Do you feel overwhelmed about how you choose what poses to practice?
That’s not the least bit surprising. Organising a yoga practice and sequencing poses are not skills that we learn simply by attending classes. Even yoga teacher training courses don’t necessarily cover this topic in depth. When one learns the basics of putting together a yoga practice, it’s still a halting activity for some time, one that takes much thought.
How many poses are there to choose among? One of the classic texts of yoga states that the Indian God Shiva taught 8,400,000 different asanas. While I don’t agree with that figure, we are spoiled for choice. There are probably as many poses as there are because our imaginations are boundless, and there are infinite ways to move our bodies. In addition to all the classic postures, there are countless preparations for poses and variations for most of them.
So, how are we supposed to choose what yoga poses to do?
If you do a similar set of poses each day, as in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, it’s not a problem. In this style of yoga, the sequence of poses for a beginner doesn’t vary much. However, as you progress in this method, you’ll add more and more advanced poses. Learning by repetition is a way of embodying and refining your work-out.
But what if you like as much variety as possible in your practice? For you who love a changing practice, I suggest that you consider several factors. Some of them are: the season you’re in, your age, for a woman–stage of life, your energy levels, the time of day, and maybe even where the moon is in its cycle.
Over the years, I’ve played with many ways of creating practices. The ones I present here are cyclic, i.e., they are based on a week, a month, or the season of the year. They cover every possibility I could come up with, but if you happen to think of others, I’d love to hear about them.
These cycles function well for teachers and students. As a teacher, you might use these as sort of ‘coat hangers’ to structure your group classes or one-to-one sessions.
Here’s the solution! Experiment with these cycles
Here are a couple of 7-Day Cycles. They give you an opportunity to mix up the ‘families’ of yoga poses over seven days, so you don’t leave any of them out.
Monday: Do standing poses and salutes-to-the-sun
Tuesday: Forward stretches and twists
Thursday: Salutes-to-the-sun and standing poses
Friday: Hips and abdominal poses
Saturday: Restorative or menstrual sequence
Sunday: Inversions and miscellaneous poses
(Every day do sirsasana, sarvangasana and variations.)
Monday: Standing poses, forward stretches and simple backbends
Tuesday: Supta padangusthasana cycle and arm balancings (i.e. bakasana)
Wednesday: Ekapada sirsasana cycle, twists, and padmasana cycle
Thursday: Preparation for backbends, advanced backbends and supta padangusthasana cycle
Friday: Supta padangusthasana cycle, arm balancings, and twists
Saturday: Forward stretches for long timings
Sunday: Hips and miscellaneous poses
A Monthly Cycle is what many Iyengar teachers use to cover their bases so all the families of poses are included.
Week 1: Standing poses
Week 2: Forward stretches
Week 3: Backbends and twists
Week 4: Inversions and pranayama
If your energy follows the waxing and waning of the moon, you might want to follow a Lunar Cycle.
Full moon: Backbends and twists
Waning: Forward stretches
New Moon: Inversions and pranayama
Waxing: Standing poses
Stages of Life
In consideration of the various ages and Stages of Life, here are some major emphases.
Youth – Do a variety of poses for relatively short timings, for instance, salutes-to-the-sun, introduction to relaxation
Adolescence – Salutes-to-the-sun, standing poses, relaxation, ujjayi pranayama
Middle years – All poses, increasing timings, relaxation, meditation, pranayama
Aged – Fewer poses, more pranayama and meditation
A Woman’s Cycle is orchestrated by her biology.
Menstruation: Follow a menstrual sequence
Prenatal/Postnatal: Poses appropriate to trimesters, savasana, pranayama
Menopause: Inversions, forward stretches, backbends, twists, pelvic floor exercises, savasana, pranayama & meditation; all appropriate to energy levels and individual symptoms of menopause
For those who can afford the luxury of a twice daily practice, Diurnal/Nocturnal Cycles. Being able to practice in the morning and then again in the evening will maximise the benefits of yoga.
Morning: Do dynamic, energising poses, such as, standing poses, salutes-to-the-sun, backbends, ‘jumpings’. Still make time to include relaxation–5 minutes for every 30 minutes of practice.
Evening: Inversions, forward stretches, restorative poses, savasana
Seasonal Cycles are influenced by the sort of climate you live in. Indigenous Australians followed a 6-season year; this structure is also used by yogis in India.
Winter: Dynamic poses to warm the body–salutes-to-the-sun, vinyasa flow, standing poses, backbends
Spring: A general practice which includes poses to cleanse the internal organs, for instance, strong twists
Summer: Passive backbends and cooling, restorative practice when temperatures are high
Autumn: In wet weather, for example, abdominal strengthening poses to eliminate dampness; also pawanmuktasana movements