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.
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.