To have a plan (or not)...
This blog post will help you get organized for a rewarding home practice regimen by learning how to effectively create asana sequences.
I know that once I began really thinking about sequencing, my practice advanced more quickly and clearly than I'd thought possible.
Sometimes jumping on your yoga mat (or crawling onto your mat, for that matter) without the slightest clue what you’re going to practice is delicious, expansive, and rejuvenating. This sort of spontaneity can tap into our deepest intuition and can result in asana and meditation practices we could’ve never dreamed up logically ahead of time.
And sometimes jumping on your mat with no plan results in a ho-hum practice consisting of the same postures you ALWAYS do, executed without clear focus and concentration, often with a generous helping of distraction and absent-minded-ness.
And SOMETIMES not having a plan for your home yoga practice means, well, that you don’t practice at all.
My strategy for sequencing my home practices looks like this:
- Always have a plan. That way, if I’m coming up dry on inspiration, I have something to fall back on.
- Don’t be attached to the plan. Sometimes my planned sequence is simply a launching pad, a place to start until the inspiration starts flowing.
It’s super important to have a plan, lest you find yourself dreading practice due to boredom, inertia or decision fatigue, or worse yet, skipping practice all together.
(Do you know this brilliant term “decision fatigue”? It’s the particularly sneaky sort of exhaustion that can crop up from having so many choices/options/judgments to make in life. We use this term all the time in my household!)
So how do you make sure you have a plan at the ready? There are endless ways to sequence, but here are a few of my tried-and-true favorites that I use all the time for personal practice and planning the classes I teach.
Peak Pose Sequencing:
Decide on a more challenging posture or type of posture to lead up to in your practice. For instance, maybe you want to head toward Urdhva Dhanurasana (Full Wheel Pose). You definitely need to prep your body for this huge backbend, so utilize the first part of practice to warm-up and prepare, then explore the peak, then “neutralize” with counterbalancing postures afterwards.
Here’s a sample sequence with Full Wheel as the peak pose:
- Warm-Up: 2 rounds of sun salutations; standing quadriceps stretching; low lunge quadriceps stretching; half splits hamstrings stretch (hint: you will need strong and flexible thighs for this peak pose!)
- Peak Prep: Shoulder stretch with hands clasped; Down Dog to ForeArm Dog; Belly Down Backbends: Shalabasana (Locust Pose), Ardha Bhekasana (belly down quadriceps stretch), Dhanurasana (Bow Pose). (hint: you also need strong and flexible shoulders and to prepare for the BIG backbend with less challenging backbends.)
- Exploring the Peak: Urdhva Dhanurasana x3, perhaps with some variations
- Neutralizing: Pigeon pose, Ardha Matsyendrasana (seated twist), Knee-to-Chest then twist. Savasana.
Full Spectrum Sequencing:
A well-rounded practice that is more focused on a full range of postures than any one peak pose.
(There’s a great full spectrum sequence in Yoga @ Home, my free Practice Guide to help you with home practice.)
Full Spectrum Sequencing is what I use most often in my home practice. This strategy helps us look at all the different categories of asana to create a sequence that has a little bit of everything, and balances strength building with flexibility.
Planning a few diverse Full Spectrum Sequences to have at the ready is a WONDERFUL way to ensure you your practice is well-rounded and not just the same old 10 postures every time.
Asana categories to consider:
- Standing Poses
- Standing Balancing Poses
- Hip Openers
- Arm Balances
- Core work
- Forward Folds
- Meditation Postures & Mudras
- Pranayama Practices
Advanced Pro-Tips (just joking, everyone should do these)
Practice what does NOT come easy.
If you have an aversion to a particular posture (examples for me: Revolved Triangle, Full Splits, Forearm Balance), include it in your home practice repertoire. Do it, even if it feels tedious or a little scary. Most often, the things we avoid are full of potential lessons and hidden gems for our growth. This friction is one of the most potent places to access in asana practice; I encourage you to take advantage of this.
Set a Timer.
I love the Insight Timer app. I use it for meditation almost daily and also set it up to help me in my asana practice.
For instance, say I have 30 minutes to practice and I want to make sure I get in 10 minutes of meditation and 5 minutes of savasana at the end. Cool. I can set the timer up with “interval bells” so that after 15 minutes I hear a bell telling me to transition to meditation, and 10 minutes after that, I’ll hear another bell telling me to transition to savasana.
Another way to use the Insight Timer is to set a repeating interval bell for every 60 seconds. Every time the bell sounds, you change postures. It's a great way to build stamina, particularly for standing postures and inversions.
This allows me to sink into practice more fully, even if I only have a short period of time to work with. (You can also just set a regular timer, of course, Insight Timer just makes the experience a little more plush).
Don’t Skip Savasana...Seriously.
Savasana is a deceptively simple posture. While it appears that everyone’s just laying down for a nap-like rest at the end of class, this pose can help us develop the nuanced skill of remaining present and aware while also relaxing completely.
Not zoning out.
Not over-efforting to concentrate.
Focused and at ease.
Relaxed and yet present.
This skill directly translates into living a more balanced, less stressed out life. So don’t skip it, really PRACTICE it.
Okay, your turn...
What postures will you include in your next sequence? Do you want help with working toward a peak pose? Leave me a message in the comments below--I'd love to hear from you.
Do you know someone who would benefit from knowing about these sequencing strategies and home practice ideas?
Please share this blog post with them! Or simply share it on Facebook to all of your peeps.
Thanks for spreading the good word!
Big Love and Happy Practicing,