Sequencing for Routine and Variety

I had a great question this week from a recent yoga teacher training graduate about sequencing for her new classes, and it got me to thinking about how we sequence our own home practice each day, week, month, and year.  What informs our decisions about what to practice, when to practice, and how often we should do the same practice or how often we should change it up?  Whether you are new to yoga, or an experience practitioner or teacher, how you go about creating a balanced sequence and practice schedule for your home asana (movement) practice should begin with some analysis.  A few areas of inquiry you might consider are:

  • What are your aims for your practice?
  • What are your particular needs, including movement function, areas of tension/tightness and areas of weakness?
  • Do you have special needs or specific goals in asana or sport?
  • Do you have any current or past injuries or repetitive strain to consider?
  • How much time can you give to your practice each day/week?

By asking yourself a few questions about your practice, you can gain some clarity around the aims, intentions, design, and timing of your practice.  And, from here, you can start to look at some foundations for sequencing a home practice.  There are so many elements that we can look at when it comes to sequencing, but this month I wanted to focus on striking a balance between two powerful allies in your practice – routine and variety

Routine and Variety

It is equally important to have some routine or consistency in your practice and some variety or playful exploration.  Routine is important for a few reasons:

  • Routine helps you to study, absorb, and develop your body awareness, strength and mobility, and your relationship to body/mind. When there is too much variety, it’s hard to learn the poses in any depth, and difficult to get to know your body in movement and see your progress.
  • Routine, from an Ayurvedic perspective, helps to ease anxiety and promote stability. Too much variation in your practice schedule, sequence and poses can impact on your regularity and consistency in practice.
  • Routine aids in moving through each ‘known’ posture, into a deeper exploration of your body and your relationship to your body, and to your mind and your mental habits, patterns, and potential.

These are just a few reasons why regularity and routine are essential to your movement practice. However, just as important as routine is variety:

  • Variety aids in promoting healthy function both through your asana practice, and as an aid or counter-balance to your other fitness, sport, movement practice, and the stresses of your work/lifestyle. For instance, if you sit all day at a computer, and then sit throughout in your asana practice, this could contribute to rather than counter-act the stresses of sitting, which we now know to be considerable.
  • Variety, according to current movement and anatomy research, is important for reducing repetitive strain, injury risk, and the development/persistence of harmful movement patterns. When we approach the same poses the same way every day, this can create patterns in body and mind that can increase the risk of injury both on and off the mat.
  • Variety, according to Ayurveda, helps to overcome inertia, sluggishness, and lethargy, promoting enthusiasm for practice.
  • Varying your movement practices keeps your body and your mind alert and curious, and encourages inquiry, exploration, and challenge. With too much routine, your movements could become more of a habit than an experience of mindfulness.

So, how do you create a practice that combines the benefits of both routine and variety?  Here are a few ways that you can explore this:

  • Practice at the same time each day, but schedule different practices throughout the week. For example: alternate between Vinyasa, Pilates, and Restorative Yoga.
  • Play with intensity, pace, or rhythm. For example: some day’s flow through each pose with the breath, while other days take some extra time in each pose and each transition, maybe adding a few breaths for each posture and in each stage of a transition. Or, add some music to inspire a different rhythm.
  • Have a regular sequence, but bring in a different focus each week. For example: one day/week you might focus on core strength, adding a few movements to your seated sequence, and another day/week you might focus on balancing, bringing a few new movements to your sequence, or adding a balance challenge to your usual poses.
  • Add some variety to the same poses by adding a twist, an asymmetrical challenge, or a different variation of the pose. For example, add a twist to Powerful Pose, take one leg up at a time in Bridge, or keep the back heel lifted in Warrior 1 and pulse up and down in your Warrior lunge with each breath.
  • Add a prop. Bring a brick, strap, chair, ball, or blanket with you throughout your usual practice and get curious about what each prop can bring to each pose and transition.
  • Approach your poses from a new direction. For example: instead of stepping out to the right, and turning to the long edge of the mat for Triangle Pose (as we do in Vinyasa Flow), try stepping the left foot back and entering the pose from the top of the mat, or stepping forward from Downward Facing Dog.
  • Have resources. Have a few favorite DVDs, flowcharts, podcasts or videos that can support your regular practice, and then challenge yourself to a new practice resource each week to stay inspired.

Next month I hope to dig in a little deeper into the foundations of sequencing to look at what informs and inspires a great yoga sequence or class.  For this month, I hope you enjoy playing with that beautiful balance of routine and variety.

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