How to Layout Your Yoga Practice
A great practice requires a great layout. As a yoga teacher I tell my students that teaching a yoga class is equivalent to telling a great story. It starts with a introduction then ebbs and flows through the crescendo or peak and comes to a gentle conclusion leaving the student feeling satisfied to the core and eager to “read” the next book or in the case of yoga, come back to the practice. And like any great series, it is progressive and builds upon the last practice session and if we are lucky we never stop reading and learning.
Here is a simple layout option.
Opening seated meditation. Thinking of this as the intro, setting the table grounding yourself by bringing your attention and awareness to your breathe, body, and mat.
Warm-up. Classically done through sun salutations which will take the body through a series of movements that warm up the whole body and bring awareness to connecting breathe and body. My personal favorite is the ashtanga version of Sun A and Sun B, each done 5 times. You can modify accordingly.
Standing Poses. These are crucial, as they build strength while deepening and further elongating and stretching the bodies big muscles, activating all the small muscles and really challenging the student to stay focused on staying calm and breathing with ease. These are bound to raise the heart rate and make the blood pump therefore it is crucial to stay focused on the breathe to keep the heart rate low and staying calm.
Inversions: A beautiful and brilliant piece (best learned from a teacher before entering) they help with circulation, building confidence and nourishing the brain & mind.
Back bends: crucial part and often difficult for those who sit for prolonged periods thus representing the perfect antithesis to the desk job. Great for strengthening the posterior chain, increasing the strength & flexibility of the spine, and building posture & wonderful at lengthening and opening the anterior chain. These will invigorate your body and like standing poses really challenge the breathe. If lying on the belly aka face down be sure to breathe behind the heart and between the shoulder blades. This position is very difficult to breathe into the belly and can really elevate the heart rate and make one feel uncomfortable in what often is an already uncomfortable position. You can exhale from the navel but do not breathe into the belly.
Twist: a great follow up and way to release and the stress and tension built from the prior poses. This will help unwind while also strengthening the body, trimming the waistline and strengthening the spine. These poses help stimulate the organs, waking them up and in turn eliminating the filth that can accumulate. Plus, after all the above, you will be thirsting for the conclusion, Savanasa.
Forward bends: stretch and lengthen. We are closing in on a complete practice. Slow the breathe and begin to grasp all the benefits. Calm the mind and body and feel/observe the peace and flexibility you have created.
Savasana: how’s the time to make your way to your back. You can do a shoulder stand, happy baby, lying twist, hip stretch, legs up the wall, suptabadha konasana and then Savanasa. Here you want truly reap the benefits of the story, letting everything go and restoring to your new state of being. This is your ah ha moment. Take at least 5 minutes to soak it up in a form of savasana.
So now the practice is through, your physical practice. Ideally you carry this forward throughout the day and into your everyday life.
Note: if practicing Pranayama, it is recommended that this take place prior to Savasana. This includes alternate nostril breathing and such.