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"In Sirsasana (headstand) the world always looks more friendly."

Those who study and practice yoga are actually studying themselves, their own body, their thoughts, their own breath. Those who know themselves well, face the challenges of life more openly and with more self-confidence. In the course of yoga practice, many questions arise, very practical ones and after some time of practice also philosophical ones, concerning life itself and the world we want to live in. Often there is not enough time before or after a yoga class to ask one's questions, so I invited my yoga students to send me their questions in writing and made a kind of teacher-student interview out of it.

Enjoy reading,



Salamba Sirsasana an meinem Lieblingsort im Wallis. Foto: Lito Lamas 2021.
Salamba Sirsasana in Valais. Photo: Lito Lamas 2021.

10 Questions for Claudiyengar Yoga

1. Dear Claudia, handstand is pritty difficult for me, I am always afraid that my arms will give way and I will land on my nose..., how can I approach this posture?

Claudia: I still know that feeling well. When I started practising handstand, a belt around my (lower) arms helped me. You can work on the arm extension and thus on the stability of your base by using a belt already in Downwards-facing-dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Try out what gives you security: Belt on the forearms, upper arms or directly on the elbows. Flexible people need the belt more on the forearms, but there is no harm in trying and practising each position. The next level is half handstand with the feet on the wall and the legs parallel to the floor. You can also stand with your feet on a chair, press the tips of your toes into the seat and stretch your sitting bones up. In children's yoga we do a lot of jumping on one leg and swinging the other leg up and down. Sometimes it helps to meet asanas that scare us with mobility and a lot of movement. It also helps not to take ourselves too seriously. I often see how doggedly and frustrated yoga practitioners approach the handstand. This is doomed to failure from the start. Enjoy what you are doing and leave the goal (to come up) out for the time being.

2. How do I build up my own yoga practice at home, where do I start?

Claudia: That is a very individual thing. I would say, start with what you enjoy and what you feel safe with, even if there is no teacher. So, for example, Child's Pose (Adho Muhka Virasana), Downwards-facing-dog (Adho Muhka Svanasana), Tree-pose (Vrikshasana), Triangle-pose (Trikonasana) and of course Tadasana, the mountain pose. Maybe there is a reason why you want to start your own yoga practice at home right now? More relaxation? Stress reduction? Then I would suggest practising asanas that particularly promote that, e.g. Shavasana or Viparita Karani. It really doesn't matter how long or short you practice in the beginning and you can do almost nothing wrong as long as you listen to your body and observe your breathing. Many beginners re-practice a class they have taken with a teacher before. What you remembered from a class really touched you.

When it comes to the sequence, it is important that headstand always comes before shoulderstand and that you take 5-10 minutes at the end for the final relaxation, Shavasana.

3. What time of day is best for practising asanas?

Claudia: For me, definitely it is the morning, but it wasn't like that before. In the beginning, I always went to classes in the evening or practiced at home after work. The body is softer and warmer in the evening, but the head is full and can't absorb or observe as many new things in the practice. In the morning, the head is empty and rested, balance poses are easier and you have more strength in general. In the morning I take my time with all the stretches and extensions, I do lots of repetitions and use props like blocks or belts before going fully into a posture. So for everyone, the perfect time is different, which you have to find out for yourself and which can certainly change over the years.

4. Dear Claudia: in downwards-facing-dog, what does it mean that I »should shift the weight to my legs?« How do I feel that the weight is on my legs?

Claudia: In the quadruped stance, the weight is evenly distributed on the hands and knees. As soon as we turn our toes and slowly lift our knees off the floor, the arms carry more body weight first. As soon as we pull the sitting bones back and stretch the legs, the weight shifts more to the leg side. If the distance between hands and feet is not big enough or if we round the back instead of pulling back, the weight is still more on the hands than on the legs. The more the heels are pulled back and the sitting bones are pulled up, the more weight is on the legs. Then you feel that the shoulders are carrying less weight. You can then see that the wrists lose their strong bend because the forearms are no longer stretching steeply upwards but at an angle. In the end, the legs and arms should bear equal weight in the dog pose, it is like a triangle, with the sitting bones as the highest point, see "Light on Yoga", by BKS Iyengar.

5. Is the headstand dangerous if I suffer from shoulder and neck problems?

Claudia: No, but it needs to be modified. An alternative is to practise the headstand in the wall- or ceiling-ropes, i.e. "rope sirsasana". In this variation, the arms/hands can then go up and hold the ropes or also grasp a long pole, depending on the need or injury. The headstand can also be practised with two yoga chairs, the head hanging between them, the shoulders on the seats. In any case, you should not start without a personal consultation with a certified iyengar yoga teacher, as every shoulder-neck problem is individual and requires an equally individual treatment. I have a student in my classes for whom the preliminary exercise is very good: hands folded, forearms firmly on the floor, head hanging and not touching the floor, while walking closer and closer to the head with legs extended until the pelvis is above the head.

6. Especially last year, it was hard for me to keep myself motivated. Where do you get your motivation from in order to go to the yoga mat every day?

Claudia: I know that I always feel better afterwards. My grandfather, who practised the inversion postures in the most impossible places - high mountain peaks, scaffolding - often said: "The world always looks a bit friendlier in headstand".

But seriously, yoga should not become something we have to force ourselves to do or overcome. Sometimes it just doesn't work. When Corona broke out and all life was shut down and I couldn't visit my family from one day to the next for a long time because there was no train or bus etc. at all, I was paralysed. For a day or two I sat on my mat with the firm intention to practise, but I couldn't move. I sat on my mat for two hours and then I got up again and put it away. Luckily I had my teachers who immediately started online classes and that helped me. Suddenly it was important again to practise with others, even if only via zoom. This led to the experience that yoga can help in turbulent times and so I found my way back to my own yoga practice. Every day I chose an asana from "Light on Yoga" that I didn't know so well yet and wanted to learn and understand better.

7. How do you practise advanced asanas?

Claudia: Each asana has a specific form. Many asanas share a form or an element, for example, we find the right angle in many postures or a certain form of rotation. If we look at a difficult asana, we discover similarities in the position of the legs, feet, arms, hands, chest in so-called basic asanas like Tadasana or Dandasana etc. that we already know. This tells us which of the basic asanas we can practice to approach this advanced asana. The use of props is also helpfull when approaching difficult or unfamiliar postures.

8. How important is yoga philosophy to you?

Claudia: Though our yoga tradition, Iyengar Yoga, starts from the body, it is firmly connected to the philosophy of Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras: "yogas citta vrtti nirodhah", which means yoga is the calming of all movements of consciousness, according to Patanjali. BKS Iyengar ingeniously brought this into a physical practice, because before his time, yoga meant mainly meditation in a seated posture. But how can you quiet your mind when your back is crooked and aching? So, Iyengar put the body at the centre. His yoga is meditation in action, that is, mediation in the asana itself. In order to be able to meditate in a posture, the body must first be completely balanced, i.e. both arms, both legs must stretch evenly. Both sides of the trunk must be the same length. This requires muscular work and the ability to recognise whether or not the arms are really stretching equally. Each of us has a strong side, a weaker side, a stiffer side, a more open side. This is what we have to find out in self-study. For me, asana practice is part of yoga philosophy and vice versa; you can't have one without the other. Take, for example, another important teaching of Patanjali: abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah - vigorous practice and letting go are the means to bring the movements of consciousness to rest; so both are equally important: effort, hard work and letting go, non-forcing. This can be applied to yoga postures as well as to other areas of life.

9. Do you ever have a day when you don't practise at all?

Claudia: Don't tell: Yes. Rarely, but yes, and that's ok for me by now. In the past I always stressed myself (and others) to practise every day. For example, after a long day travelling to the Fringe Theatre Festival in Scotland, where I then spread out my mat in front of the toilet, between costumes and travel bags, in a tiny hostel room where four other fellow actors were staying, too. In retrospect, I don't think this helped me so much on my yoga path. Lesson learned. Iyengar once answered this question by saying that he practised yoga always and everywhere, even while giving an interview. That's an encouraging thought, I think, and an invitation to be equally attentive, careful, focused and calm in everything you do and everything that happens around you.

10. Do you have a vision as a yoga teacher?


From the very first moment, in my first yoga class as an adult, I felt absolutely "myself", i.e. who I really am and want to be in this world. This incredible feeling of truth, authenticity and of course physical and mental well-being, health, strength and balance, is something I would like to pass on to anyone who wants to learn from me.



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Claudia Lamas Cornejo is a self-employed PR manager and freelance journalist as well as an Iyengar Yoga practitioner and teacher.

The project "Iyengar Yoga Blog" aims to shed light on topics related to the study and practice of yoga, to give practice tips and to let different voices of the Iyengar Yoga community have their say:


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