Where do you start, if you are practicing alone?
While practicing yoga at home sounds easy enough in theory, even experienced practitioners can be uncertain about which poses to choose and how to put them together. Sequencing—which poses you practice and in what order— is difficult. Mastering the art of sequencing takes years of study, but hopefully the following suggestions will help to guide you.
One way to begin creating your own at-home sequences is to familiarise yourself with a basic template that includes the following:
1. Opening poses/warm up,
2. Sun Salutations,
3. Standing poses,
7. Forward bends,
8. Closing postures
9. Ending with Savasana, relaxation pose
Each pose should prepare your body and mind for the next, so that your practice feels like it has a beginning, middle, and end, that flow seamlessly together. If you start lying down, you can move to kneel, then stand and then flow back to the earth again. Try not to keep jumping from seated to standing and back again as this will make your flow disjointed.
You can vary the poses within each of the categories. You can make your practice longer or shorter, as time permits. And once you have a basic understanding of the different postural categories and begin to notice the energetic effects they have on your body, you can start to experiment with creating sequences that suit your needs on a given day, whether it’s focusing on a particular area of the body or working up to a challenging pose.
The opening poses of a sequence are essentially a warm up. They wake up the major muscle groups and allow you to become more internally focused.
Include some physical movement that gradually warms your body, a breath-awareness component, and a contemplative element that helps you direct your attention to what is happening inside your heart and mind. A simple way to do this is to start with a few minutes of seated meditation, or centring in savasana or child’s pose.
Next, take a few poses that slowly warm the major muscle groups of your body; apanasana, eye of the needles gentle single knee hugs, cat and cow pose, blissful downward facing dog, where you pedal the heels; and so on.
Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutations, pick up where opening poses leave off, integrating breath and movement, generating warmth, and invigorating the entire body. Their meditative movements quieten the mind and prepared the body for the postures that follow.
Each movement in the Salutation should last the duration of an inhalation or an exhalation. Depending on your time and energy, you can vary the number of Sun Salutations that you do. It’s a good idea to warm the body thoroughly with Sun Salutations before you do standing postures so that your legs and hips are ready.
Standing poses create strength, stamina, and flexibility throughout the entire body. They work the major muscle groups, such as the quadriceps, gluteals, hamstrings, and core. Standing poses often precede backbends, twists, and forward bends in a sequence because they are so efficient at preparing your body for these poses.
Getting upside down is a key element of a well-rounded practice. You don’t need to be able to do a headstand to create an inversion; a downward facing dog may do, or hare pose! These poses are stimulating to the nervous system and are physically demanding; thus they can be the energetic peak of your practice.
Backbends stretch the front of the body, strengthen the back of the body, and balance the effects of time spent sitting in chairs. Most people find back bending postures stimulating, so you might choose to emphasise backbends in your practice if you want a burst of physical and mental energy. Be careful not to rise to high if you have lower back issues.
Twists relieve tension in the spine, and keep the spine healthy, they also gently stretch your hips and shoulders. Twists can be done lying down,, seated, standing, and there are inverted variations.
Forward bends typically have a calming effect on the mind, emotions, and nerves, which is why they’re often practiced toward the end of a sequence. These postures facilitate deep relaxation by stretching the muscles of the back and decreasing the stimulation of the sensory organs.
Closing postures complete a sequence by quieting the mind and relaxing the body. The final postures help you surrender and absorb the practice.
To get the full benefit, you’ll want to spend 5 to 20 minutes total in these calming postures. There are four basic types of closing postures: Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand), restorative poses, (Lying Goddess) seated meditation, (in Sukhasana) and Savasana (Relaxation/Corpse Pose). And ending your practice by lying quietly in Savasana is a must. It is the key to assimilating the benefits of your practice.