July challenge: Supta Virasana every day for 31 days

In June, I attended a three-day workshop with Chris Saudek, a senior Iyengar teacher based in Wisconsin. She made her first trip to RIMYI in 1980, and today her midwestern decorum belies her brilliantly intense sequences and drill-sergeant rigor. I gain much physically from her workshops: my hip flexors were toast after the first full day, while my anterior deltoids felt it for weeks! But her finer teaching points will stick with me much longer. I can still hear her words.

One day, a student asked about dealing with injuries or trouble spots. Her answer started with a question: “If your teacher gives you a pose to do [as therapy], are you actually doing it? Many times, students try it for a week, see no change, and conclude that it doesn’t work!” You must do the prescribed pose(s) daily, for weeks or months (or longer).

Daily dose of Supta Virasana

Chris’s point really hit home. That very day, we began the afternoon session with Supta Virasana. After about 15 years of yoga, this pose remains more casual acquaintance than trusty ally. It would be ideal yoga therapy for me: to release tight psoas and quadricep muscles, to calm the inner body. It could do wonders for my Sirsasana!

Why do I neglect this pose? Well, in my morning practice, I’m drawn more to active, strong asana, from standing poses to backbends to sun salutations. It might cross my mind to do Supta Virasana, but then I decide that Pincha Mayurasana or a bunch of handstands are more “important.” If I’m seeking a still, supine pose, I prefer open-hipped options (such as Supta Baddhakonasana and even Supta Padmasana) since external hip rotation comes more naturally to my body. To hold Supta Virasana for a decent five minutes, I must be vigilant to keep my lumbar spine long and thighs parallel. And the prospect of engineering the perfect prop setup can drain me before I even begin! Talk about major avoidance.

In class, I can stack a few blankets and mimic a decent Supta Virasana, but inside I know it’s lacking. I am experiencing effort, not ease. I am not expressing the true nature of the pose.

So, when Chris made that point, I immediately thought of this pose. Toward the end of June, I made a new resolution: Every day in July, I will do Supta Virasana.

Voluntary change, involuntary change

By making this commitment, I’m obviously aiming for change, for improvement. But in life we must face involuntary change, such as injury. After Chris answered the student’s question as above, she proceeded to share her own method of dealing with injury.

In a three-step approach, she first does appropriate yoga therapy for a while and assesses its effects. If the injury continues or worsens, she stops and rests. But, if there’s no improvement with rest, she returns full force to yoga practice. Rest was ineffective so a renewed effort might be warranted.

That said, she continued, injuries and limits are inevitable over time. Maybe the issue will take years to resolve; maybe there will always be some discomfort. Then you must learn to work with it.

Supta Virasana might never be my easiest pose, but here’s hoping we become friends!

Recommended reading: Eve Johnson, Five-Minute Yoga, Success! 94 days of shoulder stand, and counting

Image: Supta Virasana, Yoga Anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff

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13 thoughts on “July challenge: Supta Virasana every day for 31 days

  1. 2 summers ago, supta virasana was my ‘pose of the summer’! Just like you, I avoided it because it was not my favorite–I opted for supta baddha konasana more often then not. But I decided it was time; no more avoiding. I did it every day for almost 3 months. The propping gradually decreased and it became familiar and then, dare I say, a place to rest that I enjoyed. Some things that helped were using a tightly rolled mat behind my knees (and then gradually working it down to my ankles) in virasana. Virasana become more satisfying and then supta came naturally. I also found using a strap around mid thigh also allowed my groins to release. I found that tip in Bobby Clennell’s “The Woman’s Book of Yoga”. I had no idea how much I was gripping until I tried that trick!
    Best of luck with supta virasana! It is a lovely pose once you give it a chance.

    (And Chris is wonderful! I got to take 2 classes with her in Chicago during the regional conference last fall. And then I went to her studio a few weeks later for my Intro 1 assessment. What a treat!)

    1. You’re an inspiration. Thanks for sharing your story. I’ll take a look at the Bobby Clennell book ASAP. If gripping in the groins, why bother, huh?

      Here’s to Supta Virasana and yoga camaraderie,
      Luci

  2. I’m recovering from surgery & I find this is the approach I am taking. Try the yoga therapy, be aware of how my body is responding, and make appropriate adjustments. It’s working. I want to try your Supta Virasana commitment, but not quite yet. 🙂 Great post! Thanks!

  3. you know, it’s interesting. As speech therapists, my colleagues and I are constantly thinking of ways to encourage parents to practice daily with their children and griping on those parents who complain that their children aren’t making progress because they refused to practice every day.
    then, a few of my colleagues went to see a physio, didn’t do the exercises prescribed, and were wondering why their bodies still hurt……

    for therapy, the best progress is always daily, for at least a few weeks. We need to be patient to allow our bodies to change.
    I’m looking forward to reading about your journey. (honestly, that pose, even with a block under my bum, seriously hurts my knees….)

  4. great post – thanks for sharing – and also the link to Eve. this is coming at just the right time. i’m thinking that a commitment to one foundation pose to ground my practice will be a nice anchor – will report back (in October!)

  5. I am expecting in late October and am worried that my tight psoas will prevent the baby from getting into the correct position. I have been doing my not very Supta Virasana almost every day and slowly I do think I am getting there. I am so happy to read that others have kind of avoided but are now working on this (for me anyway) challenging pose. Thanks for the post!

  6. for years my teacher instilled in us to begin our practice with supta virasana. on so many levels it makes sense. it is not an asana we can take ‘lightly’ (or if we do it has consequences), even in the setting up, it requires our careful and undivided attention. when in, we are immediately in the process of yoga…and held there as it requires that we remain attentive with the asana. retaining the ‘tadasana’ in supta virasana, the unbroken connection between the legs and the trunk through the pelvis sets up what comes after. it is enlivening and asks much from us. a great way to set up the rest of our practice. i do it every day and the patterns i catch in my supta virasana, you can bet your last dollar, will be the same patterns i catch going on elsewhere in my practice. an invaluable asana.

  7. Your post is really inspiring. I am a beginner and there are many poses that I wish I could do daily :). It is overwhelming. I have really hard hamstrings. So I started doing Viparita Karani every night before going to bed for 10 minutes at a time. It has been a week. I am hoping to stick with it.

  8. In my experience, Ardha supta virasana is much safer and more natural than having both knees bent in extreme flexion simultaneously. I have had discussions with physical therapists who have told me that the knees are under extreme pressure when you hold intense flexion for extended periods and meniscus damage can and does result. The blankets help and a rolled towel in the posterior knee but any kind of passive stretching to ligaments in the knee can cause problems down the road. To lengthen this superficial front line of the body, I prefer to use active dynamic stretching with PNF exercises that create an eccentric lengthening to the muscles and fascial pathways of the anterior leg and groin.
    Something to consider is that there are fewer sensory receptors in our ligaments than say our fingertips and therefore we may not feel when our knee ligaments are getting over-stretched.
    We must be careful when doing poses like this that we are not over-stretching the cruciate and collateral ligaments of the knee which hold the knee joint intact and keep our knee working as a hinge. Many ski and soccer coaches warn people that this type of knee stretch can actually destabilize the knee and the looseness in the knee after doing ten minutes of this may also be the factor that causes your knee ligament to tear next time you go skiing. A book called Total Body Training by Robert Gadja, PhD, puts this yoga pose on what he calls the exercise hit list. I have communicated with him about it and he makes some very valid points for avoiding this stretch altogether.
    As a posture educator and yoga therapist, I recommend the pose is done only with one leg at a time with blankets to support the the balance of the hips. Also practicing core work by sitting up before attempting to do a reclining passive stretch.
    The sacrum is at risk in this pose as well and must be kept in its natural nutation. Never let any teacher push your knees to the floor in this pose as this could tear and injure your knee ligaments. The knee is a follower and it is the hip and groin muscles which need to lengthen. I have found that the best way to get flexibility is to use resistance in the pose and actually try to press the thigh up as someone gently presses down, the golgi tendon organ will then release the tension pattern and give you flexiblity and strength at the same time.

  9. I love the idea of taking on a pose for daily practice. It’s remarkable what you learn as the days go by – things you’ll never learn when you only encounter a pose occasionally.
    Most especially, any flaws in your pose will pop out at you in daily practice.
    Years ago my beginning routine for practice was a chest opening, “King Arthur’s” stretch (a lunge with the front knee at 90 degrees and the back knee at the wall) and then supta virasana, downward dog, and arm balance, or at least an attempt at arm balance.
    I found supta virasana to be very “enlivening” to borrow a word from holdsteadyyogi.
    And as long as you take care to create the stretch where it belongs, I believe it’s safe. Knee problems come with under-propping and reaching for the outer form of the pose before the body is able to achieve it.
    Now I need to try it with a strap around my mid-thighs to check out my groins.
    Thanks for the summertime inspiration.

    1. Siobhan:

      Today is July 19, and so far I’m 18/18. Haven’t missed a day! That said, I find Supta Virasana just as challenging as I did on day one. No change… yet. It might take weeks, month, years. Stay tuned for a real update.

      Thanks for following up,
      Luci

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