Three days after the Sept. 11 attacks, I met yoga teacher Manouso Manos and learned the pose called bhismacharyasana, for healing mortal wounds.
It was a day of firsts in many ways. It was my first workshop with Manouso, famously scary, although his bio described his compassion. It was my first venture into the big city, Los Angeles, for its Iyengar center. It was my first class with someone other than my first Iyengar teacher, Karin O’Bannon, since I had had both my hips replaced two years earlier, when I was 40. The surgery had left me with two hips that dislocated easily and often.
In sum, I was driving two hours in Friday evening LA traffic, to a remote sounding studio, with an intimidating teacher, with a body that betrayed me frequently in excruciating ways.
And it was three days after the attacks that had left my entire country in pain.
Manouso started the class with bhismacharyasana, also called bhismasana. It’s named for Bhisma, a man deemed so wise by the gods that he was granted the boon that he couldn’t be slain in battle. Ultimately he suffered a terrible wound, yet he couldn’t die and was able to find rest only on a bed of arrows with the points up.
The modern-day equivalent of this bed for soothing mortal wounds is a bed of wooden blocks designed by B.K.S. Iyengar for those suffering from heart disease. The strong support behind the heart brings quietness and ease to the mind. A simpler version involves a single wooden block behind the heart, with a stack of blankets for supporting the head.
On that Friday after the Sept. 11 attacks, we used the awareness created by the wooden block to find our awareness in other poses such as adho mukha svanasana.
In the years since, bhismacharyasana has become a kind of mainstay of comfort poses for me, even when it reduces me to tears. Earlier this year, in a workshop at the new Iyengar institute in Los Angeles, Manouso mentioned that we avoid two emotions, anger and sadness. Support of the heart creates an illumination of the truth that resides in our hearts. The pose is that perfect blending of two of the gunas (qualities of nature): the block creates the stillness of tamas (earthiness) in our hearts that we might receive clarity of sattva (illumination) and, yes, sadness.
More about the benefits of restorative poses: A 2007 study by Khattab et al. found that Iyengar’s supported restorative poses affect the heart in ways that lead to deep physical and mental relaxation.
Manouso Manos returns to LA: Manouso teaches Oct. 12-14 at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles. The three days, nine hours of workshops typically include a session of restorative poses and a session of pranayama. Classes on Fridays and Saturdays are for students with six months or more of Iyengar class experience. Sundays are for those with at least one year of Iyengar experience.