Vatayanasana (Horse Face Pose): Exploring the Mythology



Age after age, when the flame of righteousness burns dangerously low, when right action is all but nonexistent, the divine preserving force that we call Vishnu assumes a form appropriate to the times and sets the universe back on course for a while.

In Indian cosmology, time is a cyclical sequence of four ages, or yugas. In the first, golden age, known as the Satya Yuga, dharma—righteousness, cosmic orderis full and complete.

People treat one another with compassion and care for the old and sick and misfortunate, rulers are just, the earth is fertile, the waters are pure, animals are not mistreated, wisdom is pursued, and the gods are respected.

In such an atmosphere, there is very little suffering.

However, it is the nature of things that, over time, dharma, like all things, gradually decays, until, at the end of the fourth age, the Kali Yuga, circumstances have so far deteriorated that divine intervention is required to rescue the righteous who have survived and establish a new golden age.

The Puranas (Hindu legends and folklore) list some of the symptoms of the Kali Yuga, when adharma—disorder and unrighteousnesswill be rampant:

‌• Human beings will turn away from God. Priests will be corrupt.

‌• Rulers will cease to protect the people and will appropriate all the wealth and resources for themselves.

‌• Displaced persons will wander from one country to another and find no refuge.

‌• Base men will be esteemed as sages.

‌• People will prefer falsehood over truthfulness.

‌• Water will be lacking. The god of clouds will be inconsistent in distributing rain; there will be both floods and drought. Agriculture will fail.

‌• Lack of wealth will be considered dishonorable. Those without money will be unable to get justice, and anyone who can cleverly juggle words will be esteemed as a scholar.

‌• Deceit, falsehood, lethargy, sleepiness, violence, despondency, grief, delusion, fear, and poverty will prevail.

‌• Religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, forgiveness, mercy, life span, physical strength, and memory will decrease more and more with time. People will wear ragged clothes made of leaves and tree bark. They will subsist on honey, vegetables, roots, fruits, leaves, and flowers. No one will live longer than 22 years. They will seek refuge underground and in the deep valleys between mountains.

According to the Puranas, when the tide of disorder and suffering is at its height, toward the very end of the Kali Yuga, it is prophesied that Vishnu will be born in the village of Shambhala, to Brahmin parents, as Kalki, the avatar who carries a sword and rides a white horse. He will destroy the tyrants and everyone motivated by evil acts and thoughts. He will reestablish order.

Those who remain will find themselves awakening as if from a terrible dream. Their minds will become as clear as crystal. They will rediscover their svadharma—their purpose in life, their unique abilities and gifts, the ways in which only they can serve their community and the universe. These survivors will be the seeds of a new humanity, and their children will establish a new golden age.

Exactly when is this supposed to happen? In Western calendar terms, we can’t exactly say. There is a general opinion that we are, indeed, in the Kali Yuga, and that it began soon after the end of the Mahabharata War, which is guesstimated to have occurred from 3113 to 3100 BC. But how deeply are we in? And, more to the point, when will it end? 2025 seems to be a popular date, although 2012 was proposed as well.

Right now, we can search our hearts and minds for the symptoms of adharma.

But to think literally is to miss the point. Right now, we can search our hearts and minds for the symptoms of adharma. Are we self-interested, lethargic, distracted, lacking in mercy? Are we candidates for a good soul-cleansing? Is it time to call in the cavalry? Quite possibly, yes. Which practices can help us embody the radical, eleventh-hour cleansing and rebooting energies of Kalki?

Vatayanasana (Horse Face Pose)

This pose resembles garudasana (eagle pose) in the arms and padmasana (lotus pose) in the hips. It is also a balancing pose.

It is said to benefit circulation throughout the body, promote flexibility in the upper body, strengthen the bones of the lower body, and correct minor asymmetry in the hips and legs. However, it is not commonly taught—partly because, as B.K.S. Iyengarcomments in Light on Yoga, “In the beginning, it will be difficult to balance and the knees will be painful. With practice, the pain disappears and the balance is achieved.”

Placing a folded blanket or extra mat under your standing knee should make the pose more comfortable. However, this pose should be avoided or approached with caution by people with hip, knee, or shoulder-joint issues.

If you are at home in garudasana and padmasana and can attempt this one safely, I encourage you to explore it and, if you like, journal about your mental and physical experience.

Here is one way to practice the pose, according to Iyengar:

In tadasana (mountain pose), bring your right foot to the top of your left thigh in ardha padmasana (half lotus).


Fold forward from the hips and place your hands on the floor for balance. Keep your weight back as you slowly descend into a deep squat on your left side, bending your left knee until the left heel and right knee rest on the floor. Once you are stable, straighten your torso and “stand” on your right knee and the sole of your left foot.

Wrap your arms around each other as in garudasana, with the right arm on top. Stay for 30 seconds, then bring your right leg out of lotus and stand up (straightening both legs). Switch sides.


You would think it might be easier to enter this pose from all fours, but not necessarily: It requires great flexibility to bring your back foot around and rest it in the groin of the front leg. However, you can do a variation in which you stand on both knees rather than one knee and one foot.

Place your doubled mat in front of a chair seat. Kneel roughly six inches away from the chair. Rest your right hand on the chair seat for balance. With your left hand, reach down to grasp your right foot and bring the right foot into your left hip crease, or as high up the left thigh as it will go comfortably. Once you feel stable, lift the right arm overhead. (Imagine this arm brandishing your sword like Kalki!)


If you can establish the right foot firmly in the left groin and balance on both knees, then experiment with eagle arms or bringing your hands into namaskar (anjali mudra).



The challenge of finding stability and ease in a posture that is initially both uncomfortable and unstable may be peculiarly appropriate for living in the Kali Yuga. The real question for each of us is: How do I achieve equanimity in the face of great chaos? How do I maintain my svadharma when the world around me seems to be falling apart? How can I channel my “inner Kalki,” the one who knows how to destroy the parts of me that subvert inner and outer peace and knows how to nurture the seeds of Self-realization?

Zo Newell, Ph.D., ERYT 500, was introduced to yoga as a child by Dr. Rammurti Mishra (Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati). She earned her Ph.D. in religious studies from Vanderbilt University in 2011, with a dissertation on goddess images as a unifying cultural symbol for India’s emerging national identity. She is the author of the award-winning book Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis (Himalayan Insitute, 2007). A former hospital chaplain and trauma counselor, Zo was a regular… Read more>>

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4 Ways to Practice and Teach Half Moon Pose

What we think a yoga pose is “supposed” to look like can often cause discomfort, frustration, and/or injury because it’s not what our body needs to reach the intention of the pose in question.

Half Moon or Ardha Chandrasana is one of my favorite poses, but for some, it’s a frustrating b*tch of a pose. When you do this pose, do you feel super duper wobbly, or crunched up? Or do you experience freedom and expansion?

This pose definitely is an experience of finding release within super charged activity. The trick with this pose is the more muscles you activate, the easier it will be to balance. We often fling ourselves into the pose without checking into which muscles to engage, while stacking your joints.

For Half Moon, the intention is to have open rotation in your shoulders, hips, and full extension of your spine and hamstring— all while your balancing leg points to the top of the mat, and the rest of your body faces the side of your mat. We often see one hand propped on the floor, however, this not the intention behind the anatomy of the pose.

When we think that our hand has to touch the ground because that’s what it “should” look like, it can get our body into trouble. You’ll feel your hamstring tremble from trying too hard to extend, your chest and shoulders round and collapse towards the floor, an overstretched sensation in your low back as your back leg flails back behind you—these will leave you wobbling all over the place.

When you let go of the “should” response with this pose, you can then discover how to be free in this pose. Learn how to customize the pose for your practice for your physical needs. Here are four ways to approach Half Moon pose.

1. Free Standing

This is a great variation to challenge your balance. To practice free standing Half Moon from Extended Side Angle:

  1. Gaze at the top of your mat and shift your weight into your front foot. Plant your bottom hand about 18in away from your front pinkie toe – this gives your torso space to fully extend out.
  2. Lift your back leg off the mat up towards the sky and  flex your back toes to your kneecap powerfully.
  3. Reach your back arm up towards the sky.
  4. Straighten your front leg, push down through your big toe mound for balance.
  5. Ignite your obliques (your side bodies) so you can begin to lift your bottom hand off the floor. Perhaps start with your finger tips.
  6. Fix your gaze at one point the entire time to help your balance.

Double check that your bottom foot points straight to the top of your mat, versus sickling your foot inward. (Note: This is super common, but jacks up your bottom knee over time and misaligns your joints stacking.)  Over time, work towards lifting your hand fully off the floor so you can fully extend both sides of your ribcage. This will help you to prevent slumping into your low back, and over stretching your lumbar spine which does NOT feel good.

If you feel like you’re falling backwards, draw your floated foot forward an inch or two. If you’re falling forward, draw your floated heel back an inch or two.

2. Grab Some Blocks

This variation is great to gain more hamstring and side body extension, and add a challenging balance to the pose.

  1. Grab one or two blocks. Set the block(s) 18in or so from your pinkie toe. Like in the “Free Standing” variation, plant your bottom hand on the blocks to the height that gives you the most opening and extension for your front hamstring AND side body.
  2. Follow the rest of the steps from above, in the Free Standing variation.

3. Lean Against a Wall

This variation is great for more stability, especially if you feel super wobbly in the pose.

  1. Place your blocks and body next to a wall.
  2. Follow same steps as above in the “Grab blocks” variation, with the exception that your back is against the wall. THIS will help you not fall over and you can fine tune where to engage, flex, and extend.

4. Kick Against a Wall

This variation is great for more stability, and how to engage your back leg for better balance and extension. If you find that your back leg likes to droop, try this one.

  1. Place your blocks and body NEAR a wall.
  2. Plant your legs into a Warrior II position with the knife edge of your back foot to where the floor and wall meet.
  3. Shift your weight forward, plant your hand with block(s) 18in in front of your pinkie-toe edge.
  4. Lift your back leg up and place your back foot onto the wall. Inch your back foot up the wall to be in line with your hip’s height.
  5. Push, push, PUSH your back foot into the wall. This will help you not to fall, AND engage your back leg properly for stability. With the stability, you can fine tune to engage, flex, and extend, or even perhaps practice lifting your bottom hand off the floor into the “Free Standing” shape.

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Proved: Yoga Can Be As Effective As Physical Therapy in Treating Low Back Pain

Are you suffering from low back pain? The nagging, unpleasant pain that prevents you from enjoying your life to the full and makes you pop painkillers?

The recent study lasted a whole year, included 320 participants and proved that particular yoga exercises can be as effective as physical therapy in treating chronic low back pain.

The participants had been suffering from chronic low back pain yet didn’t have any injuries. They were divided into three groups: one group attended a yoga class for three months. During the 9 remaining months, they were assigned to home yoga practice or drop-in classes. Another group were attending a physical therapist weekly for three months and were assigned to home practice or “PT booster sessions” for the rest of the year. The third group was required to practice yoga at home during all the 12 months using the manuals provided by the researchers. And the good thing is these valuable manuals are available for free. Read further for the links!

When the research period was over, all groups reported relieved back pain, both yoga and PT groups reported about the same amount of improvement. The number of participants taking painkillers has considerably dropped (from 70% to 50%).

And here is the guidebook that was handed out to the participants. And here is the teacher training manual.

As you can see from the manuals, the sequences suggested include basic beginner yoga poses and no challenging asanas.

No expensive equipment required, lots of attention paid to warming up. Very low injury risk, very high chance you’ll forget what low back pain feels like!

This guide addresses specifically the problem of chronic low back pain and is developed for people who did no or very little yoga prior to the study. The book recommends practicing yoga for 30 minutes daily.

The results of the study don’t mean any yoga practice is effective for alleviating low back pain. But the particular gentle yoga practice developed for the study participants surely does.

So if you suffer from low back pain, if you can’t get around to paying a visit to a physical therapist and don’t really feel like taking painkillers, you should totally give the sequences from this guidebook a try. If you think you lack discipline, imagine yourself taking part in this study, mark off the days when you practiced yoga sequences in the calendar and write down the results at the end of each month. Bye-bye, low back pain!

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10 Reasons To Go On A Yoga Retreat

Going on my first yoga retreat five years ago was a major turning point in my life. So much so that now I lead yoga adventures for others around the world in places like Joshua Tree, Costa Rica and Bali. These are truly transformative experiences and I believe that anyone who enjoys a lifestyle of health and wellness can greatly benefit from a yoga retreat.
Here Are 10 Reasons to Go on a Yoga Retreat:
1. You’ll take your yoga to the next level. 
Practicing yoga regularly can be challenging if you have a busy schedule. But when you’re on a retreat, chances are you’ll have 2 classes offered a day, which will ensure your progress and you will see the positive effects more quickly.
2. You’ll get a new perspective. 
Going to a new place creates an opportunity to see the world, and yourself, in a new light. Experiencing the unknown is an accelerated way to grow and learn.
3. You’ll *actually* meditate. 
When you have extended free time, it’s a lot easier to meditate. No cell phone buzzing or boss reminding you about deadlines. On retreats, it feels a lot more natural to breathe deeply and be present in the moment.
4. You’ll detox digitally. 
One of my favorite things about a retreat is shutting off my technology. While lots of resorts have wifi, you don’t feel the need to constantly tweet, text, update facebook or call friends. It feels good to unplug.
5. You’ll relax and de-stress. 
Sometimes we have to be far from home to give ourselves the permission to truly relax. Being on a retreat allows you to listen to your body, rest when you need it, and be free from stress.
6. You’ll eat well without having to do all the work. 
If your retreat is all inclusive, you get three healthy and delicious meals a day without the need to find recipes, go grocery shopping, prepare the food, or clean up. Getting the nutrition you need has never been easier. All the work is done for you.
7. You’ll replace old habits. 
The best way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a new healthy one. When you get out of your regular routine for a week, you can replace unhealthy habits with conscious new behaviors that support you in being your best self.
8. You’ll make new friends. 
Undeniably, you will meet individuals with similar interests. Even if you go alone (which I did my first time), you have a chance to make friends with people from around the world who you might know for the rest of your life.
9. You’ll appreciate home. 
While a week in paradise is always nice, we often come home with a refreshed appreciation for life. You feel happier, healthier, and re-energized to jump back into your routine with new vigor. Heck, it might even feel fun.
10. Because you deserve it! 
Thoreau said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.” While this quote might be on your refrigerator, chances are you make excuses about why you can’t YET. Often times the excuses are about money, time or circumstances but guess what, you deserve a break. You work hard for a reason and you can always find reasons why you should or should not do something. The key to happiness is deciding what you really want and making it happen. No excuses.
You deserve to invest in yourself.