Q: I understand that a balanced practice needs to consist of several types of poses, but how should I sequence poses in my asana practice? —Elisha Ramer, Little Rock, Arkansas
Barbara Benagh's reply:
The truth is, your question isn't easily answered. As comforting as it might be, there is no surefire formula for sequencing asanas or for determining what makes a practice balanced.
Understanding that a yoga practice is, just like life, endlessly in flux brings one to the very core of the tradition. And that's because the observations and insightsand the triumphs and stumblingsthat come with years of approaching each practice with a curious, open mind not only transform the body but also awaken the spirit.
That said, I can offer you some practical advice.
First and foremost, ask yourself why you are practicing. Is your goal to be more disciplined, to recover from an injury, to connect to your inner self? Maybe you just want a workout. Whatever your reasons, your intention influences how you practice. Even beginners to a personal practice should ask themselves this thought-provoking question, though I realize that clear intention doesn't guarantee confidence in choosing a sequence of asanas.
One option for you is to practice sequences that you have learned in class or have seen in a book. In other words, let someone else decide what your sequence will be until your own voice guides you. And it will, if you listen. John Schumacher and Patricia Walden are working on a book that will offer more in-depth insight into sequencing, an excerpt of which will appear in an upcoming issue of Yoga Journal.
As your practice matures you will begin to observe with more insight the effects of the poses you practice. Most likely, you'll stop worrying about breaking the "rules" and become more willing to experiment on your own. For instance, if you have always practiced Sirsasana (Headstand) before Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), you may decide to reverse their order to see what happens. You may begin to wonder, what issues arise when you hold a pose 5 minutes as opposed to 30 seconds?
You'll no longer gravitate toward poses that indulge your strengths, but rather, you'll find the courage to face your limits through your yoga practice. You'll come to find that yoga is subjective and does not lend itself to prescriptions. And gradually, you will find yourself more skilled at choreographing a fulfilling practice.
ABOUT OUR EXPERT
Barbara Benagh, YJ's 2001 Asana columnist, founded the Yoga Studio in Boston in 1981 and teaches seminars nationwide. Currently, Barbara is writing a yoga workbook for asthmatics and can be reached at www.yogastudio.org.