back a bit close to the wall.
Cranky knees? Practice sitting on a chair. Keep your knees over your ankles and your pelvis upright.
I learned this way of sitting from my teacher Kim, who learned it from Geeta Iyengar. Heels on the outside of the chair and hands pulling outwards on the back help to keep your chest and hips open. Why do we want open chest and hips? Better breathing, of course.
general blather

Reclining Pranayama setups

When you are starting a pranayama practice, it’s best to do it reclining. Then you can focus on your breath instead of your breath and your posture.

If you are not feeling well or you are tired, reclining is a good option.

The bottom folded edge of the tan blanket goes just above your waist. The pink blanket goes just above your shoulders so that your neck is fully supported. Notice that the pink blanket is folded so that the fringe is on the side to give you maximum head real estate.
This is my favorite reclining pose because of the way it stairsteps the lift of your torso. The bottom folded edge of the tan blanket goes just above your waist. The bottom edge of the pink blanket goes to the bottom of your shoulder blades so that they are fully supported. The green blanket goes to the tops of your shoulders. Notice that all three blankets are folded the same way with the fringe to the side. The block is there to keep the supports from falling backwards.
This setup gives you a bit more lift to your chest. To get into this, sit a fist width away from the end of the bolster and extend your back as you roll back on your forearms. The bolster should not be jammed into your low back.


Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog)

Last weekend Mary Obendorfer came in to teach a weekend workshop at the Yoga Center.  It was just great, and I got extra benefit from having Mary stay at my house.  She is enormously generous with her time and knowledge, as well as being a delightful person.

On the first day of the teacher training Mary used me as a demo stemming from a question Kim asked about extending forward vs. pushing back in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog).  Mary asked me to go into Adho Mukha Virasana (downward facing hero).  I always need a blanket between my heels and hips, and I always feel I need to push my hands into the mat to get my hips to go back.

Adho Mukha Virasana (downward facing hero)

Mary had me put my hands up on blocks and put a blanket under my forehead. Then she said something to the teachers like “Mary [me] won’t ever progress in this pose if she keeps doing it the way she always has.” Yikes!  I was shocked, distressed, and elated.  Shocked, because I’m always trying to work hard to loosen things up and never realized I wasn’t taking the right path.  Distressed, because how many other poses am I as stuck in? And elated because the implication is that some of my physical barriers can actually change!

Later, Mary showed me some other things to do with my bugaboo poses, notably Upavistha Konasana (seated wide angle).  I’ll write about those variations later.  The cool thing was that now I can work on making progress in ways I was unaware of.

Upavista Konasana (seated wide angle)

As a teaching moment, this was also illuminating.  If a student has been doing the same pose over and over again and getting nowhere, it would be a good idea to look at other variations.  It’s tricky – you have to give a variation enough time to have an effect without getting stuck in it.

nuts and bolts

Home props

With a little imagination, you can find props all over your house. The obvious ones are blankets, pillows, and towels. I have several Tae Kwon Do belts inherited from my son that make excellent straps. But it’s also good to look at the architectural details of your house and at your furniture to see what you can use.

Here’s a setup for supported Ustrasana, made out of yoga blankets and bolster on two round stacking stools.

Setup for supported Ustrasana (camel pose)

Our coffee table works well for supported Chatush Padasana. Mary Obendorfer taught me this setup for my disk-degenerated neck, and I believe it is also in Iyengar Yoga Asana Alternatives: Neck and Shoulders, by Lois Steinberg.

Chatush Padasana on the coffee table

Here I’m using the wall between our family room and the hallway to do supported Supta Padangusthasana. (Note the yoga ropes – I did have to buy those and pay some guys to make that bit of wall.)

Supported Supta Padangusthasana on the wall

I’d be interested to know what anyone else has found to use around the house.