The history of using ropes for yoga practice dates back centuries. In paintings and drawings, ancient practitioners can be seen hanging and swinging from ropes to train their bodies, generate tapas (heat) in their practice and even as a prop for meditation. Using the rope wall for yoga practice we become both the puppet and the puppeteer, gaining greater control of how our body moves.
The source and inspiration for this course stems from the teachings of BKS Iyengar, who developed methods of approaching even the most challenging asana with intelligence. His daughter, Geeta dedicated a section of her book, Yoga A Gem for Women, to the use of ropes. She explained that in a ropes practice, “one gains agility, lightness of body, speed in movement and alertness in the brain.” And so the tradition continues through the lineage of teachers in the Iyengar system and passed down from BKS and Geeta Iyengar to my teachers, Koren Paalman, Marla Apt and Anna Delury all of whom often take advantage of the rope system to help their students achieve more opening and better alignment.
Right from the start, the ropes made a great impression on my practice. I had no idea there were so many ways to do Downward Facing Dog! The various configurations of the ropes help to immediately bring attention to various aspects and actions within the pose. Being able to hold Adho Mukha Svanasana for 5 or more minutes without pressure in the arms or shoulders is a very freeing experience. The support of the ropes and the long hold gave me the opportunity to explore my breath and discover the places that are overworking or not working enough and make adjustments so that the pose not only became more aligned but also more effortless. These discoveries transfer directly to how I approach the same pose on the mat.
Hanging upside down without tension or fear was not just liberating for my spine but brought such a peacefulness to my mind that it quickly became my favorite part of class. Let’s face it, how often do we get to hang upside down as adults? I used to hang all the time as a kid on the playground and this brought back some of the same elation, I felt then so I had to install a set in my home. Koren Paalman graciously gifted me with a set and right away I began to explore what else I could do with them. There are a few books out there for guidance (Props for Yoga, Yoga Kurunta: An Exploration in the Use of Wall Ropes for the Practice of Yoga Asanas, and Yoga Kurunta: Learning the Ropes) but there is no substitute for direct experience. Every time I attend a class that uses the ropes, I incorporate those poses into my home practice, so that I remember the set up and sensations I experienced in class.
I use them with motion to warm up the body. Moving between Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Upward Dog ) and Paschimotanasana (Forward bend) generates heat and limbers the shoulders, hips and hamstrings. I use them to bring more opening through longer holds in Adho Mukha Svanasana and standing lateral poses. I use them to stabilize the sacrum and control the coiling of the spine in challenging backbends. And of course, I use them to hang, using gravity to lengthen my spine and to restore a sense of quietness and calm to my mind along with all the other benefits of inversion. When I bring students to the ropes my top priority is to ensure the safe entry, hold and exit to the pose. I may choose to use the ropes in class for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s for stability, sometimes it’s to emphasize a critical action, sometimes it’s simply to enable a longer hold to give students the opportunity to find spaciousness and comfort in the pose. Often, it is to bring a sense of playfulness and ease while experiencing greater depth of movement. Teaching with ropes opens a world of possibilities for practitioners of all levels. I am excited for the opportunity to bring this ancient rope practice to LYFE Yoga and to you!
This post was written by Melanie Shatto