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  • Tips for Sequencing Yoga Poses
    For a Balanced Yoga Practice
    (and For Dealing with Problems)

    Sequencing Yoga Poses 1 | Sequencing Yoga Poses 2

    One question when doing your own yoga practice (or teaching yoga) is how to sequence yoga poses.

    When I first started doing yoga, I learned Ashtanga Yoga, a set series of yoga poses. (Actually, its a few different series. I learned the first series and dabbled with the second). After studying with Andrey Lappa I began to explore a freestyle format for doing yoga.

    A small, but important part of what Andrey taught us was how to use counter poses, balancing the action of one pose with the opposing movement in another pose.

    Another important idea, perhaps the most important idea I learned from him, was a way of simplifying complex systems so that they are easier to learn. That is encapsulated neatly in the practice I learned from him that is called The Dance of Shiva.

    What follows are some ideas for how to sequence yoga poses including some possible benefits of different categories of poses and what to work on if you have problems like tight hamstrings.

    He took a bit of the mystery out of how to sequence yoga poses creatively while still leaving the body in a balanced state. And you could leave sun salutations (or Surya Namaskar) out of your yoga practice and still effectively warm up the body.

    Two Basic Yoga Pose Categories

    (Kneeling and Cross Leg Poses could be considered sub-categories of seated yoga poses.)

    A starting point for organizing a yoga practice is having a way of categorizing yoga poses. Two simple and basic categories for yoga poses include standing poses and seated yoga poses.

    One way to structure a yoga practice is to do standing yoga poses before seated yoga poses with the idea that standing poses help you warm up for seated poses.

    An advantage of seated yoga poses (provided that flexibility isn't a requirement of that pose) is that if you are a beginner it can be easier to work on body awareness because you don't have to worry so much about qualities like stability and balance.
    (As an example, you could practice
    Thoracic Mobility exercises to help improve your
    ribcage awareness as well as mobility.)

    While scapular awareness exercises are easy to practice while standing they are even easier to learn while sitting and with poses like table top yoga pose it's also relatively easy to practice weight bearing shoulder awareness exercises like table top yoga pose.

    And so when deciding between whether to start with standing yoga poses or seated yoga poses, you can choose depending on what it is that you want to work on in a particular yoga practice.

    Dealing with Tight Hamstrings

    If you have tight hamstrings, you may find that standing forward bends, like Front Triangle (Parsvottanasana) are easier than seated ones like
    Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana).

    If you have tight hamstrings you may find these standing stretches for tight hamstrings helpful in improving hamstring flexibility.

    Because the hamstring tendons interloc with the tendons of the larger calf muscle (the gastrocnemius) you may find it helpful to do calf stretches either before or while you are stretching your hamstrings.

    Yoga Pose Categories Based on Action

    Another way to classify yoga poses is based on particular actions. For example:

    When looking at these types of categories it can be helpful to know which part of the body is doing the bending or twisting action. Is it the hips, the shoulders, the spine or a combination of any of these?

    Working On Balance While Standing

    Shoulder Exercises you Can Do While Standing

    Whether balancing on one foot or standing on two feet, you can work on shoulder rotation rotator cuff exercises and muscle assisted shoulder stretches. Both of these are opportunities to balance awareness and function of both shoulders.

    One way that I like to warm up the body while standing is with balancing yoga poses.
    This can be with the intent to improve balance and can include balancing on forefeet or heels, and/or balancing on one foot.

    Another way that you can work on balance is balancing function on both sides of the body.

    To balance the spine and hips, you can work on poses like standing side bend, and simple standing twists.

    Because these poses can both strengthen as well as stretch the lateral and rotational muscles of the body, they can be a good way to prepare for forward bending and back bending yoga poses.

    Arm Supported (and Strengthening) Yoga Poses

    Another class of yoga poses is

    Yoga for Strength

    In terms of sequencing yoga poses, arm and shoulder strengthening poses can be used as a way of warming up the shoulders in preparation for stretching them. That being said, if doing active shoulder stretches, then those stretches can be used as a preparation for arm supported yoga poses.

    Arm supported yoga poses are poses where one or both arms help support the weight of the body. These are yet another category of yoga poses.

    If you use a yoga mat when you practice, and your hamstring flexibility is limited, you can use your yoga mat to improve your grip strength as well as a tool to help strengthen your arms and hamstrings as in these arm strengthening standing forward bends.

    Strengthening the Hamstrings

    One way to work on tight hamstrings is to work on strengthening them and the glutes (both of which work on the back of the hip joint.)

    Options for strengthening the hamstrings include poses like:

    Most of these could be considered backbends for the hips as well as backbends for the spine.

    And so another option for sequencing yoga poses when dealing with tight hamstrings is to work on strengthening them (and the glutes) first. If you do this, then while stretching your hamstrings you can play with activating your hamstrings and glutes as if to resist the stretch.

    Note, while forward bends are generally considered as hamstring stretches, it is possible to do forward bends for the spine and hips without involving the hamstrings. Some forward bends for the spine (and hips) could be considered as poses for strengthening the abs

    Muscle Control and Proprioception

    Muscles are an essential part of the bodies proprioceptive mechanism. Muscle power output is information that the brain uses to help figure out how the parts of the body are positioned relative to each other and how the body is positioned relative to the earth. To that end, when warming up, one of the reasons for warming up muscles is to actually turn on proprioception, an essential aspect of doing yoga poses (and any other physical activity.)

    This doesn't mean that you need to exert your strength fully in order to turn on proprioception, just enough to turn on muscles so that they can give the brain that information. And so some aspect of turning muscles on can be an important idea when sequencing yoga poses.

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    Sequencing Yoga Poses 2