3 Simple Approaches to Sequencing
“Can I skip sun salute A?” “Should I open my practice with virasana (hero pose) or sukhasana (easy pose)?” “Will my quads be warm and open enough for urdhva dhanurasana (wheel pose)?" “Wait, will my back even be warm and open enough?”
If you’re anything like me, the mere idea of creating and leading your own home practice is a wee bit terrifying. In the classroom, you’re a rockstar. You roll out your mat, get that ujjayi breath flowing, and (sorry to say!) may even completely tune your teacher out. You know—for the most part—what limb goes where, which pose cramps what, and why and when to calmly grab your block. You can more or less guess which pose is coming next. But at home? Not so much. You nudge the laundry piles off to the side, roll out your mat, get that ujjayi breath flowing and (sad to say) have absolutely no clue where to begin. But before you rush through some half-assed cat-cows, short-lived tree poses, and an incredibly premature shavasana (yup, guilty as charged), here are three helpful approaches to simple sequencing at home for you to consider.
If you’re anything like me, the mere idea of creating and leading your own home practice is a wee bit terrifying.
The Basic Formula
Follow this plan and adjust the length of each section according to the time you have allotted for your practice. An hour-long practice, for example, could look something like this:
- Opening (5 minutes)
- Warm-up (10 minutes)
- Standing Poses (20 minutes)
- Abs/Inversions/Backbends (10 minutes)
- Seated Poses (10 minutes)
- Shavasana (5 minutes).
(Do not by any means feel pressured to follow this strictly. Play with it by adding five minutes here, taking away seven there—you get the idea.)
Here is a breakdown of each of the sections:
The opening refers to whatever you need to do to get yourself 100% on the mat. Crocodile pose, child’s pose, sukhasana (easy pose), and supta tadasana (reclined mountain pose) are all great options. Close your eyes. Don’t force the breath. Notice it. Is it short and raggedy? Long and smooth? Leave your to-do and should-have-done lists at the door. You don’t need them while on your yoga mat, right? Soften your eyes, jaw, shoulders, hips, ankles. Let the ground support you.
The warm-up is—you guessed it—when you start to warm up your body. For a gentler warm-up, begin with urdhva hastasana (upward salute), standing twists, and/or some side stretches before you make your way into half sun salutes. With each round, add another movement or pose. Perhaps you add in a lunge on each side (sun salute C), or maybe you dive right into a few rounds of sun salutes A and B.
Now you’re sweaty—oops, I mean ready—for your standing poses. Be creative. Allow yourself the freedom to try new and exciting movements, but also remind yourself that it's okay to stop and languish in old, familiar favorites. Play with various flows. Maybe you build off of your last sun salute B—taking your warrior I to side angle pose, then side angle to triangle, and triangle to balancing half moon.
It is important to complete the next section in this order: abs before inversions before backbends (this order ensures your core is engaged and ready to work in your inversions and backbends). Ab work can be slow and steady. It can also be fast and furious. Here are some ideas ranging from low to high intensity: dolphin-to-forearm plank pose, navasana (boat pose) with pick-ups (think: lolasana lifts), or urdhva prasarita padasana (upward extended foot pose). Inversions can also be as cooling or as heating as you want. Headstand and shoulderstand are often seen as relaxing and grounding; forearmstand and handstand tend to be more "firey" and energizing.
Dandasana (staff pose)—the "blueprint" to all seated poses—is a great way to start the "seated" portion of your practice. From there, wring out the spine with maricyasana C; warm and open the hamstrings and lower back with janu shirsasana and paschimottanasana. Allow yourself enough time (10 minutes at the very minimum) to properly cool down with seated poses: hip-openers, twists, forward bends, etc. And remember, just because these are seated doesn’t mean they are "easier" or less engaging!
Shavasana—throw in some props and/or a guided meditation for an extra-lovely shavasana. (Try a bolster under the knees for a lower back release, a blanket on your lap, and an eye pillow/folded shirt over your eyes.)
Pick a Peak Pose and Sequence Around It
If you’re going into your practice knowing absolutely 100% that you must practice one certain pose, place it (again, doesn’t have to be strictly!) within the “formula” and sequence around it! Consider your peak pose—what needs to be warmed, opened, strengthened, instructed? How can you satisfy those prerequisites with other poses? Let’s consider balancing half moon pose: the chest is open, shoulders are strong, hips open, and legs crazy-engaged. We can begin opening the hips as early as the start of practice with simple cross-legged pose, strengthening the legs and shoulders with urdhva hastasana and utkatasana (chair pose) during sun salutes, opening the chest with upward dog, and opening the hips even more with lunges and warriors I and II.
Sequencing Around a Theme
For this one, choose a theme or mantra and sequence around that. One I find myself returning to again and again is the theme of practicing metta, or loving-kindness toward myself. Some days, this takes the form of a challenging, powerful, sweaty sequence during which I am reminded, “HOLY SMOKES, AM I ALIVE!” Other times, it means settling into supported pigeon pose for 10 minutes on each side, as I sing (weep) along to John Mayer.
Listen. What does your body really, actually, need? And how can you respect and address that need?
Listen to Your Body
Yes, we all hear this a lot, but it truly is important. First, ask yourself: What do you think your body needs? Or what do you want it to need? Ignore that. Now, try again. Listen. What does your body really, actually need? And how can you respect and address that need? It’s almost as if you’re sitting with yourself drinking a comforting, hot beverage, taking yourself by the hand, noticing where you’re at today (not yesterday, not tomorrow), and meeting yourself there. From that authentic place—where you understand and see your true self—you’ll be able to find movement easily, naturally, and organically. As long as you believe in what you’re doing wholeheartedly, it’ll translate.