The Yoga Path • Omaha, NE

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{ Practicing Physical, Mental & Spiritual Health }

Legs Up the Wall

This pose, which many students do when first coming into class, has so many benefits. Viparīta Karani, legs up the wall, improves circulation in the legs and pelvis, stretches and releases the lower back, boosts the workings of the lymph-system thus diminishing stress and tension in the body. It can be held anyway from 5 to 20 minutes. Try the variations offered in this video, but above all, do it — often.

Variations of legs up the wall/Viparīta Karani

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Practicing Metta

The practice of Metta/Loving-Kindness meditation can be practiced as follows. There are a number of variations that you can search for on you own. The script below is my own adaption. It is simple and easy to remember (an important factor for me.) I’ve also rearranged the phrasing, because it seems more logical and in-line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety/health/ease/happiness. This is especially useful when I carry these sentiments onto others, particularly for those to whom I have neutral or negative feelings.

metta symbol

In my own experience, metta requires that I be very settled and stable in my own meditation. If practicing it feels artificial or forced, then give it up and just come back to the breath or some present moment experience. In most cases it may require more time than the typical 20 minute sit. It might take just that long to settle into stillness, but sometimes, going right into metta is just what is needed. And some people are able to naturally flow right into this loving-kindness practice with a natural spontaneity.

May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be at ease.
May I be happy.


First you begin with yourself. For some this may be the most difficult. But it is essential.

“To know the real situation within yourself, you have to know your own territory, including the elements within you that are at war with each other. In order to bring about harmony, reconciliation, and healing within, you have to understand yourself. Looking and listening deeply, surveying your territory, is the beginning of love meditation.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Then you can bring to mind some close to you. This may be a loved one, a friend, a teacher, maybe a pet or a tree. It’s good to practice doing this for someone you are fond of to begin with.
Then you move to someone neutral. Perhaps someone you don’t know very well, but you know is struggling and could benefit from a kind thought.
Then you can bring to mind somebody who you find difficult. You may not want to pick the most difficult person in your life, instead choosing someone who is mildly difficult. Maybe it’s someone you find yourself agitated with or annoyed by.

If you still have the concentration and stability to continue, then you can move on to include everyone you’ve been thinking of and add more if you want:

May we be safe.
May we be healthy.
May we be at ease.
May we be happy.

If you can do this with sincerity, while maintaining focus you will find metta exercise renewing and refreshing. It will revive your outlook about yourself and the people in your life.

For those looking for a more in depth explanation of the metta meditation, enclosed is an article written by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled: Cultivating Compassion

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Tools of Practice: Metta

Probably many of you have heard of metta meditation. The meditation on loving kindness. There also a story about how the Buddha first introduced this practice with a sutra teaching. In many ways this teaching seems appropriate to making friends with our current situation of distancing and social isolation. So often the pat answer is to say: “just be with the strong feelings as they arise.” But emotions like anger, fear, sadness, envelop us in the the energy that then sweeps us into them. So to “just be” seems like a wishful afterthought. Stories like this helps me to realize there are concrete ways to bring mindfulness to life:

This version of the story is borrowed from a meditation and mindfulness teacher Manoj Dias , born and raised in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

The Story Of The Metta Sutta

Some 2,500 years ago, in the time of the Buddha, there were 500 monks that were sent by the Buddha to go on retreat. They call it the rains retreat as it’s usually during the monsoon season. Whenever the monsoon season comes, the monks would be sent off to a particular part of the forest in the mountains to meditate with a particular practice and not come back until they had insight, until they had vipassana or wisdom.
These 500 monks were sent away to one particular part of the forest and back then there was the belief in devasDevas, we could refer to them as spirits, ghosts, or energies that lived in the trees and in the forest. These trees were initially very welcoming of the 500 monks as they came, they were meditating, they didn’t seem to disturb the energy of the forest or nature. But over time, every day they realized that these monks weren’t going away. So, they hatched a plan to get rid of them.
In the evening they decided to make some ghoulish sounds. They decided to let off some really bad smells and to really scare these monks into leaving. Sure enough the monks weren’t able to sleep at night. Their meditation was disturbed, and they became distracted, agitated, anxious and stressed. Like what many of us are feeling right now.
Soon enough the monks became quite terrified, which broke their concentration (samadhi) and disrupted their mindfulness. Some even developed fever and pain and dizziness in conjunction with the fear they were experiencing, and all felt it was impossible to continue practicing where they were. They decided that they had enough and were going back to the Buddha to ask him to send them somewhere else, so they could continue their practice. And they went back and they said to the Buddha, “Buddha, we can’t go to that particular part of the forest. Can you send us somewhere else? There’s ghosts, odd sounds and things that scare us.”
The Buddha sat there and he thought for a little while about the words of these monks. Then he said to them, “You’re right. I sent you into the forest, into this pitch black, dark forest without a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon that you can defend yourself with no matter what.” And the monks were stunned. “ A weapon?” 
The Buddha sat all 500 of the monks down and he gave the discourse of what’s called the Metta Sutta. The Metta. It’s sometimes translated as the teachings of love or teachings on loving-kindness. Essentially, what it boils down to is, it is a teaching on friendship.
So, after these teachings were imparted to the 500 monks, they returned to the forest, and they practiced cultivating friendship towards everything that was in their lives. This included the spirits that were scaring them and themselves. All of them were feeling anxious and scared. This included the people that they love. This included teachers that had helped them along the way. This included people like their neighbors and friends. Through the quality of this kindness and friendship that they cultivated towards the devas, the devas allowed them to stay. As such stories go from back then, these monks eventually became Arahants, awakened ones.

KARANIYA METTA SUTTA*
from the Buddha

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways..
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

*Translated from the Pali language by monks from the
Amravati Monastery in England.

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Stiffness

Many of us are out walking or running these days. It’s nice to get outside in the spring air. Some of us walk with our dogs, some for exercise, some for both. We might even be doing this more than once a day, going faster or vigorously for the cardiovascular, aerobic benefits; even breaking out into a run.

For myself, I like to bicycle. Not fast, but sometimes for long distances, discovering the adventure of back roads.

However these activities, while good for us tend to lead to a tightness in the hips, low back, shoulders, and neck. Running particularly can take a toll on the knees, ankles, and hips. Sheila commented recently after I returned from a long ride, that I was stooped over like it was still on the bike; rounded shoulder, slumped back, and craning neck. I had to admit, I felt stiff.

While our exercise is beneficial, there is this tendency to move just along the front and back plane of our body, which leads to this stiffness. The body is just adjusting to the activity we’ve set before it, so muscles and joints ramp up to strengthen these areas which leads to added strength, while weakening others. But the after effect can be imbalanced in body tension and stiffness as we cool down. To help the counteract some of the negative effects, we have, yes you guessed it: yoga asanas.
Here is short little practice that I find helpful and renewing after physical exercise.


Ardha Uttanasana / half forward bend:
With hands on the wall at hip level or higher so you can strive for a concave back. Keep legs very straight. Lengthen the neck by drawing the point of the chin toward the sternum. Repeat again widening the legs.


Pavanmuktasana: Remember you can stuff the hands behind the knees. Play around with the legs to going into the happy baby pose rocking from side-to-side.


Parvatasana in Virasana: Once you have the legs in position, interlock the fingers in front of your chest, palms turned outward. Keep arms straight and bring them up over your head. Lengthen from hip to wrists hold for 3 breaths. Repeat 4 times.
Remember you can sit on a blanket or a block to raise the hips and ease the knees. If this pose is not accessible, then move onto the next pose sukhāsana but working the same arm position. Keep spine straight.


Sukhāsana/simple sit: Sit with spine straight and elevated. Sit on blankets to elevate if knees are higher than hips. 2x changing the cross of the legs.

“Practice asanas by creating space in the muscles and skin, so that the fine network of the body fits into the asana.”

BKS Iyengar


Sukhāsana Twist: Maintain the extended , straight spine and twist to the side from the waist first. Remember twists always start from the low spine and waist. Move the core in the same direction as the twist.
If virāsana is available to you, do the twist from that pose instead.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog: Try to do this down dog off the mat, so your hands and feet may tend to slip. Try to pull up to the hips (the peak of the pose) instead of stretching. Hold for a minute keeping the neck long.

This whole sequence shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. Just feel the body after your walk or run, while the muscles and joints are still warmed up.

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Hands

So how many times in the course of the day do you think you wash your hands? While doing so do you ever notice your hands. Maybe you are aware of how chaffed or dried they may be, but do you ever just notice yours hands?

These useful instruments come with four digits and an opposable thumb. We eat with them, talk with them, pick up things, cook and write with them. They’re handy for making a point, waving, clapping, snapping, picking, and scratching. They are quite strong but resilient, yet also sensitive and fragile. These hands are usually busy, sometimes to the point of distraction. If they are not busy, they are somewhat tense, moving, wriggling, and yes oh no! — touching your face.

ASSIGNMENT: During the day let your hands relax and rest completely. For a few moments (a breath or two) let them be completely still. Place them in your lap or rest them on the table in front of you. Feel the subtle sensations in the quiet hands. To help remind yourself wear you watch backwards. If you don’t wear a watch, tie a string or put on a bracelet on the wrist.

When we relax our hands, the rest of the body along with the mind tends to calm down too. Noticing the hands can be way of stopping (shamatha), quieting the mind. You may also find that you are listening more attentively. As with any mindfulness practice, we will do this, then forget, then remember again. But it is an opportunity to rest in this present moment.


Friday Noble Silence Meditation

Again if any of you would like to join others from the Honey Locust Sangha for the Friday Noble Silence meditation, please do so. The schedule is as follows.

We begin the first sit at precisely 6:00 p.m. for 20 minutes.
The time for mindful walking will begin at 6:25,
Followed by the second sit at 6:40 for another 20 minutes.

If you have a bell, I encourage you to use it. To begin there is the half sound of the bell, then three full sounds. To end the sit there is a half sound the two full sounds. Begin and end walking with one sound of the bell. The Bell, when invited by you, makes the experience so much richer.

If you wish to sit for just one 20 minute periods or just mindfully walk, that would be fine. You don’t have to practice for the full hour. Just know that we’re here for each other. And you can surrender yourself to the sangha for help and support. And all you need to do is stop, come to your breath to dwell in the present moment, and know that your practice helps to support everyone. If you would like to let me know you are attending you can email me at omyogapath@gmail.com, but this in not required.

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Yoga for Sleep

Most of us don’t think about doing an asana practice before going to sleep. When it comes to the time when we’re ready to crawl into bed, the last thing we want to do it unroll the mat and do yoga poses. We also might believe that the stimulation of doing asana before bed would tend to keep us awake, like a shot of caffeine or adrenaline at bed time. While this could be true, often when going to sleep, we’re bringing the same states of mind that we’ve carried with us throughout the day. Sleep doesn’t cancel this condition out, but often carries it over into our resting state. So when the initial exhaustion wears off, our sleep becomes more restless and shallow.

The following sequence is for helping with your sleep. It’ll aid in calming you down both physically and physiologically by settling the nervous system, thus preparing for a rest-state.


Uttanasana: getting the head or upper body supported on blocks or chair. Hold for 1 minute or more.

Prasarita Padottanasana: Do this with head down on block or supported from the chair with hips on the wall. Try to get the chest lower than the hips, but head and arms are supported. Hold for 1 minute or more.

Adho Mukha Savanasana: do this with head resting on block or cushion. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Adho Mukha Virasana supported as shown. Try to find a cushion or blankets to get the head the same height at the hips. Hold for about 3 minutes


Paschimottanasana it doesn’t matter how low you get in this pose, just try to get the head and front torso supported. Your back may release as you hold.Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Janu Sirasana: As with the previous pose, get the front of the body supported. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Supta Baddhakonasana: use the strap if you have one and get the outside of the legs propped. Hold for 3 minutes or more.

Supta Virasana: try to do this pose, but if the knees won’t allow hold the previous pose longer. Hold for 3 minutes or more.

Sirasana: again don’t skip. Preparation pose is acceptable. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

“The aim of yoga is to calm the chaos of conflicting impulses.”

BKS Iyengar

Salamba Sarvangasana: Obviously this poses is not accessible without a chair, so you can use the wall for support. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Halasana: do this right shoulder-stand. The legs don’t have to drop all the way to floor, but it would be good to get them supported. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.


Setu Bandha Savanganasana: As you can see from the picture the hips and feet are supported. You can raise or lower the blocks to the height that works the best for you. Hold for 3 minutes


Swastikasana: Sit with back very upright. Sit on blankets to get the hips higher than the knee. Shift into both positions with the legs.Hold for 1 or 2 minutes each side.


Viparita Karani: do this on the wall with hips raised if possible. Notice the arm position and emulate. Hold for 3 minutes.


Savasana: Get the chest open on a blanket or bolster. (It doesn’t have to be done on blocks as pictured, unless that is comfortable.) Don’t skip this pose and try to do it in bed, deliberately make a point to do it.

You can see the essence of this sequence is to get the body supported. This is not, however, to be thought of as a restorative practice. Move efficiently from pose to pose, holding each pose and going deeper with your breath while in it. If you stay focused, the sequences takes about 45 minutes.

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Luminous Thoughts

When experiencing thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow.

Yoga Sutra Ch.I v.36

Okay we are still working on different techniques for removing the obstacles/distractions that make the body restless, breathing coarse, and the mind agitated. You know, those things that result in suffering. That next technique is captured in this opening statement. Experience thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow. Sure, yeah let’s just do that. No problem. Got it! Done.

Sometimes the sutra’s are so simple we often just pass over a sentence and move on to the next. But this directive it packed full of underlining assumptions. Aren’t we always experiencing luminous thoughts that are free of sorrow? My dictionary defines the word luminous as — full of or shedding light; bright or shining especially in the dark. Sources that emit their own light. The opposite word would be dark. One other translation uses the term “inner radiance”. So to the question: Don’t I do this anyway, the answer would have to be — No. Not if I’m being honest. And what does this have to do with sorrow. How does sorrow have anything to do with luminous thought. Perhaps a story might serve to illuminate?

I went for a bike ride yesterday. Just this year I’ve discovered gravel riding. Recently bike and tires have been redesigned to handle the rough back roads that in the Midwest are typically gravel roads. This gets the bicycles off the busy highways that are more traveled and thus more noisy and dangerous. In contrast these back roads are quieter and safer. Often times though they are hillier and the going is slower due to conditions.
This day the weather was somewhat unusual for the Midwest. It was ideal. Temperature was around 65, no clouds, no noticeable humidity, and the most amazing phenomena of all, no wind. The lack of wind is something that almost never occurs here. This is almost a constant presence in our region of the world, so it’s absence is significant. Such weather days are rare when bicycling in Omaha and to be treasured

However, I ride with this underlying thought that there are always better places to ride in the world. I read about and watch videos of people riding in other places. The Great Divide in the Rockies, the Baja of Mexico, Patagonia in South America, the Highlands of Scotland, the Tian Shan Traverse through Kyrgyrstan to name a few such rides. Foreign faraway locations with expansive landscapes that seem remote, beautiful and beyond my imagination. So not experiencing these places, these exotic roads brings me sorrow.
Yet on this Sunday through the back roads of western Iowa in this perfect weather, I realized that this ride contained all the elements I’d been longing for all along. Rolling hills, winding roads, flowering trees, and quiet roadside lakes. I saw deer running through fields and leaping barded-wire fence, eagles flying overhead, and wild turkeys running across the road. All of this less than ten miles from my home on roads that I have bypassed and overlooked for years. In Iowa of all places, I was able to put aside my regrets and sorrow to luminously look in at the present moment to see that what I was longing for was right here, right now, with no sorrow.

ASSIGNMENT: So how do we practice having thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow? I don’t have a precise answer to this question. But maybe the sutra is itself pointing the way. Start by noticing the sorrow or regret that you are bringing to any given situation. You might be surprised by how this “sorrow” underlines and influences many things you see and think about. Then notice just the energy awareness behind this looking, bringing light to this present moment. Just that: the awareness. The luminous quality of the bare awareness in this present moment, bypassing the sorrow or regret that may be underneath it. You might discover this quality of luminous thought, takes you where you need to go.

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Doing It Right

Today is Friday, so again any who wish can join in the Noble Silence Meditation offered through the Honey Locust Sangha. As mentioned last week it is very beneficial to meditate with others, if not in space at least in time. And you don’t have to join us for the full hour, but can just sit for one 20 minute period if you choose.


The schedule is is the same as last week:
We begin the first sit at precisely 6:00 p.m. for 20 minutes.
The time for mindful walking will begin at 6:25,
Followed by the second sit at 6:40 for another 20 minutes.


If you have a bell, I encourage you to use it. To begin there is the half sound of the bell, then three full sounds. To end the sit there is a half sound the two full sounds. Begin and end walking with one sound of the bell. The Bell, when invited by you, makes the experience so much richer.


One of the biggest obstacles to meditating consistently is the belief that we are not doing it right. How do I know meditation is working? I feel like I’m just sitting there daydreaming; nothing is happening. I’ve recently shared this story in classes at the Path to help address this discouragement. The story comes from Dean Sluyter, who taught a workshop on Natural Meditation. This version comes from his book with the same title.

We can’t evaluate what’s going on while it’s going on. Meditation consists of resting the attention on some object of experience, such as the breath and remaining neutral and non-engaged with whatever’s going on. When we try to judge or evaluate the meditation, we give up our neutrality and become engaged. It’s like scowling into a mirror while complaining about the lines on your face . . . which is caused by scowling.
Also, because subjective experience is so, well, subjective, it’s an unreliable measure of what’s going on objectively. A friend of mine was one of the key researchers in some of the pioneering studies on the effects of meditation. By studying changes in such functions as brain waves, oxygen consumption, and galvanic skin resistance, he helped establish the physiological reality of the meditative state. At the end of the session, as he was taking the electrodes off a subject’s scalp, the subject would often say something like, “Ah! That was a nice, deep silent meditation. I’m glad you got that one on the record,” or “Oh, that was one of the those shallow, choppy meditations. All I did was think thoughts. I hope this one doesn’t throw off your averages.” To my friend’s surprise, once he examined the results he found that, physiologically, both subjects had undergone s similar degree of settling down. You just can’t tell.
That is, you can’t tell during practice. The point of meditation is not just to have some pleasant experience during meditation, then come back to the same-old-same-old. The real effects are experienced during the other twenty-three and half hours of the day.

Also this story helps us realize that even when we don’t think we’re getting any benefits from meditating, we actually are. If we can look at the doubts were having while sitting as just another thought, more thinking, then the doubts begin to lose their power over us.

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Are You Sure?

There is a Zen story that you have perhaps heard. This condensed version is borrowed from the writings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

One day a farmer went to the field and found that his horse had run away. The people in the village said, “Oh what bad luck!” The next day the horse returned with two other horses and village people said, “What good fortune!” Then the farmer’s son was thrown from one of the horses and broke his leg. The villagers expressed their sympathy, “How unfortunate!” Soon after, a war broke out and the young men from the village were being drafted. But because the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he was the only one not drafted. Now the village people told the farmer that his son’s broken leg was really “good luck.”

It is difficult to judge whether an event is fortunate or unfortunate, good or bad. Success contains failure and failure often offers lessons we wouldn’t learn any other way. And many of these judgements arise from our perceptions of how we think things ought to be. This is good and this is bad, right or wrong. Then these perceptions lead us to creating a story about what will happen in the future or if only something different had been done in the past.

Wrong perceptions can create a host of problems. So much of our suffering and dissatisfaction arises from our failure to recognize things as they are. There is a phrase; a question in Buddhism: “Are you sure?” Asking ourselves this question can sometimes stop the story and give us space to reflect what is really happening.

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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Depression

The sequence presented here is to help with feelings of depression. Without going too deeply into the implications of this term, given the current environment of a global pandemic, it seems safe to say we’re all experiencing some feelings of depression, sadness, or despair in the midst of our social isolation. Listed below will be a chart in the two ways these feelings might be manifesting.

Type of depressionQualitiesSymptomsTypical Breath
Rajasicfeeling
agitated
anxiety, restless
impulsiveness
quick & erratic
hard to exhale
Tamasicfeeling
lethargic
inertia, dullness,
hopelessness
shallow, hard
to inhale

You can probably tell the emphasis here is to get your arm-pits and upper chest open, while by-in-large getting the head supported. This aspect of the body can be very helpful Try to hold the poses long enough to you can reside in the shape of your breath.

In regards to how to practice this sequence, you will see that some props (blankets, bolsters, chair) would be helpful. If these are not available, please try to improvise with furnishings or cushions you may have around the house. Just make sure the props aid in supporting your position in the pose. If it doesn’t feel safe or helpful then get out and try to readjust.

Supta Svastikasana: In this pose the ankles are comfortably crossed. Hold for about 2 minutes then switch ankle position.

Supported Backbend: You can do this over a bolster or rolled up blankets to get the upper chest opened. Head and hips should be on the floor, with arms as shown or in a cactus position.

Adho Mukha Virāsana: with support. Try to find a cushion or blankets to get the head the same height at the hips. Legs are apart, arms are forward.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward-facing dog pose: Get the head supported and bring feet apart wider than the hips. Notice your breath while holding.

Ardha Chandrasana/half-moon pose: Do this pose as pictured against the wall with a support under the lower arm. The upper heal presses into the wall. Remember to get in and out of this pose from trikonāsana/triangle pose

Prasarita Padottanasana from the chair with hips on the wall. Try to get the chest lower than the hips, but head and arms are supported.

Sirāsana: headstand (against the wall if you want or do the “preparation poses” for as long as you can. Try to do some version of this as as safely as you can, but don’t skip it.)

Ustrasana/camel pose: This is a variation on the camel pose. Do this as pictured with arms supporting the shoulders and chest lifting. If the neck will allow, let the head go back looking up.

Viparita Dandāsana: This could be done over any chair or ottoman you may have at home. Make sure head it supported. Again opening the upper chest.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog pose: This poses is repeated, but this time no support for the head.

Supported Sarvangāsana/shoulder stand supported: Obviously this poses is not accessible without a chair, so you may have to go the second variation.

Setu Bandha Sarvagāsana / supported bridge: As you can see from the picture the hips and feet are supported. You can raise or lower the blocks to the height that works the best for you.

Savāsana with a supported head and chest. You could do this on a folded blanket instead of the blocks. Should be comfortable but chest opened. Upper torso is similar to the first pose Supta Svastikasana:

BKS Iyengar found that many students with depression hold tension in the outer portion of the their eyes. He would ask students to try to: “move the edge of the eyes toward the temple and ears,” while doing a challenging pose.

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