Sequencing for Balance

Last month we talked about sequencing your practice with routine and variety, and this month I thought it would be great to continue the conversation about the foundations of sequencing.  Whether you are sequencing your own home yoga practice, or designing a class for your yoga participants, one of the foundations of sequencing is balance.  What do I mean by balance?  Well, a few things:

  • A balance of movements through the three planes (Sagittal, Frontal, and Transverse)
  • A balance of the “4 Movements of the Spine” (Flexion, Extension, Lateral Flexion, Rotation)
  • A balance of strength and mobility around our joints.

Three Planes of Movement:

Although this idea is being challenged by the movement community at the moment, I still think it’s a great way to explore the different directions in which we move.   The Three Planes break down our movements into clear pathways that help us to understand the directions of movement, and what each of our joints are designed to do.

Sagittal: Imagine you are standing on a train track, and that you can only move on the tracks either forward or back.  What movements can you make on this track?  Your hips can bend forward and back, your spine can curve forward and back, your elbows and knees can bend forward and back – these movements are called flexion and extension, and this is happening on the Sagittal Plane.

Frontal: Now, imagine your body is pressed between two panes of glass.  What movements can you make within those two panes?  You can bend your spine side to side, this is Lateral Flexion, and you can take your arms and legs out wide and back together, this is Abduction and Adduction.  Also in the Frontal Plane is the raising and lowering of your scapula (shoulderblades) called Elevation and Depression.  So, Lateral Flexion of the spine, Abduction/Adduction of the arms and legs, and Elevation/Depression happen on the Frontal Plane.

Transverse: This plane is largely about rotation.  What joints can rotate?  You can rotate your spine by turning right and left.  You can rotate your shoulders by turning your shoulders inwards so that your palms face backwards (internal rotation), and you can rotate your shoulders outwards so that your palms face forward (external rotation).  What about your hips?  You can rotate your hips inwards by bringing your toes together and heels apart, and you can rotate your hips outwards by turning your heels together and toes apart.  Notice with the arms and legs that you ‘see’ the rotation most easily at the hands and feet, but the movement is actually coming from the hip and shoulder joints.  Notice how rotation feels in these joints, and this is happening on the Transverse Plane.

Why is this important?  Knowing the directions of movement helps us to balance our practice and our bodies.  Our spinal health is maintained by balancing the ‘4 Movements of the Spine’.  The health of our joints, muscles and connective tissues are maintained by balancing the strength and mobility around each joint in the directions that the joint naturally moves.  Often in our daily life and our movement or sports activities we are working primarily on the Sagittal Plane – think of walking, running, cycling, and even yoga.  Most of our movements fall into the Sagittal Plane, and it’s a great Plane, but too much of a good thing can create imbalance.  This is where Multi-Planar Movement training becomes important for the maintenance of good health.

Multi-Planar Movement

In the world of functional movement, there is great emphasis these days on creating comprehensive movement practices that explore all three planes of movement (Sagittal, Frontal, Transverse) and this is called Multi-Planar Movement.  How this shows up in your practice is by sequencing for movement of each joint in all of its respective planes.  Let’s talk about how this shows up in the spine.

Four Movements of the Spine

As you can see from the above explorations of the Planes of Movement, the spine moves in all three planes, and in those three planes the spine has four movements:

Sagittal:

Flexion: rounding forward

Extension: arching back

Frontal:

Bending side to side

Transverse:

Rotating right and left

Key to spinal health is to regularly explore these Four Movements of the Spine.  This assists in balancing the strength, stability and mobility around the spine, helps to maintain efficient and healthy posture, and the pose-counter pose action of moving in these four directions helps to keep your spine lubricated and well-nourished.

In your movement practice, aim to sequence for all Four Movements of the Spine.  A good example of this is the Seated Spinal Warm Up which flows through all Four Movements of the Spine.  You might even add a bit of variety to your usual poses with a Multi-Planar Warrior Sequence.  These free audio podcasts will guide you through some exploration of the planes of movement. Or, check out this free streaming video of our Vinyasa Flow Warm Ups, borrowed from our Live Class Video, where you can flow through the Four Movements of the Spine as a way to warm up in preparation for practice.

So, before you head off to practice, let’s recap.  When it comes to sequencing for Multi-Planar Movement and the Four Movements of the Spine, keep in mind:

  • Consider the three planes of movement (frontal, sagittal, transverse) and try to have a range of movements on each plane.
  • Consider the 4 movements of the spine and aim to program your practice with movements in flexion, extension, lateral flexion, and rotation.
  • Create a balance of strengthening and mobilizing movements around each joint in its respective planes and movements (ie: flexion, extension, abduction, adduction, rotation).

A quick note on sequencing: I’ve asked a few of our Grads to share their insights into sequencing, do they sequence each class differently, and if so, how do they go about sequencing?  Hear their thoughts on designing yoga classes here.

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