Frankie will be teaching on the upcoming Vinyasa Training Weekend: Sequencing for Peak Pose and Theming. Find more information on the course here.
In this post, she gives some guidelines for creating and sustaining a personal yoga practice – and highlights the importance of theming and intention setting when on – and off – the mat.
Creating your own self-practice can be a really great way to deepen your relationship with your yoga practice.
It’s always good to practice with some structure and to know where you want to take your practice, but that doesn’t have to mean compromising the freedom you have to explore what comes up for you on your mat in different postures or to bring in different thematic foci.
A good way to start?
Try setting an intention for yourself and your practice. Think about something as though it’s already been manifested, for example you might feel you need an energising practice to set you up for the day ahead. Your intention or ‘sankalpa’ for that practice could be something like:
“I am energised”
Alternatively you might have had a hectic day and need to unwind. You could choose a sankalpa along the lines of:
“My whole body feels at ease” or “I let go of tension” or “I am relaxed”
Another way to approach your practice is to bring in a specific contemplative idea, message or theme.
You may have seen or heard of practices being billed to ‘Cultivate Gratitude’, especially at this time of year, or another example would be to ‘Stand Your Ground’ or ‘A Practice for Self-Acceptance’ or ‘Cultivating Confidence’. Yoga practices can create many different energetic effects in the body and a certain focus can help shift a mindset and harness a certain desired effect.
In order to create these practices for yourself it can take some time on the mat to figure out how you feel in different poses and with different transitions. Your yoga practice is a great time for self-inquiry – what comes up for you on your mat? How do you feel in forward folds? How do you feel in backbends? And then perhaps more specifically, how do you feel in Trikonasana for example – physically, mentally and energetically?
How to approach a peak pose sequence
One fairly common and straight-forward way to approach creating your own Vinyasa Flow sequence is that of choosing a posture to work towards, otherwise known as ‘peak pose sequencing’. This can be any posture, but bear in mind your whole practice won’t lead up to and end on this posture. During the ‘peak’ of the flow, with some energy still left in the tank, is when you might plan to practice the pose but leave time to wind down again and of course for Savasana.
When structuring your flow, think about the posture and what it requires of the body – what needs to open? What needs to be strengthened? What are your feelings towards the pose? Balances and inversions can create some trepidation for some people so consider what challenges you might need to work with or manage.
If you’re not sure then have a think about postures that are similar in shape or that require similar actions. These are great postures for including in a peak pose sequence as they will get the body familiar with the shape and actions you’ll need for your peak pose.
For Hanumanasana (the splits), for example, you might consider including postures that ‘split the body in half’ in order to think about paying attention to the front and the back of the body equally. Considering what’s required of the body in the pose will help you choose ‘prep’ poses to include as you progress towards your peak pose. So for splits, we want to lengthen the hamstrings, open the hip flexors and the quadriceps.
Which poses help these parts of the body to open?
For the backs of the legs and inner thighs: Utthita Trikonasana, Prasarita Padottanasana, Parsvottanasana and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana to name a few. In which poses do you feel a stretch in the front of the hip and thigh? For me, I like to include lunges in my practice – often I will warm up with low lunge sun salutations. I also find I get a nice opening in Warrior A / Virabhadrasana 1 and Lizard Pose, from which you can then take hold of the back foot for a quad stretch.
Whether or not you actually do the full pose is not important. What is more beneficial is to practice with awareness, thinking about how your body feels and what it needs on any given day: Do you need support from props? Do you need longer in certain postures to help open the body slowly?
Rather than striving towards achieving a pose, give your practice your fullest quality of attention and do your best without pushing or over-efforting as this can often be counterproductive and may lead to injury. Practicing slowly with patience is a good approach for longevity in your practice.
For more ideas and training in Vinyasa Flow Yoga including developing your own practice, sequencing for peak poses and specific themes, join Frankie Culpin and Jo Ewen for their Vinyasa Flow training. Open to all, the final weekend of the year will take place on 16th and 17th December.