Preparing Yoga Sequences with Peak Pose Focus
A yoga class can be themed around so many things. The theme can be about a spiritual idea, as well as strengthening certain parts of the body, or a yoga class may aim for an emotional release. Even if you don’t theme your class around a spiritual theme, it’s still nice to inspire your students with yogic ideas through short talks in the beginning of your classes.
A small note here: If you do that, make sure that you touch the same spiritual point a few times during your class and also, especially, when closing your session.
Let’s talk about how to create your sequences around a peak pose.
What is a peak pose? Any pose can be your peak pose. Usually the peak pose is the most challenging pose of your sequence.
So, you might say “how can any pose be a peak pose then?”. How can a pose basic like Tadasana (mountain pose), the initial pose of the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar mini-series), can be the most challenging pose of the practice? Well, it can be. It just depends on how deep you are going into the pose.
Even Tadasana (the mountain pose) has many complex deep muscle activation mechanisms, and for an experienced yogi it is possible to break a sweat or go deep in meditation while practicing Tadasana. And, lets accept that even the idea of having Tadasana as the peak pose is something that challenges our ego; and the peak pose is all about challenge. But this a whole other discussion.
Let’s come back to sequencing tips.
Below you may find more common examples of poses that you can teach as the peak pose of your yoga classes:
- Deep back bends like Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana), Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana), Camel (Ustrasana)
- Any kind of arm balancing pose like Crow Pose (Bakasana) and variations, Flying Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Galavasana), Hand Stand (Adho Mukha Vrksasana)
- Any kind of forearm balances like Forearm Stand (Pincha Mayurasana), Baby Crow Pose,
- Head stands like Head Stand (Salamba Sarvangasana) or Tripod Head Stand (Mukta Hasta Sirsasana)
- Deep hip openers like Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana), Splits (Hanomanasana)
- Balancing poses like Revolved Half Moon Pose (Parivritta Ardha Chandrasana), Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana)
After choosing your peak pose its time to choose poses to prepare the body for the peak and put them in order so the sequence flows.
Here is a general outline for putting your Asanas one after the other.
Saying “hi” to the mat practice:
Begin with a very gentle warm up. Consider which body part will be challenged during the practice of your chosen peak pose. And, during your warm up create awareness around that area.
Warm the muscles:
Even if your chosen peak pose has nothing to do with strength, you still want to warm the body up to prevent injuries. Always think of the body as a whole. Even if your peak pose is focusing on one body part this does not mean that other parts of the body will not be affected by the poses you are doing.
In fact, if you are practicing a deep stretch for a certain part of your body, it means that you are stabilizing some parts and relaxing some other parts, simultaneously. Working and stimulating the muscles through out your body will help you go deep into your intended posture more easily. You can perform a very efficient warm up of the whole body by practicing Sun Salutations.
Time for grounding:
The part of the sequence where you warm the body up is usually quite flowy and fast. Having a fast flow have two main benefits: it warms the muscles and it calms the mind down through focus in the movement and breath. Now you are ready to slow down your practice and ground down. The lunges like the High Crescent Lunge (Alasana), Warrior I&II (Virabhadrasana I&II) are the poses where you can hold for a longer while and ground down.
Focus the mind further:
The poses where you try to balance on one foot are great in focusing the mind even further. They call your whole presence to the practice and as soon as you get distracted they throw you out of balance. If you have chosen a balancing pose this is the time to practice it.
Work the core:
This is the time where you want to practice peak poses like arm balances. But before attempting to practice your peak pose make sure that your core muscles are ready to engage. To prepare them for intense engagement do some simple ab-work. Even holding the Plank Pose (Phalakasana) longer will suffice.
Stretch the front body, extend the spine through chest openers.
Up until this point you have probably spent a lot of energy and beginning to feel a bit tired maybe. Opening the front body will energise you and lift your mood. This is a nice time to practice your peak pose if it is a back bend. If you have chosen a back bend as your peak pose there are several things that you need to be careful off. Doing intense core work with tighten your belly so you will create a resistance to back bends. To avoid that resistance, keep your core work for after the back bends. If your peak pose is a deep back bend instead of directly jumping into it prepare your spine for it through gentler back bends.
Down to the earth:
Continue with the seated poses. It’s time to stretch the muscles that have been working our hard and prepare the body for Savasana. This is also the proper portion of the sequence if you were focusing on a seated folded or seated stretching peak pose. Make sure that you have some seated twists, some forward folds and some seated hip openers here. During stretching poses make sure you make your students hold the poses t least 5 breath because it takes time for our muscles to soften and actually begin to stretch. Before the final pose of lying down, do your supine poses.
After finisking your supine poses or final soothing inversions its time for a practice of absolute surrender. Savasana means the Corpse Pose. Although it looks so easy its one of the most challenging poses of Yoga Asana practice. Relaxation and complete surrender is not easy for us, people who are living in very fast pace and high stress environments. It could be said that through out the whole practice you have been preparing for Savasana. It time to accept the practice, all the failures and successes towards the peak pose and relax in contentment, knowing that you did your best.
In the beginning, it helps to think of the body as a structure composed of moving joints. In terms of movement we focus on 9 highly mobile joints: ankles, knees, hips, lower back (lumbar spine), middle and upper back (thoracic spine), neck (cervical spine), shoulders, elbows and wrists. For each peak pose you need to look at each of these joints and decide which ones need to stabilized and which ones need top stretched to best prepare for the deeper expression of the aimed peak pose.
To make thing clear lets focus on an example:
If you choose to do a deep back bending pose it means that all pars of your spine and your hips will go into extension. In many deep back bending poses shoulders go deep into flexion. For example, when practicing the Wheel Pose its not enough to have open back but you will also need shoulder mobility. And there are more: the hips go in deep extension as well, and the fronts of the thighs (quadricep muscles) extend. So how to prepare the spine for a deep back bend?
When preparing the spine for a deep back bend you both want to mobilize the spine and stabilize to some degree. Gentler backbends are great in mobilizing the spine so add some gentler backbends like chest opening arm variations to your lunges, standing poses, add some Cat-Cow cycles. And just before going into deep back bending pose hold some gentler back bends like locust pose and bridge pose.
Make sure that you release the accumulated tension of the back bends from your spine from time to time. Add some twists and gentler forward fold in between your poses. If you keep doing back bend through out your practice your back will get stiff instead of softening.
Preparing the shoulders:
Just like the spine shoulders are need to be both stabilized and stretched. The stabilization is very important especially if you have chosen a back bend in which you put weight on your shoulders like the wheel pose. If you are preparing for a pose like the camel pose there you are not adding the shoulder into the back bends then shoulders wont be that vital. You vinyasa flows will work your shoulders and help your muscles to work on stabilization as well as any other shoulder work like holding plank or forearm plan or dolphin pose.
Preparing the quadriceps:
stretching the quadriceps will both help you go deeper in your back bend and lessen the tension that you quadriceps will put o your knees during your deep back bend. Poses that involve hip extension will stretch you quadriceps. Here are a few examples: High crescent lunge, low crescent lunge and its quadricep stretching variations, lizard pose, etc.
And the most important tip before attempting your peak pose exploration let go of any expectations and judgements, leave you ego out. And enjoy whatever your exploration will teach you. Remember Yoga is not about making shapes with our body but it’s a spiritual journey. The Asanas are not targets of this journey but merely tools for deeper self-exploration.