How to design your home yoga practice
by Collin Wynter
Yoga, a Sanskrit work meaning “to yoke”, refers to the drawing in of the mind and the body and uniting oneself to a more fulfilled individual. Yoga can be divided into several disciplines: bhakti, jnana, haha, raja, ashtanga, among others. Hatha yoga perhaps the most common practice in the west, refers to the physical asana practice. Hatha is often translated as forceful. Make this distinct from abusive. Having and knowing how to apply force is useful. It is not something to be shunned or derided. Asana means easy pose, and often times you will hear the yoga postures referred to in Sanskrit names, ending with asana. Such as Adho mukha svanasana (down dog). I tend to use a mix of english, kinesiology terms and Sanskrit when describing yogasana. There are traditionally eighty-four phases mentioned in the Hatha Yoga Pradapika, but variations and new poses have been envisioned over time. I also include conditioning exercises with my practice. There is great value in following a tradition; and for when a student learns to outgrow the master. This is the discernment of when to break or change the rules. Below is a general outline with some suggestions on how to create your own yoga practice. Paid subscribers to the substack get an opportunity to comment and can ask questions of clarification or contact me for assistance in the creation of their own sequence. Breathe, focus, and engagement are the three base aspects to see you through.
A basic yoga sequence follows these principles:
Warm up, Foundations, Peak pose, Stabilizers, Cool down, Savasana
Sitting in easy pose for a few minutes to centre one’s self. I prefer eyes open as this is the beginning of the class.
Breathing. There is a plethora of breathing techniques. For beginners, nadi shodina (alternate nostril), or belly breathing are two good options.
Abdominals. Many of my students have been confused at the amount of core work I teach. Sometimes, I think they find it off putting. The abdominals, though, are the core centre of your body that will help assist you to stabilize and achieve many of the more challenging poses.
Surya Namaskar A & B. This is the sun salutation. “A” is flow of postures beginning with a standing in a relaxed mountain pose, forward fold, plank, chutarunga (low plank), down dog. While “B” includes chair pose, twists, crow, lunges. Variations of this sequence abound. Sometimes, these two sequences alone will be considered the warm up. At times a cycle of ten of each may be done.
Variations of Surya Namaskar, may include a turbo dog sequence. This involves the down dog posture with flowing movements of the leg from tricep to triceps and to the forehead. The wild thing pose may be added in, perhaps going all the way to wheel for the more advanced students. This can be included with a wave of cobras sequence, where the back strengthener is combined with low lunges and hip openers.
Foundations come after a warm up. These are postures may include warm up positions in a greater depth, but normally are a brand new series of asana. These postures are done standing, and may be referred to as the standing series. The four standing flow cycles I prescribe to are: hand to foot, wide leg, warrior, trikonasana, tree. Sometimes an instructors will select a series of postures that do not blend through a flow and instead are particular to a peak pose. For example, if the peak pose is a handstand, the instructor may move students to the wall for support, as they begin to learn to balance on their hands.
Peak poses, as just mentioned, include a variety of postures, such as: dancer’s pose, handstand, peacock. And floor postures, such as full tortoise and full cobra. Depending on the skill of the practitioner, you may wish to only include one or two peak poses in your practice. As you master them and they become part of your repertoire, relegate them to a daily pose and start working on a new advanced asana. If you feel you are getting stuck with attempts at achieving the peak pose, here are a few tips: take a few days break, your muscles may be tired. Is your foundations for this pose built properly? Is the pose almost there but not perfect as int he photos? Accept where you are and progress incrementally. That is often the way with yoga. And perhaps the hardest pill, some poses may not be achieved for simple anatomical facts. It is the enjoyment that counts.
The stabilizing series of postures involves core and abdominal work, back strengthening and back bending, leg stretching, binds, jump throughs and arm balances. Many of theses actions may have occurred with prior poses standing. It is on the floor where you can begin to find some real depth and incorporate that into your standing postures in the future. A plank series may be included here. A group of conditioning exercises. Leg stretches and hip openers, that seek to work the leg behind the head. Crow can be practiced with variations: one legged, side crow. Jumping from down dog to crow (something that is also seen in surya namaskar) can be done. Cobra and bow for back strengthening, bridge and wheel for heart opening. More advanced leg stretches can be attempted like archer and bound head to knee. Lotus preparation. As you can see, many of these poses have the potential to be quite challenging. Hence, they come before the cool down.
Basic leg stretching is perhaps the best cool down sequence. Head to knee, forward folds. Although this pesos may have been used prior in the floor series to assist with binds, they can always be repeated. Headstand, which can be done earlier in the series, particularly with the wide leg fold in standing, or from crow, is often done right near the end of the series. Cool down posture? Not quite. An energizing one, most definitely. But after one comes out of the pose, perhaps by doing a fish posture to rebalance, you are nearly in savasana, which provides an opportunity to fully recharge. Lotus is another posture often done right at the end of the series. With several variations available: lifting, binds, etc. Fire breathing may be done directly before savasana.
Savasana itself is an active resting posture. An intentional act to relax. It is an awareness posture, not sleep.One form of practice may be guided mediation through relaxing each individual part of ones body, beginning at the feet and slowly moving up the body to the skull. Fifteen minutes is recommended.
This has been a very general broad overview of a full yoga sequencing class. If you are interested in more information in how to develop your own sequence, would like to view instructional videos, or have questions, become a paid subscriber and get in touch.