Tag Archive: yoga sequencing

Sukha (the why of sequencing and the foster cats)

Last week, I used as a theme sukha — ease, comfort, happiness.  I was inspired by Lorin Roche’s discussion of translating in his “version” of the Vijnana Bhairava, which he entitles “The Radiance Sutras.”  In it he notes that “[e]ven more literally, sukha is (according to some etymologies) composed of su, good + kha, space.  A good space.”  At first blush, teaching about sukha might seem to be off-topic from my session theme of sequencing principles.  The whole purpose, though, of seeking to understand, practice, and optimize our sequencing in time and space on and off the mat is to find just that.  It is to be in a “good space,” to feel at ease, whether we are being challenged or delighted.

I found myself contemplating sukha yet further this week (it is a recurring practice and contemplation theme for me — I love Patanjali’s sutra “sthiram sukham asanam”), as I have been observing and helping the foster cats make mine their new home.  When we are uprooted or out of alignment, we are not in a good space.  It is a struggle to feel happy or at ease.  When we find our rhythm again, then ease unfolds.

There is a set of principles that generally works for taking uprooted animals (or people) and helping them feel at home.  Part of making them at home is their new person holding him/herself in a “good space” for the newcomers, which indeed helps them find their own, which is its own yoga.

The blessing of yoga for us, and why we take ourselves to challenging difficult places on the mat, is so that we can, by use of intelligent sequencing of practices, techniques, and mindsets, discover how to feel connected to our own spirit wherever we are in time and space — the essence of ease in this body and mind.  The more we can do this for ourselves, the more we can do it for others.

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The Exquisiteness of Order (Winter Theme)

By order, I mean how things are arranged in space or time.  Even chaos theory presumes order in that sense.  On and off the mat, there is a certain order to things that is optimal.  We do not plant seeds and then till the soil.  Or think of the difference between peeling and chopping vegetables and then cooking them or cooking them and then peeling and chopping them.  One or the other is not necessarily wrong if you do not have a specific dish in mind, but which you choose will dictate the results. Once you have gotten started in the sequence, though, the path shifts and is partly set.  To reach an exquisite rather than a disgusting result, the next steps are ordered by the initial choice.

If only one musician is playing a single note, then there is no possibility of discordance.  Add more musicians and more notes and who plays what notes when can mean cacophony, a catchy tune, or an extraordinary and ecstatic work of art.  None of us are alone and none of us are playing just a single note, so in the great fabric of our being, it is best to understand how to make music.

Sequencing on the mat is more subtle than what poses should be done in what order in a particular practice to emphasize backbends v. forward bends and twists to be able to do the strongest poses with the least possibility of injury, as important as that is.  The order in which we apply the Anusara principles not only aligns the physical body, but brings symmetry to the physical and energetic bodies, helping us to feel more in harmony in everything we do on and off the mat.  I am, in this, a decent musician and not Bach, but the more I pay attention to the optimal sequence of things (keeping in mind that over most things we have no control as to when, whether, and how they happen) and the more I learn and appreciate the exquisiteness of order, the more I feel, understand, and experience the subtleties and joys of harmony.

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Thanksgiving Week Sequencing Gift (and Kidney Loop)

My students this fall and those of you following the blog know that I have been teaching the basic Anusara physical principles of alignment in sequence as the focus of my weekly classes.  I did not set out to do so at the beginning of the session, nor did I pick it just for this week, but it just so happens that using my session theme and sequence brings us to “kidney loop” for the Thanksgiving week.

John Friend’s  Anusara Teacher Training Manual explains that kidney loop  starts in the core of the abdomen, just below the navel.  It flows up the back body to fill and open the kidney area to the bottom of the shoulder blades, moves forward through the top of the diaphragm (heart focal point) to the base of the sternum, and then down the solar plexus to just below the navel.  The act of opening the back body at our core before engaging the front body helps enhance and refine the physical aspects of the fundamental Anusara alignment principle of “opening to grace.”  By opening the back body, we open to the unknown, to that which is greater than ourselves, to untapped sources of power.  Opening in this way, draws in and strengthens the front body and helps us find our own inner power.

Among other things for me to give thanks is the very beauty of this magical sequencing moment:  What better way to celebrate and honor the tradition of Thanksgiving than by recognizing that we are not fully in charge, by opening in such a way that we are not hardening, demanding, or constricting ourselves, but rather are seeking an opening of the spirit that can bring us to a place of recognition and empowerment.

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Vinyasa Krama (and Anusara Sequencing Principles)

Vinyasa krama — the art or essence of sequencing is meant to help us align in space and time, so that we experience being and practice in the most optimal way.  Last time I was with John Friend, he gave as a homework assignment, writing down Anusara sequencing principles.  What I found wonderful about thinking this through, was it was not just about how to sequence a practice to reach a particular apex pose (though that is an important aspect of designing a class or practice).  Here’s the list I came up with (not in any particular order and I am sure I’ve left some out):

First principle (open to grace always comes first)

Attitude, alignment, action

Open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy

Set the foundation of the pose first (for teaching and observing this also applies to looking to the foundation first)

Breath leads the way

Stabilize the periphery, move from the core

Root to rise

Major principles before applying refinements (i.e., open to grace, ME, IS, OS, OE before loops)

Sensitivity, stability, adjustment (for hands on/therapeutic adjustments)

Curvature before length (spinal alignment)

Shins in, thighs out

Initiate actions from the back body

I could blog about these for weeks and how, although they are simply articulated physical alignment principles, they would apply to actions off of the mat.

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Savasana

When I first started teaching, one of the things I found most inspiring was seeing my students in savasana.  It is such a rare and precious things to see a group of people deeply relaxed, especially for someone who came to yoga essentially restless and who inhabits a workplace that is, so to speak, rather caffeinated.  For me, the practice of savasana has been transforming.  After 10 years of steady practice, my sleep has deepened and become more consistently restful, which has enhanced my ability to come from a yogic place off the mat.

Savasana is in some sense for me always the so-called “pinnacle pose” of practice.  The pinnacle pose is not necessarily the most physically challenging pose in terms of combined strength and flexibility, although it is an essential component of the sequencing of any good practice to have the poses gradually open all the parts of the body needed to do the most physically challenging pose.

When thinking about any practice and determining whether a cooling or heating, expanding or inward-going, playful or serious practice would be most appropriate, I ask whether the practice will lead to a place where is will be possible to be completely free and relaxed for 10-15 minutes?  Will the practice enable the body feel open and released, strengthened and supported, integrated and aligned, so that lying on a hard floor will seem like being on the finest bedding?  Will the focus of the practice help simultaneously free the mind of thought and burden and yet keep it focused and alert so that body and mind can surrender to the full, blissful of conscious being in the moment?  Will the practice serve to align the koshas (or sheaths) so that the outer body is soft and relaxed, the energy body full and bright, and the mind and intuitive bodies one with the anandamaya kosha (the bliss body)?

Some teachers have said that savasana is one of the most advanced of yoga poses.  I would agree.

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