Svaroopa Yoga, The Primary Practice

Rama Berch

Categories: Yoga

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A bit about Svaroopa Yoga (for classes and workshop information, visit Svaroopa, defined as “bliss of your being,” is a passive, deceptively gentle Iyengar style developed by Rama Berch, founder of the Master Yoga Foundation. The goals are spinal alignment with particular attention to the tailbone and sacrum, and release of the entire musculoskeletal system (note “release,” absence of feeling, not “stretch”). The ultimate goal is full surrender of all that ails us. Svaroopa is prop-dependant, requiring several thick blankets rolled and folded in a variety of ways, at times a sturdy chair, blocks and optional gardener’s kneeling pads. Poses are held long as the student is encouraged to find just the right positioning and deeply surrender into deep prana. In a live class, adjustments occur throughout and individual needs will be addressed by any Svaroopa trainer worth their certifications.

Caveats: I have reservations about recommending the home DVD unless one has taken live classes. And I'm disappointed with the DVD's lack of chaptering. For the VHS version, much care was taken to punctuate each pose with titles and gorgeous backdrops of Hindu art, paintings (maybe by Rama herself), or Rama plucking her tambura. The opportunity was right there to perfectly chapter each segment and pose so the home practitioner is free to melt and linger as needed. Physical surrender and review of critical details are the guideposts of Svaroopa, so the “digi-dumping” of VHS to disc is doubly disappointing. On to the brief breakdowns:

*Primary set or “The Magic Four” begins seated in a chair. The first move, Slow Dive, consists of aligning the knees over feet, elbows over knees to support the spine, leaning over and letting the head droop gently forward to release the spine. While it feels like a neck release at first, the target is tailbone release.
*Seated Janushirshashana or “Crook’d Leg Pose,” similar to Slow Dive but with one ankle placed strategically across the opposite knee.
*Anjaneyasana or “The Lunge,” a primary Svaroopa pose - gentle lunge starting from hands and knees on floor. It is a simple but tricky pose, you must let the abs go and reach into your abdominal flesh to pull it up onto the lunging thigh (not an easy trick for the lean and fit), which aligns the spine just so, as your hands press into blocks.
*Rotated Stomach," my favorite, a supine twist with knees melting toward the floor in a specified position of wrist bone to knee cap. I find a deep spinal, hip, mental, shoulder and internal organ release here.
*Savasana for Session One follows, with knees draped over the blanket stack. Rama coaches a deep spinal stretch and Ujjayi breath as her hypnotic tambura calms your central nervous system.

* “Four on the Floor” begins with Supta Garbhasana, “knees to chest” or reclining child’s pose, essentially reclining with the knees into chest and instruction to let gravity melt away tension in the low back.
*Alternate leg pose is similar to reclining child’s, but alternating knees to chest.
* Ardha Mandukasana or half frog pose is a favorite of mine. I call it “crash test dummy” because you are prone on the floor with one knee bent up toward the ribs and the arms akimbo – strategically of course. In a live class, it makes me feel like I’ve been thrown out of the car of stress and have landed limbless in a field of bliss.
*Seated side stretch requiring sitting on blankets or cushions, legs crossed in easy pose, as you stretch toward either side with legs bent just so in a pretzel position, bottom hand pushing into a block. Afterward Rama gives a nice little lecture about the purpose of Svaroopa to transition into deep relaxation (as if you could get any deeper).
*Reclining child’s pose and rotated stomach are repeated prior to Savasana, into which Rama effortlessly glides you with the hypnotic rhythm of her tambura.

Instructor Comments:
Rama is a delight – she has a calm, soothing voice perfectly suited to the timbre of Svaroopa. Her instruction is the proverbial firm hand gloved in velvet. She cues the home student through these poses well, but I stand by my conviction that home practitioners should experience a few live classes first. I’ve no doubt Rama Berch herself would agree.