Imagine practicing the same sequence for a lifetime. Senior level Iyengar Yoga instructor Marla Apt was asked to suggest one set of poses you could do for decades, with modifications to honor the changes in energy and ability you’ll encounter at different times.
*It is assumed you have a basic knowledge of the poses presented.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
20s and 30s…Use your strength to create dynamism in this pose, and focus on the alignment of all your joints, keeping your hips, ankles, and knees in line with each other. Bend the front leg to 90 degrees and keep the inner back thigh lifted. Balance your weight evenly through your feet.
40s and 50s…If you feel stiff in this pose, come into and out of it several times rather than holding it. Or use a wall for support: Stand with your back outer heel against the wall, and maintain contact with the wall as you bend the front knee, take your hand to the floor or a block, and extend your top arm overhead. Think of your back heel and leg as an anchor that helps you open the front of your pelvis and chest toward the ceiling.
60s and beyond…This strength-building pose helps maintain muscle mass and stability in your hips, sacrum, and lower back. Stand with your back against a wall if your balance is shaky. If it’s a strain to reach the floor, use a block under your hand to help open the chest and lift the torso.
Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)
20s and 30s…Keep the uplifted leg straight and firm. Externally rotate your standing leg and pull up through the outer thigh. Move the
outer hip of the standing leg toward the inner thigh to stabilize the pose. Then extend the uplifted leg and sides of the torso away from each other. Spread your arms, and lift the front of your pelvis, abdomen, and chest toward the ceiling while keeping your legs straight.
40s and 50s…This can be a tricky pose at any age. The support of a wall can help you focus on alignment and on increasing the opening of your chest rather than on struggling for balance. Place the foot of your standing leg a few inches from a wall, and put your uplifted foot, top shoulder, and arm against the wall. Press the back of your top thigh into the wall as you turn the front of your torso toward the ceiling.
60s and beyond…Half Moon Pose builds strength in your knees, hips, and ankles, which helps with balance in everyday life. Use the wall if necessary. Place a block under your hand to take some weight off your standing knee, get more lift in the top leg, and elevate the torso away from the floor.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
20s and 30s…Establishing a strong and well-aligned Downward-Facing Dog is crucial to a lifelong practice. This pose should feel so familiar and comfortable that it becomes a place to rest. Fully extend your arms and legs and rotate your upper arms outward. Extend your spine away from your head, and press the fronts of your thighs away from your torso as you move your chest toward your thighs. Release your head and neck down as you extend your heels toward the floor. Practice different hand variations, such as hands turned out (above), to open your shoulders and chest.
40s and 50s…If you feel fatigued, support your head on a bolster, folded blankets, or a block. Start on your hands and knees with the prop under your chest. After straightening your arms and legs, release your head toward the prop. If you have to bend your elbows to reach the prop, make the prop higher (add a blanket or block). If your neck feels crunched, make the prop lower. Your head and neck should descend and rest as you lift through your arms and torso and press back through your legs.
60s and beyond…If you’re tired or weak, do Down Dog with your heels against a wall. You can also support your head. If you feel like your arms are collapsing or your shoulders are sinking, rest for a few breaths in Adho Mukha Virasana (Downward-Facing Hero Pose): Come into Virasana (Hero Pose) with big toes together and knees apart, then fold forward with your chest between your legs, extending the arms forward and resting the forehead on the floor. Finally, come back to Downward Dog with the arms and legs straight and firm.
Note: Headstand should first be learned under the guidance of an experienced teacher.
20s and 30s…Inversions are crucial for equanimity and emotional balance. Establish a strong, regular Headstand practice in your 20s and 30s so that it remains solid into your 60s and beyond. Make sure your forearms, elbows, wrists, and head are placed evenly on the floor and your weight is balanced between both sides and front and back. You don’t want to tilt to one side or drop one shoulder. Keep the shoulders, shoulder blades, and trapezius lifted, so the neck remains long. The legs should be strong and straight, helping lift the spine.
40s and 50s…Inversions keep you balanced both mentally and physically. If you feel comfortable and steady, practice Headstand regularly.
60s and beyond…If you need added stability, you can practice Headstand in a corner. If you can’t keep your shoulders lifted or if you have a strained neck, you can practice Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend) as an alternative to get the benefit of being upside down without putting pressure on your head and neck.
Bharadvajasana I (Bharadvaja’s Twist)
20s and 30s…As you twist to the right, the left hip should be kept down. With your right hand, clasp your left upper arm behind your back and roll the shoulders back and down as you turn your head and chest. Lift your chest toward the ceiling from your upper back and shoulder blades. As you clasp, focus on opening your shoulders.
40s and 50s…Instead of clasping your arm behind your back, place your right hand on the floor or against a wall to help turn your chest more. This allows you to press down and lift your torso evenly on both sides so that there’s no compression in the spine.
60s and beyond…If you have pain, stiffness, or swelling in your knees, feet, or ankles, sit sideways on a chair with your feet and knees hip-width apart and feet parallel and flat on the floor. Turn to face the backrest. Hold on to the back, and inhale and lift the sides of your chest. Exhale and turn away from your legs to get the full expression of the twist.
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose)
20s and 30s…To maintain the suppleness of your spine, don’t force backbends. Focus on opening the shoulders and chest and getting more lift in the pelvis by practicing Upward Bow Pose with the hands elevated on blocks (placed against a wall for support).
40s and 50s…If pushing up into this pose is a struggle, try pushing up from a chair. Lie backward through a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on the floor or on blocks that are stabilized against a wall, and push up from the chair. Lift your pelvis and push the wall away with your arms to raise your torso and straighten your arms. Keep pressing away from the wall until your arms are straight. Then concentrate on opening your chest toward the wall and your pelvis toward the ceiling. To come out, lower yourself back to the seat of the chair, grasp the chair back, and lead with your chest to sit up.
60s and beyond…If you have a strong backbend, lift into it with care. If not, warm up your back by lying over a bolster. Then, sit backward on a folding chair with two blocks against a wall at your feet. Open your chest and lie back over the seat. Slide off the chair, and extend your legs with your heels on the blocks. Pull the sides of the chair to lift and open your chest. Extend arms overhead and reach between the front legs of the chair to hold the back legs. If you feel strain in the neck or pressure in your head, come out and place a block or bolster to support the head. To come out, place feeton the floor, grasp the chair back, and slide to the center of the seat. Pull yourself up to sitting, leading with the chest.
Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)
20s and 30s..Solidify this foundational pose, so you can rely on it into your 60s and beyond. Be sure you’re resting directly on the top outer corners of your shoulders and that your entire back body is lifting up from the floor. Bring in your elbows and rotate your upper arms out. Lift the side body and the front of your thighs.
40s and 50s…If you feel rundown on certain days, skip the standing poses and focus more on inversions, especially Shoulderstand, for a shot of energy, spending at least 10 minutes inverted. If you’re too tired to hold Shoulderstand, do it for a few minutes and then transition into Halasana (Plow Pose) with your legs resting on a chair (as shown above). To come out, roll out of the pose onto your back.
60s and beyond…If your chest collapses in Shoulderstand or you can’t maintain strong legs, use a chair. Place a blanket on the seat and two folded blankets on the floor in front of the chair. Sit backward on the chair with your feet over the backrest, and lie back. Hold the sides of the chair and slide down until your shoulders reach the blankets and your head reaches the floor. Reach be tween the front legs of the chair to hold the back legs, and raise your legs toward the ceiling. Rotate your upper arms out, press the outer shoulders down, and lift the sides of your chest. To come out, bend your knees, release your hands, and slide off the seat.
Janu Sirsasana (Head-to-Knee Pose)
20s and 30s…This forward bend helps stretch the hips, legs, and back. The key is to develop evenness on both sides of the back. Rotate the bent-leg side of your torso forward and toward the floor. Focus on lengthening your torso forward rather than reaching your head to your shin. Keep the extended leg straight and press it down into the floor while keeping the bent knee back and down. To finish the sequence, take Savasana (Corpse Pose).
40s and 50s…If you need to, you can support your head on a blanket, bolster, or the seat of a chair. Finish the sequence by taking Savasana.
60s and beyond…If you have tight hamstrings or if arthritis has given you stiff hips or knees, elevate your hips by sitting on blankets or a bolster, so the bent knee descends toward the floor. If your knees are stiff, you can place a strap or a thin roll behind the back of the bent knee, between the thigh and the calf. If you need to, you can support your head on a blanket or bolster. Finish the sequence by taking Savasana.
Join senior-level Iyengar Yoga instructor Marla Apt for a combination of practice that progresses and the settling that occurs on retreat at the Feathered Pipe Ranch that will allow for a deepening of our life experience, July 22 – 28, 2023, “Going Deeper: An Iyengar Yoga Retreat.”
About Marla Apt:
Los Angeles based Marla Apt is a senior intermediate level Iyengar Yoga teacher who has been involved with medical research studies at UCLA on yoga for depression, anxiety and IBS and created the first yoga therapy content to be incorporated into the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine’s curriculum. She is a writer/contributor for Yoga Journal and Yoga International magazines. Marla visited India for the first time while doing research for a degree in Buddhist Philosophy and has since returned numerous times for yoga studies including a year of study in Pune, India with B.K.S. Iyengar, his daughter, Geeta Iyengar and son, Prashant Iyengar. She continues to study annually with the Iyengars at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune, India.
She is pursuing her interest in making the healing benefits of yoga available to communities in need as a member of the non-profit organization, Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics. She leads workshops and teacher trainings throughout the U.S. and abroad.
Learn more about Marla: yoganga.com
*Special thanks goes to Yoga Journal for allowing re-publishing of this article.