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Iyengar Pratica Scienza

20 Giugno 2023

Summer Extend&Compact Sequence

Chiara M. Travisi - illustrated by Svenja Karstens

The last sequence inspired by Summer completes the cycle of practices that I developed within the Seasonality Project, which gravitates around the central topic of: transformation, adaptation and self-regulation in yog-asana practice (read the full presentation here).


As warmer climatic conditions were approaching expecting for another very hot summer to come, I decided to build a sequence based on centrifugal asanas, namely based on corporeal shapes in which the limbs are extended in opposite directions allowing the central body to gain space, freshness and breath.


However, while practicing to prepare it, I immediately realized that only if there is also stability and firmness the embodiment can really open up. In active yog-asana, this means that the limbs can fully extend only if their roots are well in place and firm, compact and still. Similarly (but differently), in passive yog-asanas, stability derives from the stable support we give to our body, which creates a sense of trust thus allowing it to let it go and release "wholistically".


This is why I have composed a sequence in which firmness in the shoulders and hips girdles are essential in order to achieve an effective and stable extension. So, the sequence combines centrifugal asanas with centripetal ones, creating a sort of pulsating pattern between opposite extremes:


-> open and close

-> momentum and rebound

-> evolution and involution

-> extend and compact

-> lightness and density

-> looseness and stillness


When do we expand and compact in daily life? A feeling of expansion is usually associated with positive experiences; a feeling of compactness may be either associated to shrinking and contraction in negative experiences, but as well with a sense of compactness in the sense of solidity and stillness too. This is how for instance the French philosopher M. Merlaut Ponty illustrates perception in his "Phenomenology of Perception" (1945).


Actually, this pulsating pattern is the common pattern of our embodied physiological systems, biochemical processes and also of our plexus of cognition which all constantly move between opposites: oxidation and reduction, exothermic and endothermic reactions, a sense of satisfaction and frustration, clam and hectic mindset, etc.


So, in yog-asana the phenomenology of perception takes on the shape of somatic sensations of expansions and contractions, opening and shrinking, freshness and warming, activation and relaxation. It is the modulation and equalization of such opposites which becomes the field of experimentation, training, education and learning in our yog-asana practice.


Expansion can happen at different levels and scales. It can come in the limbs, joints, abdominal cavity, chest cavity and head cavity. But it can also come in our tissues: skin and fascial surfaces, mussels’ fibers. Or, at a lower level, in our cells and interstitial spaces. In #pranayama practice, for instance, one can perceive a feeling of expansion during inhalation in the chest cavity as a whole, or in the intercostal mussels in between our ribs or in the lung’s tissues themselves. However, a sense of expansion comes in our brain cells too as cognition calms down via a parasympathetic nervous system activation. Similarly, during exhalation even tough our chest is reducing its inner volume, our cognition expands in the space that one can perceive in the abdominal cavity at the end of exhalation.


Contraction as well can happen at different levels and scales and it can have the nuance of squeezing and shrinking or the nuance of stillness and compactness, which are two rather different somatic sensations.


It may seem a schematic way to describe perception, but for those who practice Iyengar yoga is actually very significant, informative, and resonates perfectly in their practice. Not only because in practice Iyengar yog-asana you feel this dynamic tension between extremes, and each of their modulation, but also because you feel that even the plexus of cognition pulsates in that way, in unison with the somatic body.


The relationship between the body and cognition is now  studied by the scientific community in the field of neuroscience. In this respect, just think, for example, of the evidence regarding the facial and postural feed-back that, while on one side in the scientists’ eyes open scenarios of interdependence between body, mind and cognition until a few decades ago considered controversial; on the other hand, they corroborate the somatic experience of those who for years and decades have been devoting themselves to the embodied practices of yog-asana and pranayama, acknowledging that intimate relationship each and every single daily practice. For those who want to know more, the literature is vast and growing fast.


So, approach this practice not only for the sake of scaling up your range of motion but mainly for the sake of exploring the range of motion of your cognition together with your corporeal one.


The sequence is composed by six parts articulated into four main Sections.


First section

The first section is composed by Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4 and it includes yog-asana entailing an extended and open body shape. Lower limbs and upper limbs diverge from the central line either on the sagittal or frontal planes, or away from armpits and groins.


Second section

The second section is composed by inverted asanas (Part 5) of the Sirsasana cycle, combining centrifugal and centripetal legs positions. Also, the different Sirsasana variants requires either an internal or an external femurs’ rotation, again exploring extremes and opposites poles of somatic perception.


Third section

The third section is composed by compact or knotting asanas with a progressively increasing abdomen contraction. The last variants in particular require both a great stability in the lumbar and abdominal region and a maximum legs extension, challenging the embodiment with centrifugal and centripetal momentums at the same time.


Fourth section

Finally the four section equalizes the effect of the practice rebalancing the Sirsasana cycle with a Sarvangasana cycle


Iyengar News Pratica Scienza Yoga Studies

07 Dicembre 2023

Il Prisma dello Yoga

Lasciamo che ‘yoga’ faccia quello che può e deve fare, ovvero darci la capacità discriminativa e prismatica di riconcettualizzare il nostro sguardo sul mondo, facendoci unire ciò che potrebbe apparirci separato, sviluppando una attitudine inclusiva, unificante e tollerante e fondata sui suoi principi etici in ogni contesto. E se #yoga è utopia, l’utopia di un percorso individuale per creare una comunità fondata sulla giustizia, a me sta bene così e, almeno, lasciamoci ispirare!

Iyengar Pratica Scienza

17 Settembre 2023

Summer Extend&Compact - part 8

Learn more on the last part of the Summer practice.

Iyengar Pratica

29 Agosto 2023

Summer Extend&Compact - part 7

Learn more on the extend&compact summer sequence Part 7