What you can learn from a yoga sequence

GretchenIyengar Yoga

Light on Yoga Week 33 SequenceThis week marks the final week in the 2015-2016 Cabana Studio season. As I contemplated the sequence I would teach for the final hurrah, I wondered, “what did BKS Iyengar publish for week 33 in Light on Yoga?”

WOWZER!

His “Course Two” begins with weeks 31-35 and is approximately 55 poses long. My classes are only 75 minutes long, so I decided to copy down only the poses on the Intro I and II teaching syllabi.

 

Week 33 Sequence

Salamba Sirsasana I – headstand
Salamba Sarvangasana I – shoulder stand
Halasana – plow pose
Karnapidasana – ear pressure pose
Supta Konasana – reclined angle pose
Parsva Halasana – side plow pose
Eka Pada Sarvangasana – one leg in shoulder stand
Parsvaikapada Sarvangasana – one leg out to the side in shoulder stand
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – bridge pose from shoulder stand (in class we supported with a block under the sacrum)

Supta Padangusthasana – reclined big toe pose
Paripurna Navasana – full boat pose
Ardha Navasana – half boat pose

Ustrasana – camel pose
Virasana – hero’s pose
Supta Virasana – reclined hero’s pose

Janu Sirsasana – head of the knee pose
Triangamuhkaikapada Paschimottanasana – three limbs, face over one leg pose
Marichyasana I – sage pose
Paschimottanasana – stretch of the west pose, seated forward bend
Upavista Konasana – seated angle pose
Baddha Konasana – bound angle pose

Marichyasana III – sage pose III
Ardha Matsyendrasana – half lord of the fishes pose

Salabhasana – locust pose
Dhanurasana – bow pose

Uttanasana – intense stretch pose, standing forward bend
Savasana – corpse pose

You can find explanations and pictures for most of these poses at the Yoga Art + Science website.

What I found to be most interesting was the order in which the poses appeared in the sequence. Don’t look at the names of the poses. Look instead at the categories of the poses:

Inversions
Abdominal
Quadriceps stretching poses – a back bend and hero’s poses
Seated forward bends
Twists
Belly back bends
Restorative

This was completely counter to the sequence prescription I used for most of the 32 other classes in the session. How would I explain this to my students? They would surely think I was crazy! Then I remembered, they’ve called me crazy for years. I gave it a go and here is what I learned:

  • the inversions quieted my active, morning mind
  • the Sarvangasana variations warmed up every muscle in my body, better than my usual dog pose ever did
  • with my focused mind, I was able to execute the abdominal poses with precision
  • the quadriceps stretching poses felt really good after the intensity of the abdominal poses – especially since I use my quads way more than I should in the boat poses
  • the camel pose made me acutely aware of just how much lift I can get in my chest when I focus on my upper middle back and I approached every forward bend with same intensity. I chose to use the rope wall and remain in a concave back position for every pose
  • the twists completely reset my back
  • with my refreshed lower back and a focus on my upper middle back, I achieved a greater lift in both of the belly back bends
  • the restorative poses calmed my nervous system but thanks to ending with belly backward bends, I didn’t feel sluggish after my practice or at all for the rest of the day

If I could find the right words, I’m sure I could double or even triple that list. The sequence was hard, but I felt great when I was finished. My “yoga bliss” lasted until my appropriately exhausted head hit the pillow at bedtime. I plan to practice this sequence over the summer to see what more I can learn about the poses and their effects.

So what is the moral of this story?

There is no “right” way to sequence your yoga practice. The only rule is headstand before shoulder stand. Beyond that, it is your practice and your sequence to write. Observe the effect the order has from pose to pose. Pay attention to how you feel immediately after the practice and a few hours later. Keep a yoga journal. Write your sequences down. Take the time to come back and note your observations. Then you’ll know if ending with backward bends leaves you wired and unable to sleep at night, or if forward bends leave you sluggish and unable to focus late in the day.

I will confess, I swapped the back bends and forward bends for my evening class. I was concerned, given how much energy I still had at 7:00pm, that ending with the back bends might leave them wired and unable to sleep. Also, even after removing the more advanced poses from the sequence, there were more poses than I could teach in 75 minutes. The poses in bold are the poses I chose to teach.

In your home yoga practice, don’t be afraid of sequencing. Study the back of the book and BKS Iyengar’s sequences. In your own practice be brave. Be bold. Be playful. Observe, take notes, and repeat what works for you.

See you on the mat soon!

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