Happy 2019 ending and 2020 beginning.
I suppose I should say something meaningful about yearly cycles, new beginnings, intentions v. resolutions, and all that. Instead, I am writing a nerdy entry on how I work with a sequence in my home practice. These reflections may or may not help you with your New Year, New You project. I will leave that up to you.
For the record, I am on the New Year, Same Me program, which is another blog entry I could be writing. The thing is that I feel like I am growing and living into an ongoing inquiry into how best to bring that growth into a meaningful, authentic expression. A new calendar year isn't really part of that process for me. Don't get me wrong - I am all for whatever helps someone align with themselves, so if New Year's intentions and resolutions do that for you, use them. No judgement from me. With much of the world engaged in the resolution process, you just might be able to tap into the collective energy quite effectively.
So - home practice.
I generally write a sequence for my practice. The sequence functions like a plan and helps me stay focused on my asana practice rather than on Facebook, Instagram, or dust bunnies. I have not always practiced with a set plan, but currently I find that heading into my practice with a plan provides a valuable structure.
Pictured below (on the very same piece of scratch paper that I wrote it on) is my plan. Down the right hand side of the page is what I wrote down and planned to do.
I often start with virasana, baddha konasana, malasana and uppa vista konasana. These leg positions help mobilize my hips and have the added bonus of being poses I can do sitting down! When I was younger and asana was my primary athletic endeavor, I always started with more dynamic postures like sun salutations and standing poses. Now, I hike, bike, snowboard and such and my legs are generally tired when I get to my mat. The seated hip work serves me well and helps me ease into things.
The other thing I like about these four poses is I can go in just about any direction I want from there. You see these leg positions in the forward bend syllabus - virasana becomes triang mukaikapada pascimottanasana. baddha konasana informs janu sirsasana and ardha pada padma pascimottanasana. Malasana relates to all the maricyasanas. And uppa vista konasana has its twisting and forward bending expressions and relates to the straight leg of poses like janu sirsasana, etc. (if the sanskrit is all too much, look in Light On Yoga and see plates 125-152 and you can get a sense of the way the shapes repeat.)
Additionally, these leg positions become the eka pada raja kapotasana back bends, so they can take me to back bends. Also, the hip mobilization prepares padmasana, all the standing poses and so on. As a jumping off point, these poses are excellent, provided you have knees that can do them, which is not always the case and would be a different blog entry, For a glimpse at the eka pada raja kapotasana back bends, head back to LOY and look at plates 539-547 and for fun with padmasana look at plates 104-124, then back up to the previous section where you will find baddha konasana and virasana variations.)
I am directing you to Light on Yoga for additional references and pose education to stimulate your thinking about how my sequence makes a certain sense. You can also take my online course where I explain a lot of Light on Yoga stuff.
From there, my plan was to take those basic leg positions into supine, hip extended versions. Then to a little side stretching, thigh stretching and upper back mobilizing, before taking those same leg positions into the eka pada rajakpoatasana preparatory cycles with quad stretching. Then into back back bends like ustrasana, dhanurasana, urdhva dhanurasana and some deeper work with the chair.
NOTE - these are not the full eka pada rajakapotasana (EPRK) backbends, just the leg positions with cobra-like back work. So, preliminary EPRK.
Also, I think about the three primary categories of backbends and incorporate them when I can into a back bending session. Some back bends are lifting up into spinal extension with the belly down, such as dhanurasana here. Some have one end anchored and lower down which requires an eccentric contraction of the muscles, like in ustrasana or drop backs where the abdominal muscles are toned as they lengthen. Other back bends have two ends anchored like urdhva dhanurasana.
So that was my plan.
Once I got into the sequence, however, I found my body needed more preparation than I planned. So what you see down the left side is what I actually did.
Also, sometimes when I am into things, I get ideas or creative inspiration and I think, "Oh, now, how might that fit in?" Or, "hmmm... you know, I forgot about that other thing, let me give it a go and see what it gives me."
For me, a plan is not a rigid, fixed or problematic constraint. For instance, Kelly and I had gone snowboarding the day before I wrote this plan. When I sat in virasana, my feet felt tight, my ankles felt restricted, and my calves felt bulky, making it harder than usual to get the deep knee flexion of virasana. So, I added in a whole big series of work for my feet and lower leg. (Many of you who are long-time students of mine affectionately know this work as the "foot and calf smashing routine.")
Then, back over to my original plan, after which I realized that some focused quad stretching and hip flexor work would make supta virasana a much more pleasant experience.
As I went on into the next part of my plan and I was down on my belly stretching my quads, I added in some twists, some cobras, some upper back opening with blocks.
I didn't plan on the twists, but I do like how they help my back bends. And there I was doing supta padangusthasana to the side and them anatasana and I thought, "well, supine twists would feel good." And then by the time I did anahatasana I figured, "Hey, I should do some cobra to get even more going on in my upper back." Once again, a plan does not limit me, it just gives me a basecamp from which to explore.
Now, the downside of all these exploratory trips down the left hand side of my page is that they took some time. So when I got to the back bends I did ustrasana and then a bunch of urdhva dhanrasana, I cut out the dhanruasanas, I didn't get to the chair work. But I did make a significant deposit in the bank of urdhva dhanurasana.
So here is a sped-up glimpse into my practice. And while this is a fast recording, I used a timers so most poses were 1-minute holds.
Pro tip - Use a timer for home practice. I use one on a basic Timex Ironman watch. The timer function has a repeat setting. I generally set the timer for 1-minute so I hear a beep every minute. This has been an invaluable tool for me in developing the capacity to self-generate intensity and focus. And, like a plan, a timer is not a rigid thing-- if I need to come out of a posture, I just come out. Plain and simple. No problem.
It's my practice, after all.
All in all, a good day's work.
I revisited the sequence two days later. I did the whole shebang, incorporating the side trips as part of my plan, since I had found them useful.
Which brings me to Sunday afternoon, a few days later. VIsit #3 to the sequence.
Down the left hand side of the page was my plan, incorporating the two previous days. You can see the basic repetition. (Also, figuring I was going to post the sequence, you can also note that I wrote more neatly and used a fresh piece of paper, rather than scrap paper from my pile.)
Down the right hand side are the notes of what that I actually did.
I used side stretching and twisting variations in the opening hip work. Once again, these were 1-minute timings so I was in virasana a minute, then each side stretch a minute, then each side twist a minute. I love side stretching in these four basic seated poses, whether I am going to forward bends or back bends. I get length for my side body, some deep opening in the groins, a lot of which I think has to do with the fact the psoas attached in the leg at the lesser trochanter so changing the leg position while stretching along the sides is not just a side-stretch only. And, as most of you know, nothing in yoga is only one thing. (Again, a different blog entry for a different day.)
Not included on my list of postures are the Down dogs I did between these long bent-knee holds. Once again, a plan is simply a plan - need something more or less? Add it in. Simple.
I should note, that this kind of planning is my approach for teaching as well. I always have a plan. I almost alway veer from the plan. In the words of Winston Churchill (I think): "Plans are useless. Planning is essential."
I stayed reasonably close to the plan through the supine segment and then the upper back work, but began to realize that my body felt pretty ready for back bends. So, I did not do the entire eka pada rajakpotasana prep work as I had planned. Once again, I skipped the dhanurasanas. (There is a theme here emerging - I am generally happy to skip those poses. Note to self - practice those poses.)
I got to some chair work. and while it says urdhva dhanurasana, what I actually did was:
Then I added in some supine closing postures and simple forward bends and then did my evening meditation session. I would have like to do savasana after that, but life was calling and I answered and went on to the next thing.
So that's a wrap, except for my shameless promotions. If you are still reading, then you are just the kind of yoga practitioner who would love my upcoming online offering Studies in Form and Flow. This is an in-depth, year-long, online program where I will:
So, that's a lot. It is a lot because there is a lot to cover and I want you to know a lot as a practitioner and teacher.
My main aim in a program like this is to give you the reasons behind the sequences, the cues and instructions, and the principles behind the methods. This is a program for people who want to understand what they are doing in practice and teaching so that they can more consciously and skillfully participate in the the thing that is transforming them. Almost everyone reading this blog loves asana and has felt it change their life. That is one thing asana practitioners - no matter what style or approach - seem to share. What I want to help teachers with is unpacking the practice in such a way that they understand more about the practice they love and love sharing with others.
And, while I am primarily a "Form teacher" I am included Flow sequences because I am continually asked about the interface between alignment and flow, because I enjoy vinyasa practice when done intelligently and because I think you can have form in flow and flow in form and both have tremendous value.
Studies in Form and Flow is a stand alone program or can be paired with a series of intensives and workshops (done over 2+ years) for a 300-hour advanced teacher training program.
Follow This Blog
"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."