Our school year is winding down. With final exams and graduation and summer break comes a disruption in our after school yoga routine. It doesn’t inconvenience me personally very much since I have an established home practice and meaningful access (i.e., time, funds, and transportation) to a number of yoga studios in my city. The same is not true for all my yoga students, so I shouldn’t have been too surprised when one of them commented to me, “I’d like to keep practicing over the summer, but I’m not really sure what to do. Like, I can do the poses, but I don’t know how to put them together.”
Which I think is a pretty common issue, knowing individual poses but being uncertain as to how to sequence a whole asana practice. So I put this together as a basic framework for my students and anyone else who wants it. The idea is that there are basic categories and specific examples; they can use the specific examples as they are, or they can choose to substitute in different poses within the category as they see fit. Additionally, as they become more comfortable in their home practice, they can choose to emphasize or de-emphasize different categories according to what they need that day.
I’ll also note here — The categories and example postures I used were listed with my current students in mind. While they’ve had limited yoga instruction (generally, our class only, and not even every week) and run the spectrum of levels of fitness, they also tend to be young, able-bodied — and to practice asana while they are free of any temporary physical injuries. Even though I think it’s a good basic sequence for them, it is not a one-size-fits-all practice.
Centering — The point of centering is to bring your attention to the practice you’re about to do. It might be where you let go of whatever happened earlier that day or whatever lists you have of things yet to do. It might be where you take stock of how you’re feeling, what you need today — and to set an intention. It will probably be a posture you hold for several breaths. I am a big fan of child’s pose for centering, but a lot of people use easy seated or sometimes constructive rest.
Warm Up — The point of a warm up is to put your body gently through its ranges of motion. This warm up focuses mostly on the spine, with a little going into the upper arms and legs. If your practice is going to ask a lot of a particular body part, it’s a good idea to include that body part in the warm up.
- Traditional cat and cow, 5 rounds.
- Lateral cat/cow or wag the dog, 5 rounds.
- Twisted child’s pose, 5 breaths on each side.
- Down dog, with any movement you need, 5 breaths.
- Then step forward into uttanasana and ardha uttanasana for 3-5 breaths.
Sun Salutations — They’re an excellent way to get the blood flowing, they help stretch and strengthen a lot of the body’s muscle groups, and they can be a complete physical work out on their own. I’m going to suggest 5 rounds of Sun Salute A for this practice because it’s one of the ones with the fewest steps, making it mentally less complicated.
Standing Postures — In addition to building lower body strength, standing postures are good for helping you feel grounded and stable.
- Starting on the right side, try — each for 5 breaths — warrior 2, reverse warrior, side angle, and triangle. If you need to hold for fewer breaths, do. If you need to take a break, do. I just picked 5 because that’s the number I’m using for this sequence. You know, for consistency’s sake.
- Take a wide legged forward fold, as deep or as shallow as is comfortable, for 5 breaths.
- Repeat the sequence on the left side. Probably repeat the forward fold, too. It’s kind of awesome.
Balance Postures — I am pretty sure that we practice balance postures to teach us humility. Or that every day is different. Or to focus only on the present moment and not live outside of our bodies. Or that falling on our butts is way comfier than falling on our faces. You pick.
- Tree pose (any variation) or any other standing balance you want, 5 breaths on each side.
- Since crow seemed to be a favorite, try that. Maybe 2 rounds, 5 breaths per round. That way, if you’re not getting up in the balance yet for whatever reason, you can try one round lifting just the right toes up, and the next round lifting just the left.
Backbends — Your back should be reasonably warmed up from sun salutes, and so this would be the time to do whatever your deepest backbend of the day (or deepest backbends, plural) is going to be. They’re really good to counter all the forward bending — sometimes “slouching” — that we tend to do. But because backbends also tend to be energizing poses, they’re maybe more appropriate here than at the very end of a practice. I like camel and bow about equally well for this, but there’s no reason bridge, wheel, locust, or cobra wouldn’t work for it instead. Whatever version you choose, maybe start by doing 2 rounds, 5 breaths per round. Rest in between to give your spine a chance to decompress.
Seated Poses — This is the part of the practice where we start winding down, so things here start to be about going slower and working less. To that end, I’m going to suggest fewer poses and longer holds from this point forward. If at any point, you want to stay in a posture longer than I suggest, go for it.
- A simple seated twist, for 5-10 breaths on each side, to relieve any tension that might have arisen in the backbend. If you’ve done a gentler backbend, a deeper twist may be a good idea; if the backbend was at your edge, a gentler twist is probably in order.
- Bound angle pose, the standard yang variety, for 10 breaths. Then the yin version for another 10.
Inversions — In terms of yoga philosophy, we practice inversions to reverse the flow of gravity and to move lymph back throughout the body. In everyday life, I practice inversions because it feels fun to be upside down.
- For the most part, legs up the wall is a safe and solid inversion to hold for 10 or so breaths. If something like shoulderstand or headstand prep feels right to you, then feel free to substitute that in instead. Or do a little of the more strenuous inversion followed by legs up the wall. You pick.
Supine Poses — To bring the body toward final relaxation. My suggested sequence:
- Lying spinal twist, any flavor, 10 breaths per side.
- Any last movements or postures your body wants or needs.
So that’s a practice that takes me about 30 minutes without savasana (or about 35 with), which is a time that I find manageable on most days. However, length can be subtracted by reducing hold time or removing some postures; similarly, length can be added by increasing hold time or adding additional postures. As a framework, it’s meant to be played with. So play.