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Yoga Online, Questions and answers about yoga

I teach Hatha Yoga and have only been doing it for 4 months, there are 2 students in my class who like to try forward bends (although they have slipped discs), I do tell them to pull there tummy in to support there lower back, and insist they do not force any movement, I tell them the idea is to rather stretch out first before trying to get down onto the floor  – is this incorrect?  Could you let me know

Yes, pulling the tummy in and going slowly is the proper way to do forward bends. However, with slipped
disks, it’s best not to do them at all. If you only have been doing yoga for 4 MONTHS? (did you mean years?), I suggest you refer medical cases to a more experienced teacher.

You warn “only a teacher can give you feedback on your practice and help designing a practice that suits you.”
Now here’s the problem: Yoga is popular. And there are many “experts” here in the West, some of whom have severe limits as teachers. Even classes with “qualified” teachers are often so large, that the teacher’s ability to give the kind of individual instruction you recommend is restricted. In a 3 day workshop I attended recently, there were 60 students of all levels, hardly the venue for developing a practice that “suits you.” Despite classes I’ve had with several other possibly qualified teachers, no one told me something quite basic: that I needed to stop my astanga practice at navasana.
Yet you warn not to practice on your own and also advise to find a teacher of yoga who undertands the spiritual aspect of yoga practice. Just what kind of teacher-student relationship are you recommending?

The way yoga is taught commercially in large western cities is not beneficial. Classes are too large, and no matter how experienced and qualified the teacher is, they cannot give personal feed back.
When I learn ashtanga from John Scott, we were never more than 12 in a class, and his wife was generally assisting. That’s the way it used to be in Mysore as well: Patthabi and Sharath, 12 students. Now it’s one “teacher”, 60 students, what kind of individual attention are you expecting in that sort of setting? You might as well buy a video. I have been, once or twice, in that sort of situation when teaching large workshops. As a teacher, you just have to lead a class for the average student, hoping that the less advanced won’t injure themselves or get discouraged, and that the more advanced won’t get bored and will still pickup bits of information here and there. But you certainly don’t get people to built their OWN practice that way. In truth, this is not teaching, but performing.
Ashtanga is traditionally taught in self practice class. Talking to other ashtanga teachers, the general consensus is that a comfortable students to teacher ratio is around 1 to 6, anything more than 1 to 12 is ridiculous because it is impossible to keep up with all your students.
Find a small self practice class, or come to one of our retreats (we limit numbers to be able to give proper tuition, students to teacher ratio is normally 1 to 6, never more that 1 to 10 in an ashtanga class).
If you can’t find a small self practice class in your area, this is what you do: You get a small self practice group together, around 6 like minded people who really want to build their own ashtanga practice. You find a room and meet up there once or twice / week to practice together (I presume you are practising in between at home, otherwise, meet up 5 days week for your self practice group). Once or twice every month, hire a good teacher for two hours to come to your self practice group, give everyone individual feed back on their practice, and if need be, move people on. It won’t cost you much more than two weekly classes, and you’ll get far better value for your money.
Fair play to you for figuring out yourself that you should stop at Navasana., this is indeed a standard cut off point, that takes months or even years to get past. Can you bind in Marichyasana D? If not, you should stop earlier, Marichyasana B or C, perhaps even Janusirsasana C. Again, any teacher worth their salt would point it out to you right away, provided their class is small enough for them to have time to look at you.
I’d just like to get one point straight, before I finish off. I certainly don’t warn people against practicing on their own. I warn them that practicing exclusively on their own may lead, in the long run, to developing bad habits that at best will take a long time to correct, and at worst will actually create serious problems. This is why you need the feed back of a teacher. It might be once / week for an hour in a class setting or twice a year for a week in a retreat setting, but is is indispensable.  But of course, while you need a teacher to move you on and check on your practice, you also need to practice at home, on your own, because that is the only time that you are actually going to do your OWN  practice, everything else is someone else’s and may indeed not suit you.
Wishing you a happy, fruitfull practice


Are there some specific poses that one can do to promote the flow of cerebral spinal fluid?

Hatha yoga aims to increase the prana around the body, and some like to think it ties in with awakening the kundalini energy and shunting it up the spine. In any case, most yoga poses work the vertebral column which houses the CSF. The inverted poses will probably be beneficial too, as the usual downward gravitational force will be reversed.
I suggest that instead of ‘increase’ the circulation, you may actually mean you want to regulate it, so that the CSF moves easily, and with its natural pulsatory rhythm from the cranium and down the vertebral column. If this is the case, I recommend seeing an osteopath who has been trained in craniosacral technique.
Go for a balanced yoga practice which includes a flowing mix of movement and breath, (like Cat Pose). Then, to work the spine in each direction of its movement, include one or more each of the following: forward bend, side bend, back bend, twist, plus something inverted, then take a relaxation, concentrating on the natural rhythm of your breath.

I’m trying to find out what the difference is between Hatha and Ashtanga Yoga?  I found a lot of information on Ashtanga, but hardly anything on Hatha.  Can you clarify the differences for me?

Ashtanga is one of the most dynamic, and one of the most popular, brand of Hatha Yoga, the yoga of the body. Other styles of Hatha yoga includes Iyengar (still pretty strong, but more static than it’s ashtanga cousin), viniyoga (also a cousin of ashtanga, but much milder), sivananda (classical hatha yoga, often refered to as simply Hatha Yoga), Satyananda (a spin off Sivananda),  Bikram (a yoga workout in a very hot room), Kundalini (strictly speaking, part of hatha yoga as well, but with a different emphasis), to name but the more popular.
See For information on various yoga styles

I normally suffer from terrible pms. I started yoga a few weeks ago and have only been to 2 lessons, one of them a week before my period was due. The week that followed was quite amazing! I was so calm, understanding almost serene! I handled everything beautifully, and felt more confident than I have done for years. I went to a lesson yesterday, the day my period started properly, and felt okay, though a bit stiff. Then the next day, I felt like I got 3 months worth of pms all rolled into one day! How can this be? In the first lessons we did the shoulderstand and plough, which I find easy and comfortable, but we didn’t do this yesterday. Could there be a connection?

You are on the right track with Shoulderstand and Plough as they are considered hormonally balancing poses. As they are inverted postures, they promote blood flow to the brain. This brings nutrients to promote optimum health of the hormone controlling glands. Do continue with regular (daily) practice of these inverted postures, (after warming up with the other yoga postures you are learning). Other postures which are recommended for PMS are badhakonasana (cobler’s seat, sometimes called butterfly), suptabadhakonasana (reclining cobler’s seat) and sirsasana (headstand).
Take care to avoid inversions when your period starts. During menstruation, many women find the seated postures like forward bends calming and soothing. You may also do some resting postures at that time, consult with an Iyengar teacher.
It might take some time to level out many years of hormonal imbalance. To get such a fast reaction from a couple of classes certainly bodes well for you. There are some great hormonal balancing herbs around too, if you are inclined to see a herbalist.
Good luck with your yoga practice!

I was diagnosed with a slipped disk (herniated disk at the left side L5-S1). There are also degenerative changes of the L4-5 and L5-s` discs with decreased hydration noted. No bony abnormalities (per MRI scan). I started a yoga program about a month ago and developed severe discomfort, the typical sciatica pains. Any forward bending sitting down is very very uncomfortable. Any suggestions what yoga positions I can do in order to help aleviate the problem?

Yoga can work wonders with slipped discs, but it must be the right kind of yoga!
Forward bends will flare up a herniated disc and the lumbar spine around it must initially be kept in a concave position.  Forward bends done to your limit will naturally round out the lumbar spine, placing pressure on the disc and aggravating the problem.
Practicing a short sequence of yoga postures Gentle backbends and abdominal strenthening exercises are the way to begin. Forward bends and twists can be introduced only later, and the utmost of care must be taken.  Keep a journal, work softly and check for pain 24 hours later, as  it might not flare immediately if you overdo it.  The best forward bends to begin with are with the back stabilised – lying on your back with 1 leg in the air.  Stretching and lengthening the hamstrings will take pressure of your vulnerable lower back and help prevent a recurrence.
Ideally you would work with a yoga therapy expert, so seek one out if possible. 

I am currently doing some research into the benefits  of inversions to the body.  I am particularly interested in finding out how an inversion, where the feet are raised 45cm from the floor, would benefit the body if such a position was practised daily for approx 30 minutes.
Has there been any medical research into the benefits of inversions?

Inversions are considered antiaging. Yogic lore speaks of a nectar in the brain which drips away, sort of like sand in an hourglass, and to turn upside down slows the loss of this precious nectar!
Certainly inversions bring an easy fresh blood supply to the upper body, usually above the heart. In this way, they can help nourish the roots of the hair and the skin on the face (your face may go red when you are upside down as there is more blood in the skin.)
They are also considered to balance the hormones as they feed the endocrine glands in the brain. Fresh blood brings oxygen and nutrients to promote good functioning. Also included is the thryroid gland at the throat, which controls your metabolic rate and is involved with general energy levels.
Thirty minutes is rather a long time to be upside down, though, especially for beginners, but try it out and see for yourself!

have been practicing yoga (mostly ashtanga, Iyengar and Sivananda) for a number of years, but it was recommended that I stop six months ago after I was diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome. Apparently, “extreme stretching” was increasing the instability in my joints, particularly in my spine and shoulder girdle.
I am reluctant to give up yoga permanently.  Is there a particular form of yoga that would help with the hypermobility?

Many people with hypermobile joints can practice yoga.You need to be very focused on determining when you are stretching the ligaments and shift the emphasis on the muscles. Develop the ability to have the muscle groups around the joints ‘hold’ the joint, rather than just going into an automatic way of doing things which causes the joints to lock or overextend and thus worsen the problem.
Astanga is a very strengthening practice, but as it is so fast and flowing, I would suggest it is easier to unknowingly go too far into a pose for your benefit and overstretch.  A focus on Iyengar could certainly help, as it is much slower, the poses are held for longer and so this gives your brain a chance to catch up in its focus.   Sivananda, with only 12 postures, might need to be supplemented with other ones. Work with a yoga teacher to choose poses which strengthen the muscles around the joints you are concerned about.  ie Plank pose for hyper mobile shoulders, activating the thigh muscles for the knees in all the standing poses, and so on. 

I am in relatively good shape and after doing hatha yoga classes started doing power yoga and now ashtanga yoga.  I already notice a big difference in muscle tone and strength and feel quite high energy after the classes. However, almost always several hours or more after a power yoga or ashtanga class I feel a pretty deep fatigue where i feel very drained that lasts a couple hours.  Is this something to be concerned about?  Is it an indication I am overdoing it, or a normal reaction?   Barbara

No, you shouldn’t feel drained after a yoga practice. Proper yoga practice lets you energised and light. Your feeling that way might be due to overpractice, but might other cause as well. For example, it could be that you are not closing your practice properly. It is very important to do a proper closing sequence and to stay in Savasana long enough. As a rough guide, one should stay in Savasana for at least 10 minutes for every hours of practice. The length of your closing sequence should be proportionate to the amount of practice you have done, for someone who does half the primary (to Navasana), a closing sequence would take 15-20 minutes.
I would suggest that you talk to your teacher(s?) about that, for only people who have seen your practice can advise you on it.

Other than Patthabi Jois, who else teaches the ashtanga system in India?

Despite of claims that the ashtanga system is an ancient system described in an old manuscript known as the yoga korunta, no one, apart from Jois and Krishnamacharia has ever seen this manuscript, and Patthabi Jois says it’s been “eaten by ants”, so it is a moot point whether the system was actually devised by Jois and Krishnamacharia or whether it is truly a traditional system that had been lost and that they rediscovered. Ultimately, this doesn’t really matter. Because yoga is a living thing, new systems and styles will come up, older ones will die or be forgotten. Ashtanga viniyasa is a very powerful system, designed by people who knew a lot about yoga.
In any case, all teachers of what’s known in the west as ashtanga yoga are, directly or indirectly, students of Krishnamacharya and of Patthabi Jois.
There are in Mysore two Indian teachers, BNS Iyengar and Chechadri, who teach what they claim is the original Ashtanga Vinyasa system, which differs somewhat from Patthabi Jois system (the first series is nearly the same, but second series is quite different) . However, BNS Iyengar studied with Krishnamacharya and Patthabi Jois (see for more information) and Chechadri is one of his student, so ultimately, it all comes from the same source.

What do you think about combining Iyengar with ashtanga.

Yoga is a living art, so anyone with a proper understanding of its basis is free to adapt it to their own needs and call it whatever they want. It has been done before (Iyengar, Power yoga, Jivamukti yoga, kripalu yoga…). In that particular case, both styles complements each other well because ashtanga is often too fast and therefore lacks depth, but Iyengar, by discarding the vinyasas system, is sometimes too static and has lost the connection with the breathing. Also both styles come from the same source (the teaching of Krishnamacharia), so it works well and has often been done.

I have been a trained fitness instructor for the past 20 years. I use to practice Yoga in my 20’s and I now have a great interest in it again. I know all about safe body alignment, I’m fairly strong, and I have great flexibility. I take Yoga from a trained instructor and I read up on it a lot. I have no interest in the meditation, chanting etc.. or the dietary beliefs of the Indian practice. The fitness club I work for teaches “Functional Yoga”. I take my participants through Hatha type movements like downward dog, upward dog, cat & dog, etc… What do you think of this type of teaching?

Unfortunately, because yoga is so much in fashion, they are many unqualified instructors, with no interest in the spiritual side of yoga, teaching yoga postures. Some of them, through a thorough knowledge of anatomy or of other western systems of exercises, might have a very good understanding of the mechanics of that they are teaching. However, what they are teaching is not yoga, more like gymnastic.
While I have no problem with any yoga student showing little or no interest in the bigger picture and seeing yoga simply as a set of physical exercises to help them stay in shape, I don’t believe this is an acceptable attitude once someone starts teaching. I believe that if it has no spiritual side, it shouldn’t be called yoga, even if it includes postures and exercises borrowed from it, because whatever we have done with it in the western world in recent years, yoga is and will always be a spiritual discipline.

I am 28 years old.  I want to go to India on my own to study yoga for a  few months.
Do you think I should have any concerns being a woman.

Dear Rachel,
A peculiarity of travel in India is that Indian men have been known to grope western women but it seldom gets more dangerous than that. (Local women tell me their indignant response would be to slap their face in return!) Indian women generally go out in pairs or groups, so a single woman is a bit more of a target, and foreign women are considered to be freer than local ones so do take care after dark, just as you would while travelling in any Western country. Minimise bother and respect the locals by dressing modestly. Cover your legs, avoid singlet tops and in general opt for baggy rather than tight.
India is full of really nice, super friendly and very curious people, and if you behave sensibly, you are unlikely to have more than the occasional bit of bother.  I don’t know where you intend to  study, but many yoga schools in India have plenty of foreign students who you can make friends with, so in all likelihood you will find you are not alone as much as you might expect to be. By the way, a great reference book for yoga schools is ‘From Here to Nirvana‘.
Enjoy your trip,

Could you tell me what causes muscles, especially leg and foot muscles,  to cramp during the asanas? I have heard that a lack of water and a lack of trace elements such as selenium, magnesium and potassium contribute to muscle cramps   but these reasons don’t seem to provide a complete explain. What are some of the other variables?

Muscles will certainly cramp when there is a lack of potassium, calcium and / or magnesium, and they are more likely to do so when they are working hard (ie, in a yoga class) and can’t get supplies of the nutrients quickly enough. (If you believe you are deficient in any of these, consult a natural health practitioner, or a reference book).
Many beginners experience cramps, even if they may not manifest obvious symptoms of mineral deficiency. Blood and nutrient supply alters as the circulation changes, and even the energy fields change and could possibly produce transient symptoms like cramping.
If you get cramps in a pose, come out of the pose, massage the area, and, when it has subsided, resume your practice.

I am very interested in taking up  Ashtanga Yoga and wonder is it possible to learn and do this type of yoga from a video, just like some people do a workout from video?

I wouldn’t recommend learning ashtanga solely from a video.
All classical texts on  yoga insist on the need for a teacher. Faulty practice can be injurious on a variety of level, and a  video or a book will never tell you if you are doing something wrong, only a teacher can give you feed back on your practice and help designing a practice that suits you. A teacher is also needed to introduce you to the breathing techniques (ujayi) and to the subtleties of the bandhas (energy locks). Ashtanga is not simply a ‘workout’. It is a very powerful yoga practice which works not only on the physical body, but on the emotional and spiritual levels as well. 
If there are no ashtanga teacher in your area, then I recommend that in addition to your practice and study of a video or book,  you get to ashtanga workshops or ashtanga retreats (you will find some on our Yoga Holiday website). Alternatively, try to get to a drop in class, there are some in any big cities.
Happy Viniyasa!

I have been practicing an hour of ashtanga yoga 4-5 times a week, for about a month. I have lost 15 lbs in the last month since starting.  I have been doing some weights and cardio about 3 times a week, but would like to just do yoga. Could yoga alone help me continue loose weight?

Congratulations! I keep telling overweight people who are asking about yoga for weight loss to do ashtanga. Your success story illustrate clearly that it does work! 
Yes, I am sure that an hour a day is enough to keep your weight under control, no need to do weight or cardio on top of that, unless you enjoy that type of work. However, you might be soon putting on a bit of weight around the shoulder as you are getting stronger 🙂
Enjoy your practice…

I would like to start a yoga class but am obese and unfit.  Although Ashtanga yoga would be my first choice I know that at the moment I would not be able to do it so could you advise me on what the best form of yoga would be at this stage for me to get fit.

Indeed, rather than astanga, you are probably better off starting with a gentler style focusing on body awareness, relaxation and meditation, such as Satyananda or Sivananda.
Once you have made some progress and lost some weight, move onto more demanding styles like ashtanga/power.
A reader 
suggested BIKRAM yoga to prepare for more demanding forms of yoga such as Astanga to overweight people. You sweat alot in Bikram, which feels great and is very important too. Watching Ashtanga classes helps alot to prepare mentally to get into it, she says.
Also see our online store for some videos that might put you on the right track

I practice ashtanga yoga, I wanted to know what a woman should do when she gets her period? A modified practice? Should she refrain from the first day?

Pathabi Jois says not to practice at all for the first three days of menstruation.
A number of senior teachers recommend a modified practice, more static and much less strenuous than a normal ashtanga practice, based mostly on forward bending and suspine postures.
Nearly everyone agrees that inverted postures (headstand and shoulder stand) shouldn’t be practiced while there’s still bleeding, and I wouldn’t recommend strong backbends during this time either.

Like many people today I seem to regularly feel under stress.
To most people I am a confident and outgoing person, but behind the facade I am a bundle of nerves.  I have made up my mind to do something about it.. I appreciate there is no quick fix out there and I am willing to work at making my life better and “happier”.
Can Yoga help, if yes what type and how should I go about it?

Yes, yoga is one of the most efficient stress management technique, and from your comments on being willing to work at it, rather than expecting a quick fix, you are approaching it from the right perspective.
To get real benefits, you will need to practice at least 4 times a week. For a beginner, 20 minutes of self practice 3 or 4 times  a week and one or two classes will be perfectly adequate and you should start reaping the benefit of such a regimen within a few weeks.

Is it a good idea to start yoga when pregnant?

Pregnancy  is a time in a woman’s life where she particularly need to be relaxed, calm and healthy, for this will greatly benefit the child she is bearing, so yoga is a good idea then.
In addition, some yoga posture are well know to be excellent for preparing the body for delivery, and some yogic breathing techniques are excellent during delivery!
A few word of caution, though.
First, always inform your teacher that you are pregnant, and check with them if they are willing to have you in their class. Some won’t have the knowledge or the time needed to adjust their class to your special needs.
Do not practice asana (postures) between 10 and 14 weeks. Pranayama (breathing) and meditation are recommended at that time. Before 10 weeks, all asanas can be practiced. After 14 weeks, some twists, backbends and forward bends will gradually have to be left out of your practice.
In all major cities, there are some special classes for pregnant women, and some teachers specialise in this. This might be your best bet if you are starting. Check that out.
You might also want to check out our list of recommended books and videos for more information on the subject.

A friend and I have recently begun taking Ashtanga Yoga and enjoy it a great deal, however, my friend gets exceedingly nauseous during practice, especially when doing downward dogs. She has a gallbladder condition which she is treating with a naturopath – I’m not sure if this has any bearing on the situation. Is this normal, and is there anything that she can do to remedy this problem?

Nausea during yoga practice is often linked with the gall bladder or liver, and as your friend has a pre existing gall bladder complaint, it is probably that. In order for her to continue practicing and benefiting from yoga, her practice needs to be altered so she experiences less discomfort. If, due to discomfort, she doesn’t enjoy it, then she won’t want to continue. 
If she is getting nausea in downward facing dog, then I would examine her posture with a teacher. Increased pressure is being put on the gall bladder in this inverted position, which could account for the symptoms, in which case I would recommend a shorter holding time. Start with one breath and over time, if all goes well two and so on until one day she could reach five. (Remember that Astanga Vinyasa is a system but your friend is not a system.  She is an individual with special needs. She needs to be respected more than the system, so it is the system that may need to be changed to suit her, not the other way around.)
In addition to the inverted pose, if her shoulders and/or hamstrings are tight then she will not have a straight line from wrist to hip, instead will have a rounded back. This concaving will put additional pressure on the gall bladder causing the billious feeling.  In this case, she needs to include stretches which develop hamstring and/or shoulder flexibility in her practice.
In all yoga poses, the core of the body which contains the organs needs to move in accordance with the outer body – the skeleton, arms and legs.  In fast moving practices like astanga this is harder to attune with, and beginners can find themselves forcing poses by using their arms and legs in a dictatorial way. The direction of movement must come from the inside, out. 
The organs must be invited into the movement. When people do not move with the support of their organs, nausea can result. To experiment with this, practice your astanga very slowly, taking several breaths to come into each pose with an internal focus. Your friend might feel safer practicing a slower style of yoga which supports inner exploration. For beginners, astanga moves so fast it is hard to access that at times.
Lastly, yoga postures have definite healing effects on the organs, and it is highly possible her condition may improve from the practice.
Christina Brown

I wish to learn yoga. I am not in a position to learn it formally in an   institute. Do you think that it is advisable and possible for a person to learn yoga by himself?

There’s a saying that a good book is better than a bad teacher. Certainly better than no teacher at all!
However, it is important when learning yoga to get feedback on one’s practice, and this, only a teacher can do. Only a teacher can see, hear and feel the way you work, and advise you. Faulty practice of yoga can lead to a number of problems. For that reason, I would strongly advise you to find to a competent yoga teacher as soon as you can. It doesn’t have to be in the framework of weekly classes, if your circunstances do not allow for that. May be you can find a teacher in your area who would be willing to give you private classes once in a while and thus check on your practice and advise you on how to further it. May be you could occasionnaly attend some seminars or courses, but in any case, even if you can’t get to a regular class, you must, to learn yoga properly, get some help and advice from a good teacher.

I am a beginner to yoga (2 months) and have been getting sore shoulder joints from downward dog. Is there a common mistake that would cause this?

Pain in the shoulder joint during Adho Mukha Svanasana could be caused by a lack of upper body strength or too much weight on the hands putting pressure on the shoulder joint.
There are several ways to reduce the stain on the shoulders in Adho Mukha Svanasana. The asana can be practised towards a wall, with the hands working on blocks in order to place them higher than the feet. This will subtly shift the centre of gravity back towards the feet, placing a lighter load on the arms. If this fails to reduce the strain, use the seat of a low chair, raising the hands even higher. Alternatively, work with a partner. Place a belt on the upper thigh (make sure it’s high enough to not place pressure on the knee). As you enter the pose, your partner will lean back with the tie. This will reduce the weight on the arms, and increase the stretch on the hamstrings and calves.
If the arms are strong enough to support the weight from a floor position, consider how you are entering and working in the asana. Remember to stretch down through the heels. Lengthen the spine, stretching from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Roll the scapula (shoulder blades) away from one another to broaden the upper back. Ensure that the inner elbows are facing.

Can I ask you what you think about travelling to India to study Yoga? Have you any advice?

The first step is to decide is what style of yoga you intend to study. It would be wise to start studying your choosen style at home to make sure this is the right choice before heading to India to further your studies. Here are a few options:
You could go to India and study with the Iyengars at the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune. There are also in Rishikesh  some very experienced teachers in that style of yoga. There are also some good teachers in the UK.
Again, you could go to India and study with Patthabi Jois in Mysore. There are also a number of very experienced ashtanga teachers in Europe, America and Australia. Check out the list of teachers on the Ashtanga site. All certified teachers are very advanced practitioners who have studied extensively with Pattahbi Jois.
The Indian option is to study with Desikachar at the Krishnamachariy yoga Madiram in Chennai (Madras). A number of Desikachar senior students teach in the West. Check out the Viniyoga Britain site.
The Bihar School of yoga and the Bihar Yoga Barathi run courses in India for Western students. Check out their site
Run two ashrams in India. Check out their website.

You will find some useful addresses on our addresses page.
You might also get yourself a copy of the book “From here to Nirvana“, a spiritual guide to India packed with information and addresses.

I’ve been practicing Yoga for about 10 months.  Before Yoga I lifted light weights and used a treadmill or an elliptical for 45 minutes 3 x a week.  I now exclusively practice Ashtanga, 3 to 4 times a week for 90 minutes,  and really only occasionally do something aerobic like go for a walk.  I sometimes injure myself, for example pull a muscle or compress my wrists, and I always feel sore and slightly exhausted after practice.  My questions are:  Will I eventually build up stamina and energy?  Will I ever stop feeling sore after practice? 

90 minutes of practice sound like a lot for someone who has been practicing ashtanga for less than six month. Practice has to be built slowly, for it’s only by working within our limitations that we eventually overcome them. 
On the other hand, 3 to 4 times a week isn’t a lot for a dedicated yogi, which you obviously are. It would be better for you to do an hour 5 or 6 times a week. You would also probably feel less tired after practice if you were practicing a little less. Ashtanga practice is supposed to let you feel energized, not tired and sore. Also make sure you always do an adequate closing sequence (if you are practicing 90 minutes, you should do a full closing sequence, including headstand) and lie in Savasana at the end of your practice for at least 10 minutes. There is often a tendency to rush through the end of the practice because time is running short. This is not good and can indeed lead to tiredness.
A pleasant soreness in the bellies of some muscles can be a sign that you are progressing, but pain in the joints is a sure indication of poor form and alignment. In this case you should pull back and study the posture more closely. Granted, accidents do happen sometimes, particularly if you are trying out new postures, but they are always a sign that you are doing something wrong, and an invitation to correct this wrong. 
And as for building up stamina, I can only repeat Patthabi Jois advice: “Do your practice, and all is coming.”

I experience migraine headaches frequently, often severely enough to require medical attention beyond the medication I am prescribed. How can I combat these attacks using my yoga practice, and are there any positions I should avoid? In the plow position, I often experience neck pain, is this an indication that I should cease this pose? Also, and unrelated to my first question, my calves are terribly tight, and I have difficulty getting my heels completely to the floor in the downward facing dog. Any suggestions? 

There are many causes for migraine headaches and I suggest seeing a natural health practitioner who can go over your diet and lifestyle and emotional wellbeing to determine the cause(s). Yoga can assist is the cause is muscle tension or mental stress. A three pronged preventative approach might be daily practice of the following:
(1) Work the muscles (so that they can better release afterwards) with the arm positions of Gomukhasana (Cow), Garudasana (Eagle) and Parsvottanasana (Standing Sideways Extension). To releae the neck, perform isometric exercises. Use one hand to resist as you stretch your neck forwards, diagonally forwards, sideways and back. (ie, place your palm on your forehead, push into your palm and resist with your palm for three to five breaths. Repeat three times.)
(2) Next let your head release forward, diagonally forwards and sideways and increase the stretch with the pressure of one hand. To the same with the head turning so you look over one shoulder.
(3) Supported restorative poses. Use folded blankets and bolsters to do long, restful holdings poses like Viparita Karani (buttocks on bolster) or rest your forhead on a bolster in Child Pose, Dog, and the forward bends.
These are outlined in BKS Iyengar’s latest hardcover book. Some people find it helpful to bandage the head relatively firmly so the eyes are covered, or just use an eyebag. The neck should not be tight in shoulderstand or plough. If you are experiencing neck pain then get an experienced teacher to observe you in the pose, feel what is happening to the neck, and make suggestions, possibly using props, as to how to change your alignment. (This is the same rule for pain in any yoga pose). Generally it is a sign of a long-term yoga practitioner if the heels reach the ground in dog pose. I often tell my students who can do this to walk their feet further back so that the heels come up a little and they have more of a challenge. My suggestion for this is simply practice, practice, practice.
Best regards,

I have recently experienced excruciating pain only in my left knee in Lotus. The left knee is terribly stiff. What should I do?

Most knee problems in Padmasana actually originate from the hips. We westerners tend to have very stiff hips from years of sitting on chairs. The first step is therefore to loosen the hips. I would suggest you incorporate in your daily routine 5 or 10 minutes of hips openers such as simple cross-legged forward bend, Ardha Hanumasana (like a split, but with the front leg bent, going forward), Gomukasana….
Bekasana, Virasana and Vamadevasana might help alleviate the pain in the knee.
 However, If it is a medial ligament injury, these postures will be very difficult, and might damage the knee more….
If the pain is in the back of the knee, which it often is, then the trick of a relatively thin rolled up towel under the knee for bent knee asanas can considerably reduce the pain.
If Padmasana is too painful, just don’t do it. Sit in Siddhasana for long periods of time (may be at your desk?), raising the buttock on a block or a cushion if necessary to keep the back straight. Eventually the hips will open and you will be able to do Padmasana with little or no pain.
B.K.S. Iyengar says that by perseverance and continued practice the pain will gradually subside. I have found that to be true, but it took a while

I had a baby four months ago and I want to get my flexibility back as well as dealing with the stress of a new baby. Is there a form of yoga more suited to this situation or is it a case of seeing which one I prefer?

It really depends on how much physical work you want to do, for you are listing two different goals there. For regaining your flexibility, you need to look at active styles of yoga, such as Iyengar or ashtanga. As for dealing with the stress of a new born baby, more gentle forms of yoga, such as Viniyoga or Sivananda may be more appropriate, although any style will help on an emotional level as well. So yes, it is a matter of seeing what you prefer, and possibly also of  deciding which is more important to you.

My hamstrings are sooo tight, and my progress loosening them is sooo slow, in fact nearly non-existent. I ride a bike, walk on a treadmill and use an elliptical machine in the gym between 2 and 5 times a week for 30 min, with light stretching after. Is my cardio routine interfering with my yoga progress? I really feel more relaxed after a cardio workout.

Cardiovascular work is not inherently stiffening, but both running and riding a bike tighten the hamstrings, so that could be an explanation for your slow progress. You do not say what type of yoga you do, nor how much you practice, so I’ll presume you are doing one or two classes a week and not practising in between other than the light stretching after you cardiovascular workout, which isn’t really enough to make serious progress.
Since you like cardiovascular workout I suggest you replace some of your riding with the practice of Surya Namaskar A and B as described in David Swenson’s book Ashtanga Yoga. You can do as many of them as you like, this is a from of cardiovascular exercise that will loosen you hamstrings rather than tighten them. Adho Muka Svanasana (dog head down posture), working the heels toward the floor with the legs straight,  is a  good pose to loosen the hamstrings (you might incorporate in you stretching in any case). Standing leg raises like Utthita Hasta Padangustasana will also help. Make sure to practice these asanas at least four times a week. Sitting forward bends, on the other hand, might put too much pressure on the back, until you get a bit looser.

According to some experts, the static, slow Hatha Yoga stretching exercises where the body parts are used as a resistance can strengthen bones as well as muscles. I’ve always heard that the bone-strengthening benefits of yoga were due only to the weight-bearing poses. Do you have any information on this, or know anyone you could refer me to?

It is true that weight-bearing exercises encourage the laying down of calcium and silicon in the bones, which helps to strengthen them.
While we can choose from many weight-bearing activities for the lower body, Hatha yoga has the advantage of offering many postures which allow the upper body to bear weight. Handstand and other arm balancing postures strengthen the bones in the arms and wrists. The headstands are invaluable as the cervical vertebrae bear some (but not all!) of the body’s weight.
Hatha yoga promotes overall body health in general. Asana practice will encourage nutrient supply to the bones in general.
Hatha yoga does have an added benefit compared to other weight bearing activities as it can help to balance the hormones. Pranayama (yoga breathing) and deep relaxation re-balance the body via the nervous system. Inverted postures increase blood supply to relevant endocrine glands. Shoulderstand and Plough Pose in particular encourage blood supply to the throat, the location of the parathyroid gland. This gland produces a hormone which affects calcium levels in the bone, and helps find an optimum balance between the breaking down of old bone, laying down of new bone and bone remineralisation.

What is mantra yoga?

Mantra yoga is kind of yoga in which mantras (short prayers) are either chanted or repeated inwardly. The repetition of mantras has a calming effect on the mind. Most other yoga incorporate some mantra yoga in their practice, and you might even have done some yourself if you did any chanting in a yoga class.

I was wondering if you can provide me with any advice on a back problem which I’ve had before starting Ashtanga yoga. I’ve had severe sciatic nerve pain and sacro illiac joint problems for about 2 years. While I’ve noticed a good deal of improvement in areas such as hips since starting astanga, I’ve noticed very little in the way of forward bending, in fact forward bending in general seems to aggravate the pain and even if I induce no pain when practising primary series, I have increased pain for 2 days after practising. As the primary series is almost all forward bending, I don’t really know what variations I could use etc. I’ve also visited osteopaths and chirporactors with limited success.

The first thing is to get a proper diagnosis of your problem. Pain aggravated by bending forwards could be a sign of an HNP, (herniated nucleus polposis), otherwise known as a slipped disc. There are various degrees of slipped discs. It could be a disc lesion or tear, less drastic but still very painful and you need to exclude these possibilities. Forward bends are contraindicated in disc problems so, until it heals, Astanga Yoga is not right for you. Instead, try Viniyoga ( or see a yoga therapist. ( Slower yoga practice allows you time to develop body awareness and there will come a time when you will be able to introduce safe forward bends.
You can’t escape the fact that Astanga Yoga is a severe practice. When such a strong practice comes into contact with a pre-existing physical limitation, it can certainly make sparks fly. Some people find it gives them a burst of energy to heal and a long standing problem disappears. Others have a rougher ride.
Sometimes harsher types of manipulation can be less beneficial than gentle forms which help release muscular holding. Try some deep tissue massage or
The benefit of Astanga yoga over other styles is the emphasis on the bandhas. Problem areas can be strengthened and healed by working with these internal energy locks. Learning to use these energies (in whichever style of yoga you choose) is undoubtedly protective and might be a key to your healing.
Good luck on your path,
Christina Brown

What are the benefits of doing pelvic tilt before going into cobra posture? I find it ‘locks’ my lumber spine, cobra surely is aimed at freeing it.

I presumme  you talking about the Pilates pelvic tilt? Although it’s not the first thing I’d think of as a preparation for Bhujangasana (Cobra posture), I expect it was recommended to you for a reason…….
The Pilates pelvic tilt is quite distinctly NOT what is often called the Bridge in some yoga classes, but done correctly would definitely be a good preparation for the pelvic region before any of the backbends in yoga, if done in conjunction with exercises for the thoracic and cervical spine as well as the whole shoulder girdle.
If you find that your lumber spine is locking in the pelvic tilt, you are definitely not using your bandas! Try it this way:
Lie on your back with your knees bent pointing twds the ceiling- feet hip width apart and parallel i.e. not turning in or out and not too close to your buttocks [ you should have a very small space between your waist and the mat, corresponding to the natural curve of your spine when standing- hands are palms down by your sides.]
Make sure your feet are in line with your hips, which are in line with your shoulders, which are RELAXED. Close your eyes and try to feel your alignment.
Open your eyes and inhale
Start exhaling and the first movement you make is to take your navel down towards the floor, feeling your whole lower abdomen flatten and your lumbar region press into the floor. So you are engaging Uddiyana bandha.
Still on the exhalation, use your pelvic floor muscles [mula bandha] to curl your tailbone[coccyx] up and back inwards towards your nose. The waist is still on the floor but the pelvis is tilting with the effect of elongating the lumbar spine, which is supported by the abdominal muscles, [specifically the tranverse, the deepest layer of muscle in the abdomen] or, in yogic terms, the uddiyana banda, which you keep engaged throughout.
Now draw your sitting bones together, feeling the hips narrow, the buttocks and the inner thigh muscles engage strongly and you lift the pelvis higher to acheive a SLOPE, a straight line if possible from the shoulder to the knee. DO NOT PUSH YOUR PELVIS UP ANY HIGHER – I suspect this is what is locking your lumbar and causing you to make the same mistake in Cobra.
This whole sequence of movement is done on the exhalation – think of dividing the breath into 3 parts.
RIBS, WAIST, LUMBAR and finally TAILBONE [it is the mula bandha which controls this downward movement enabling you to do it smoothly, so keep engaging that pelvic floor as well as keeping the navel back towards the spine and the sitzbones drawn together.
INHALE AND RELAX [and repeat a few times]
So your lumbar spine should feel elongated and the supporting muscles strongly toned 
Back to the COBRA – IT IS A VERY DIFFICULT POSTURE and done wrongly can definitely lock the lumbar, so approach with caution and make sure that you are using your back muscles to lift your trunk, and not relying on the push of the hands. If you do have a flexible spine it can still damage the lumbar if not done correctly, with the support of the bandhas and the Latissimus Dorsi muscles which support the spine and control the downward movement of the shoulder girdle.
Here is a good Pilates exercise which will help you strengthen those muscles:
Lie on your front, arms by sides, palms up, feet together but relaxed – the forehead is on the floor.Make sure you are in a straight line, not veering off to one side -look back and check your feet if there’s no one around to tell you.
START EXHALING and pull your navel back up towards your spine, hollowing it away from the mat and engage your pelvic floor, but do NOT tilt the pelvis . You should have a small tightening of the lower butt muscles as though you were holding a penny between the cheeks there. Thsi action will bring the legs into engagement , knees and ankles together, arches resting on the mat. At the same time let your hands float up to the level of the hipbones without changing the position of the shoulders.
NOW INHALE and reach back with your fingertips twds your feet, sliding the shoulderblades down the back and letting THIS action lift the head and shoulders off the mat. Keep the back of the neck long and the nose pointing down twds the mat.[The action of the hands and the shoulderblades strongly engages the lats ]
Do a few repititions of this and then try the Cobra, starting with the hands by the side of the pelvis[as stipulated by Mr Iyengar!] and using the bandha control and and the shoulderblade action as described above. If you cant lift up very far from that position, then move the hands up towards the shoulders, but remember to work the shoulderblades down as you lift the chest, keep the elbows bent at the expense of having the shoulders up round your ears, which you DONT want, and……………KEEP YOUR BANDHAS ON ON ON ! Especially try to feel how the Uddiyana supports the lower back – dont let your abdomen hang out or you will do yourself an injury one of these days!

I know that many fitness experts recommend that you rest your muscles after doing weight bearing exercises for about 48 hrs. Does this apply to Ashtanga Yoga or can I practice again a day later? I am relatively strong from having previously lifted weights and from running.

Astanga vinyasa is classically practiced 6 days a week, with one day of rest.  People often assume because they go to the gym they will befit enough to practice it, but it is a very strong practice so each individual needs to work up to this at their own pace. Astanga demands aerobic fitness with a lot of strength and flexibility and many people start with two of these elements, but lack the third.
Like any yoga, Astanga should enhance your life, not leave you feeling wiped out! A good teacher will be able to give you feedback on how long and often would be suitable for you. 
Kind regards,
Christina Brown

I have a friend who has the illness lupus and fibromialgia. She experiences pain and swelling in her joints especially her back, knees, and hips. I’m a beginner in yoga and know its benefits. I’m wondering if there is a good video that would be good for her to start with.

With a serious condition such as lupus and fibromialgia, your friend must find an experienced yoga teacher/therapist who will tailor a practice to her condition. Learning yoga from a video without a teacher is not recommended for fit and able people, and would be dangerous in her case.
She should contact the local yoga association  to find a suitably qualified teacher willing to work with her, before even attempting to do any yoga.