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Safe Yoga Inversions, a workshop outline and review with Juanita Caprari and Brigitta Tummon.

October 19, 2012

Workshop Review: Safe Inversions with Brigitta Tummon.

Written by: Juanita Caprari.

I was eager and fortunate enough to attend the Iyengar Inversion workshop by Brigitta Tummon held during the Yoga Awakening Africa Market day on the 6th October 2012, which focused on safe inversions for seasoned practitioners and Yoga Teachers.

Brigitta is a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher who has been practicing and teaching Yoga since the age of twenty one and Yoga has played an essential role in her life. Brigitta’s learning and teaching experience has spanned the globe from countries such as Holland, Switzerland, Greece, Denmark and Ireland. She moved to Cape Town in 1990. Brigitta is the past chair of the BKS Iyengar Institute of Southern Africa and continues to play an important role in its Teacher Training program.

The two hour workshop began with a brief discussion on inversions and particularly on the question of whether practicing inversions during a woman’s menstrual cycle has negative consequences or not. The traditional view and teaching method is that inversions should not be practised during one’s menstrual cycle mainly because it goes against the natural flow of menstruation and may, with regular practice and over time, interfere with the physiological nature within the uterus and with one’s hormones. Brigitta shared her opinion and experience on this and related a few stories of women who practiced inversions continuously during that time of the month and in later years various problems did arise. Although with other women no adverse effect occurred it was important to be mindful of the effects it may have.

Brigitta did say that she feels it would be safe to do an inversion briefly during menstruation, such as going into it, holding for a few short breaths and then releasing, as opposed to holding the inversion for a longer time or for the normal time one would stay in the pose. Women know that energy levels are lower during menstruation than at other times in the month due to hormonal activity and loss of iron during one’s period. Brigitta feels that a quieter practice which would involve more introspective asanas such as Forward Bends during menstruation would be more beneficial and, in fact, bring about more energy later in the month after one’s menstrual cycle.

In general Brigitta said that inversions play a central part of one’s asana practice and believes that one experiences a completely different quality of Yoga if inversions are not practised.

The practical part of the workshop began with Sirsasana / Headstand and variations thereof. Interesting to note that certain styles of Yoga, as Brigitta pointed out, begin with Sarvangasana / Shoulder stand and then move on to Sirsasana. For Brigitta this sequence of shoulder stand first then headstand did not suit her and she found it somewhat puzzling and in actual practice did not find it agreeable. On a personal note, I happen to agree with Brigitta. I have practised both in opposite sequence to one another and my body and mind instantly felt the difference. It goes with my natural physiological sense to do Sirsasana first to be followed by Sarvangasana. For me personally, I feel the heating and energetic effect of Headstand first and the natural cooling down and more calming effect of Shoulder stand next which seems to work in harmony one with the other.

The first 45 minutes of Sirsasana began with observing how each one of us goes into headstand and then Brigitta instructed us to first begin with bent legs going into and coming out of the pose. Then we tried with straight legs, which requires strong core or abdominal strength, going up and coming down from head stand.

With Brigitta’s demonstration and meticulous instruction we then practised various variations of Sirsasana such as:

Eka Pada Sirsasana = One leg Headstand by lowering one leg towards the floor in front of the head.

Parsvaika Pada Sirsasana = One leg Headstand by lowering one leg out sideways towards the floor in line with the head.

Parivrttaikapada Sirsasana = In Headstand the legs are spread apart from one another and the trunk from the hips are turned sideways.

Parsva Sirsasana = In this variation the legs are kept together and the legs are turned sideways from the hip area without changing the position of the head and the arms.

Brigitta guided us throughout the practice and the attention to alignment, as is the trademark of Iyengar Yoga, was emphasized with the knowledge and experience that comes with years of practice and a passion for teaching.

The second part of the workshop practical centered on Sarvangasana / Shoulder stand and variations thereof such as:

Classic Salamba Sarvangasana = Shoulder stand with support under the back and a belt around the arms just below the elbows to prevent the arms from flaring out whilst holding the asana for some time.

Eka Pada Sarvangasana = One leg Shoulder stand by lowering one leg towards the floor in front of the head in the Halasana / Plough position.

Parsvaika Eka Pada Sarvangasana = One leg Shoulder stand by lowering one leg out sideways towards the floor in line with the shoulder and or head.

Parsva Sarvangasana = The legs are kept together and the upper body is turned sideways in a lateral twist whilst the sacrum is supported by the palm of one hand.

Baddha Konasana in Sarvangasana = The cobbler position in Shoulder stand.

Urdhva Padmasana in Sarvangasana = The lotus position in Shoulder stand and also a lateral twist of the same asana then returning to centre.

In most Yoga traditions a practitioner would do Matsyasana / The Fish as the Pratikryasana / Counter Pose for Shoulder stand, which is a valid pose to do as it stretches the neck in the opposite direction to what it was in during Shoulder stand. However, Brigitta instructed us to do a forward bend in Svastikasana / Crossed legged seated pose with the feet between the thigh and calf muscles bringing the knees closer together, and the forehead resting on the highest point of a block. We remained in this position for a few minutes before releasing, swapping the cross of the legs and repeating the pose. Brigitta feels that after such an intense practice of inversions it seems more fitting to go with the natural flow of the body and a quieter counter pose such as a forward bend to realign the spine and the body. We ended the workshop with Savasana / Corpse Pose.

Inversions such as these can be quite intimidating even for seasoned practitioners and more so if they are poses which are not practised regularly. Such is my experience because as a teacher, I will only teach Sarvangasana and Sirsasana when I feel my students are ready and have been practicing Yoga for a long period of time. As a result I, myself, seldom practice headstand, although shoulder stand is. So when I have practised Sirsasana, it has usually been the classic version with few or no variations. I was enlightened and thrilled that I achieved the poses and maintained them for as long as my body would allow. This proved to me that I am capable despite very little practice of these inversions in my own Yoga schedule. I did not doubt my capability as such but in essence it was the confidence in myself.

With sincere gratitude to Brigitta, her dedication, her meticulous attention to detail and respect of the postural integrity of the asanas, I was guided to execute the inversions with ease. I felt invigorated after the session yet pleasantly calm. It was indeed a wonderful inversion workshop and I believe Brigitta was the perfect teacher to facilitate the session.

Thank you Brigitta for sharing your gift with us, it was a privilege to be taught by you.



Brigitta will be hosting a yoga retreat in November 2012. Click here for more information or visit her website.

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