Rishikesh Yoga Series for Daily Headstands

Please be sure to warm up before all exercise. This is an ADVANCED YOGA SERIES. Practice with mindfulness, the series is meant for students already doing yoga daily.

The following set of asanas is referred to as the Rishikesh Series in the very good manual, Yoga Self Taught by Andre Lysebeth (1971). It is an ideal way to begin your day and end your evening. “Subject to the most precise ruling, each pose completes or accentuates the previous one”. Do them in order, and feel refreshed after only 30 minutes of enjoyable yoga, including the Cobra, Seated Twist and Headstand. It was taught by Swami Sivananda at his ashram in Rishikesh, on the Ganges River.

We begin with an inverted posture, Sarvangasana, the Shoulderstand. This will get the blood pumping.

The Halasana, the Plough, increases compression on the neck and stretches the spinal column. Here we massage the stomach and release the blocked ribs.

Bow - Dhanurasana

In the counter posture, Matsyanasana, the Fish pose, the cervicals of the neck are squeezed instead of stretched, ultimately leading to better thoracic breathing.

From the sitting position, in the Paschimottanasana, or Forward Bend, we complete the plough by bending the spinal column without compressing the nape of the neck.




Bolster knees for increased support

Down onto the stomach, we find the Bhujanasana, Cobra pose, to be the third dynamic pose in a row. There is both the compressing of the stomach and the stretching of it. Elongate the neck for better release of the whole spine.

Shalabhasana, the Locust, complements cobra by contracting the lower portion of the torso. Keep the glutes relaxed.

Next is another back bend. Dhanurasana, the Bow pose, which eccentuates the previous stretches to the dorsal muscles. Be sure the big toes point together.

Rising up to sitting, from here we move into the ever important twist. Ardha-Matsyendrasana corrects any intensification of spinal curvatures that may result from successive bending.

Onward to the Sirsasana, or Headstand, crown-jewel of yoga postures.

The series starts and ends with inverted postures. Upon descending from the headstand, lean onto your thumbs, which are placed at the Third Eye… hooked into the brow ridge, and let the full weight of your head be supported.

When the asanas have been completed engage the Uddiyana Bhanda, abdominal squeeze, followed by a advanced breathing (such as the Nadi Shodhana). Culminate with sitting meditation.

Ardha Padmasana

Goddess Kuan Yin in a half lotus.

Take at least 5 minutes for end relaxation, or Savasana. Scan your body for tension. Release with gratitude.

The asanas of the Rishikesh Series are:

  1. Sarvangasana
  2. Halasana
  3. Matsyasana
  4. Paschimottanasana
  5. Bhujangasana
  6. Shalabhasana
  7. Dhanurasana
  8. Ardha-matsyendrasana
  9. Sirsasana
  10. Uddiyana Bhanda
  11. Breathing Meditation
  12. Savasana


Stretches for a Stiff Neck

For those of you who get a stiff neck from sitting too long at a desk or in front of a computer, the following stretches will help ease chronic upper body tension, especially if they are incorporated into a morning and evening stretching routine. Take the time to break from your work throughout the day and do at least some of the following exercises.

Stretching should be done slowly and with gradual movements. Each stretch builds on the previous so do the exercises in the order shown. Go to the edge of your comfort but not beyond. Tension should feel like a release not like pain! Be mindful while you stretch and practice proper breathing. The dotted areas are the locations in the body where you will feel most of the stretching.

1. Separate and straighten your fingers until the sensation of stretching is felt. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax, then bend your fingers at the knuckles and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat several times.

2. This stretch is fun to show your colleagues! Eye strain is a source of tension in the face. Raise your eyebrows and open your eyes as much as possible. At the same time, open your mouth to stretch the muscles around your nose and chin. Stick out your tongue and hold for several seconds. Cease stretching if you hear or feel a popping sound. Discuss the stretch with your dentist before continuing.

3. Raise the tops of your shoulders in a shrug toward your ears until you feel a slight tension. Hold for several seconds then relax your shoulders. Repeat. Discontinue at the first sign of tightness in the shoulders. Keep the breath fluid and normal. You can also do one shoulder at a time in succession. Coordinate with the breath.

4. With fingers interlaced behind the head, keep elbows straight out to the side body in an aligned position. Now pull your shoulder blades toward each other to create a feeling of tension in the upper back and shoulder blades. Hold the mild tension (but not your breath) for several seconds. Repeat.

5. Start with the head in a comfortable aligned position. Slowly tilt the head to the left side and hold for several seconds. Repeat on the right side.

6. From a stable aligned position, sitting with the feet flat on the floor, turn your chin toward your left shoulder to stretch the right side of the neck. You should feel a gentle tension, not tightness of any kind. Hold for several seconds and repeat on the right side.

7. Gently tilt your head forward to stretch the back of the neck. Hold for several seconds. Repeat. Do not over stretch.


9. Hold your left arm just above the elbow with the right hand. Now gently pull the elbow toward the opposite shoulder as you look over your left shoulder. Hold stretch for several seconds. Do both sides.

10. Interlace fingers then straighten arms out in front of you. The palms will face outward. You’ll feel the stretch in the arms and through the upper part of the shoulder blades. Hold for several seconds. Repeat.

11. Interlace fingers then turn palms upwards above your head as you straighten your arms. Elongate your arms and feel the stretch throughout the sides of the rib cage  and the arms. Hold for several seconds as long as it feels like a release, not pain. Repeat.

12. Hold left elbow with right hand, then gently pull elbow behind head until and easy tension is felt in shoulder or back of the arms. The triceps are the main location of this stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, but don’t overstretch. Repeat on the other side.

13. Hold onto your lower leg just below the knee. Gently pull the bent leg toward your chest. To isolate a stretch in the side of your upper leg, use the right arm to pull bent leg across the chest toward the opposite shoulder. Hold the easy tension for several seconds.  Repeat on the other side.

14. A stretch for the side of hips, lower and middle of the back. Sit with left leg bent over right leg, then rest elbow of forearm of right arm on the outside of the upper thigh of the left leg. Now apply gentle yet steady pressure toward the right with the elbow or forearm. As you do this look over your left shoulder. Do both sides. Hold several seconds each and repeat if desired.

15. The next stretch is done with fingers interlaced behind your back. Slowly turn your elbows inward while straightening your arms. An excellent stretch for shoulders and arms, especially if you find yourself slumping forward. This stretch can be done at anytime. Hold for several seconds and repeat at least twice.

16. To stretch your calf and hip flexors, stand somewhat back from the wall and lean on it with your forearms. With your head resting on your arms, bend and place your foot on the floor in front while leaving the other leg straight behind you. Keep the heel of the foot of the straight leg on the floor and your toes pointed straight ahead. Hold a gentle tension for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.

Spine Stretches – Yoga Routine

  1. Savasana with 3 Part Yoga Breath
  2. Pavana Mukta – Wind Free
  3. Jathara Parivrtti – Twist
  4. Full body outstretch
  5. Cakravakasana – Cat/Cow
  6. Balasana – Child pose



  7. Setu Bandha – Little bridge
  8. Sitting – knees pulled to chest
  9. Halasana – Plough pose
  10. Partner poses: half stretch; Virabhadrasana (warrior) 2; Vrkasana (tree pose)
  11. Bhujangasana – Cobra pose
  12. Salabhasana – Locust pose (one leg at a time)
  13. Dhanurasana – Bow pose
  14. Ardha Matsyendrasana – Sitting twist
  15. Paschimottanasana – Sitting forward bend
  16. Savasana – Corpse pose
  17. End relaxation – sample meditation “Imagine yourself floating on a cloud, stretched out long, without the force of gravity to constrict your spine. Breathe into the space between your vertibra, allow them to be free, and with this increase in freedom, let your mind be free as well. Play with the freedom… let the whole weight of your existence go. Allow all tension to drain from your body, mind and soul… breathe. Let your breath free you.”

Mantra for Sun Salutation Series

The Yogi of Yogis, T. Krishnamacharya, includes the following long mantra among his teachings. It was actually written in 1934, along with the popular Sun Salutation series, as part of “gymnastics” (or warm ups)  for Indian wrestlers.

It’s also a great way to stay warm on a cold Canadian afternoon!


Uttanasana – back bend

adho mukha

Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha

The asanas of the Sun Salutation series are:

The Mountain
Standing Forward Bend
Forward Lunge
Downward-facing Dog
~ Cobra pose ~
Downward-facing Dog
Forward Lunge… on the opposite side
Standing Forward Bend
The Mountain

The series is called Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, and loosely translated means “sun” and “bow”. Reverence for the sun as divine is the feeling behind the mantra, and the request… Please remove the darkness from my clouded mind.

As we move through round after round of Sun Salutations, we utter the words of worship as a meditation on breath and body. Both become like rivers, with rhythms of their own and revelations on the shore.

Surya Namaskar

Let us arise
Stretch our minds, our spirits and our physical beings

As we sweep our arms up and forward
We honour the earth, the heavens and all of life that is nourished by the breath cycle

As we lower our bodies, we connect with the earth
We stretch thought the atmosphere once more reaching for the sky

As we bring our hands together in Namaste
We gather the space of the heavens back into our heart and breath

Acknowledging that our bodies form
The centre point between heaven and earth


Krishnamacharya (T.K.) is credited with bringing the Hatha limb of yoga back into the forefront of practice. His flow yoga sequences are still used, and are often referred to as viniyoga. Sun Salutations are a well known example of viniyoga.

T.K. was such a potent force as a teacher that  he inspired his son to abandon his engineering career to follow his father.  T.K.V Desikachar went on to become a well loved teacher in his own right.

Both are authors. Desikachar’s 1995 The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, has become a staple for many yoga students, and T.K. achieved great scholarship in various darshanas of orthodox Hindu philosophy.

Fish, Shoulder Stand, and Plow: A Classic Yoga Routine

These three yoga postures are perfect compliments for each other, as they offer a nice balance of movements and counter-movements:

  • Matsyasana – Fish pose
  • Sarvangasana  – Shoulder Stand pose
  • Halasana – Plow pose

They are such a natural combination that it’s common to attend a class and find them making up the basis for the lesson plan.  Here is a yoga routine that uses these three classic poses, their supported (salamba) versions. As with any exercise that focuses on the neck region, please practice due diligence.

Routine to Loosen the Neck and Shoulders

Tadasana – Mountain pose, getting warmed up with the 3 Part Yoga Breath and an inspirational reading.

Salamba Matsyasana – The supports at the knees can be Body Rolling Balls, belts, or other students on either side of wide spread knees.

Balasana – Child pose

Ardha Padmasana – Half Lord of the Fishes (sitting spinal twist)

Interlace fingers over head – drop and relax shoulders

Parivritta Padmasana – Revolved Lotus, a gentle seated twist (both sides), breathe to lengthen the spine

Marjoriasana – Cat pose, make it a vinyasa (flow series)

Adho Mukha Svanasana – Down Dog pose, walk up to hands, grasp elbows then slowly roll up to standing

Tadasana – move from Mountain pose to Energy Sweeps (gentle side to side swinging movements from floor to ceiling)

Balasana – Three Part Yoga Breath focusing on back breathing

Virasana – Hero pose

Apanasana – Reversed Child pose, also known as Knees to Chest pose

Salamba Sarvangasana – Supported Shoulder Stand pose, using a cushion under the tailbone

Salamba Halasana – Supported Plow pose, using a chair for the feet and keeping the cushion under the tailbone

Matsyasana – remove supports

Lying twists – gentle counter movements to the Three Classic Poses

Savasana – Corpse pose, end relaxation with more Three Part Yoga Breath and inspirational reading