Picture this: you go to a yoga class and it’s amazing. After class, you feel refreshed, clear, invigorated. You think, ‘wow, I wish I could feel like this all the time’. So, while it’s still fresh in your mind, you jot down the sequence. The next day you go and practice ‘the sequence’. You have a great practice. A couple of days later you practice ‘the sequence’ again. This time, instead of feeling refreshed, clear, and invigorated, you feel anxious and agitated. The next time you practice ‘the sequence’ you feel dull and uninspired. What happened? Did the magic of the sequence wear off? Is it you? Is it the sequence? How could this be?
Sometimes, I think there is a misconception out there with respect to the so-called power of a sequence. Don’t get me wrong – having your own collection of preferred sequences can be super handy. For example, I have my go-to sequence that I often do when my low back is paining me. I also have a sequence that I do when I’m feeling crooked and uncomfortable as a result of my scoliosis. Similarly, I have a sequence that I like to do when I’m feeling tired and require a pick-me-up. In my mind though, part of what makes these sequences into actual practices, is that I know *why* I’m doing them and *how* they affect me.
To further highlight this distinction between a sequence and a practice…
Let’s say I go to class and my teacher takes me on a yoga journey that ultimately ends with some deep forward bending asanas like Malasana, Kurmasana, and full Uphavista Konasana. Afterwards, I feel calm, centred, and focused. It was exactly what I needed considering the hectic morning I had just had. Now let’s also say that the next day, I’m hosting some guests for dinner and I want to get a practice in beforehand. I decide to repeat yesterday’s practice. I have a good practice but afterwards, the last thing I feel like doing is entertaining. I can tell that I’ll be quiet, unengaging, and basically wishing that everyone would hurry up and go home. Wouldn’t it have been nice to know this before? Umm, yeah! And the thing is, you can. You can train yourself to become familiar with how the various practices affect you. In my case, I know that deep forward extensions make me very introspective. I would never choose to do such a practice before a social event, as I’m already an introvert by nature. For someone else though, a practice of forward extensions may be exactly what they need. It’s really a personal thing.
Here’s another example. As an Iyengar Yoga teacher, I’m continuously learning and upgrading my skills. In the Iyengar Yoga method, we have a comprehensive certification process, which involves being assessed every few years. Assessment can be stressful and it’s not uncommon to focus your practice on restorative asanas and pranayama in the days (or weeks) leading up to it. But, everyone is different and what is technically restorative for one, may not be so for someone else. In my case, I find that if I do primarily supported, supine poses, particularly when I’m feeling stressed, my anxiety level only increases (I feel like scratching my eyeballs out!). But…if I do a practice of inversions (specifically Sirsasana, Sarvangasana, Halasana and as many variations as possible), I’m completely restored. So, that’s how I would settle my nerves before an assessment. This point underscores why I ultimately wanted to write this blog post…I can search online or look up in a book ‘a sequence for anxiety’ but whether it’s the right sequence for me, that’s a completely different thing!
Please understand that a sequence and a practice are not necessarily one and the same.
If you are reading this post, I think it’s safe to assume that you are a keen yoga practitioner. And so, I’d like to challenge you to venture inward, to personalize your Yoga and transform your sequences into a collection of tried and true practices.
Since launching my free email course Cultivate & Sustain Your Home Yoga Practice, I’ve had the privilege of connecting with enthusiastic yoga practitioners all over the globe. One of the things I ask from them early on in the course, is to reflect on “why” they do yoga. Why go to the mat? The answers never cease to inspire. They cover everything from broad goals (like improving flexibility, developing strength, finding mental clarity, fostering emotional balance, & even connecting to a Divine spirit) to specific goals (like doing a handstand, losing 10 lbs, or relieving back pain). The more I learn about the various reasons people do yoga, the more it highlights what an incredible gift a personal yoga practice is. I can’t help but feel immensely grateful that I can turn to my yoga mat and be rewarded in so many different ways.
Cultivating practices instead of collecting sequences is a skill that has the potential to provide you with endless gifts 🙂
Namaste (& happy practicing!),