Sometimes when establishing a personal practice, simple sequences to follow can help to get you started. Do not in any way feel locked into a sequence you are following. This is your practice. Use the sequence to get you going but linger or deviate as the call comes. If you do not have the props called for in a sequence, improvise. And remember, your personal practise doesn't replace your in person class with a live teacher. At home you practise what you have learnt, remembering particularly how your teacher has taught you to modify and keep yourself safe.
(Photo: Jim shows excellent alignment as he practices revolved triangle.)
Alignment in postural yoga is finding the arrangement of the body, in a posture or in daily life, that gives the clearest flow of force through the body. If we are out of alignment, force applied in one place will not flow through and assist movement but will become blocked. One of my favourite demos of this is in Parsvakonasana, the side angle pose. This is the standing pose with front knee bent and the body leans over the front leg, with the upper arm extended along side the ear, aiming to form a straight line from the back heel to the fingers of the top hand. The person doing the pose forms a fist with the top hand and the assistant puts pressure on that fist. If alignment is good the force travels through the structure and into the rear foot. If alignment is out of whack, there will be a break in the line of force, a buckle in the structure will occur. In this personal practice sequence, explore your lines of force, let this be your ongoing inquiry.
Closing the eyes over, find your sitting bones. Take more support under your sitting bones so that there is a clear relationship to the supporting surface through the sitting bones and so that you do not collapse through the waist and lower back. Let the spine sit poised in the vertical, the line of force from the sit bones clearly travelling up the spine to the head.
Sit in meditation for a few minutes, breathing. Feel that the breath travels in and down on the inhale with a simultaneous flattening of the curves of the body making you seem a little taller. Feel that the breath travels up and out on the exhale with a simultaneous settling of the spinal curves into their curvaceous forms, yielding into the supports through the sit bones to the floor.
You might release the chin towards the chest and feel the stretch at the back of the neck, then roll the chin to the right shoulder and bring the ear towards the shoulder, then back through centre, chin to chest and over to the other side a few times, if this feels right.
You might roll the shoulders, forward and back, or raise them up to the ears, one at a time and then both together a few times.
Stretch and shake legs then come to standing
Swing the arms from side to side a few times, then up and down.
(If you have osteporosis in your spine, do not do a strong flexion in this movement, brace and fold.)
From standing, as you exhale, release the chin to chest and bending the knees as you go, release the spine vertebrae by vertebrae rolling down to a deep forward bend. Bend the knees even more and catch the momentum to begin to roll up with the inhale. Bring the head last and as the head rises let the arms rise to overhead. Exhaling, let the hands come past the face and release the head again rolling down. Continue with a few more of these rolls.
Feel the sequence of vertebrae one by one through the roll down and the roll up. Feel the release down through the feet with soft knees that gives you a push off to take a flow of force through the body to bring you up.
Find your way to all fours.
As you flow through upward and downward facing cat again feel the flow of force ripple through the spine. Lead with the tail, inhale tail rises, exhale tail lowers. Feel this ripple like a wave though the spine.
You might also add some side to side movements and other juicy moves as your body likes.
Turn the toes under. Rise up into downward facing dog, noticing the relationship of feet and hands to the floor and the creation of force to bring knees off the ground and the tail to the air.
Keep knees bent, and heels off the floor. With an exhale take one heel towards the floor as the other knee bends a bit more. inhale to both heels raised, knees bent and then exhale the opposite heel towards the floor. Go side to side a few times and then return to both heels off the floor and the knees bent.
You might be able to settle into straightening the legs more and sinking the heels towards floor more but sense what is happening to your pelvis and tail. Give priority to a clear line of force from the hands into the tail. It is perfectly OK to have bent knees and heels off the floor. All dogs have crooked hind legs.
Play a little in downward dog pose, sensing the interplay of force sequencing through the body from feet and hands, culminating in the apex at the tail.
Bring one foot forward into a lunge and take the knee to the floor. With back toes under, exhale to take the bottom back towards the heel, front toes lifting off the floor and pointing towards the ceiling, inhale to come forwards again.. go back and fowards a few times. Can you find a relationship between back foot and the forward movement and the hands and the backward movement?
Come into Downward facing dog pose and repeat on the other side.
Return to Downward facing dog pose.
(Caution, not all knees can do this pose and no knee pain is good. If you expereince any knee pain in this pose do not do it. Your teacher can show you an alternative)
Lift one leg high into a three legged dog then bring it forwards, knee towards the same side hand, foot to the opposite side of the mat. Lower the whole leg and hip down. Stretch the opposite leg back straight (check that it goes straight back not crooked).
With finger tips either side, let the crown of the head rise up towards the sky.
If it is right for you lower the torso forwards. You might lean on your forearms, you might stretch the arms out nose to floor, just do what is right for you. Spend a few breaths here.
Rise up and again reach the crown of the head up.
Step back into a Downward Facing dog pose and ease out the legs before doing the other side.
Finish in Downward Facing Dog pose, then walk or step feet to hands and rise up.
Do several rounds of Sun salutations. Find out how here.
From standing step back with one foot and arrange your feet for the standing pose. (Please attend class with a good teacher to learn the finer art of keeping your knees safe in standing poses.)
Orient your torso to face forwards. Can you find an upright position for the torso. Could you drop a plumb line from the crown of the head and find it travelling through the centre of the body and finishing in a point midway between the feet?
Is the weight even under the feet?
If you put more force under one foot can you feel it travel through the shape to the other foot?
Raise the arms to the vertical to complete the pose and hold for a few breaths exploring the lines of force.
Move from this posture to the next.
Let the arms come down and re-orient the torso to face the open side. Do you need to adjust your back foot?
Place your hands on the top of the pelvis, the elbows should be pointing along the same plane as the legs.
Keep the waist long as you lean over the front leg and bring the front forearm to the front thigh.
Bring the other arm up over the head to lie along side the ear, the fingers reaching forward, to make a straight line from the back foot to the top fingers along the side of the body.
Can you find a clear line of force through the body, foot to foot, and back foot to that top arm?
Rise up and return to standing, then take the opposite foot back and repeat, warrior 1 and side angle pose on the second side.
After side angle pose the second side, move on to the wide angle standing forward bend.
Parallel the feet from the standing pose configuration so you are facing the long side of your mat. With the hands on the top of the pelvis, fold forward from the hips. When the torso is parallel to the floor, bring the hands down. You may be able to widen the legs to get closer to the floor, and/or you can bring a prop such as a block or bolster in to reset the hands on.
Check that you have a clear line of force from the tail to the crown of the head. Spend a few breaths clarifying and exploring this connection.
Come to the floor on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor.
Press through the feet and peel the spine off the floor to come up onto the shoulders. Then lower down. Repeat.
Explore the sequencing of force from feet, and flowing through each individual vertebrae.
Play with the phases of the breath to see what you think most supports this movement.
Do not skip this, leave something else out instead. Spend several minutes in a lying position,. Attend to the breath and scan the body for any remaining tension. Can you let it go?
(Author, Tina Shettigara)