Developing a Home Practice: How to Sequence a Practice
Sequencing a practice is a subtle art with many different approaches. The most general and well-rounded way is to approach it from an energetic perspective. Just as a workout at the gym has a progression, so should an asana practice. The different categories of poses have different effects, which need to be taken into account. We will think of the poses in terms of whether they are activating, balancing or settling.
Standing poses are usually introduced first to the new student. No matter how stiff you are, they give you a chance to open up the legs, hips and lower back with more control than seated poses and forward bends. They also begin the process of opening up the shoulders and trunk in preparation for back bends. They are energizing and invigorating, and are the easiest to move through safely when you want a more active practice. Generally speaking, these can be considered activating poses, though they are also stabilizing for the nervous system. Standing forward folds such as Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) and Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide Spread Feet Pose) can have a balancing and even settling effect if practiced with the head resting lightly on some kind of support such as the seat of a chair or blocks.
Surya Namaskar, or the Sun Salutation, is a way of linking several poses together in a smoothly flowing sequence. (See the article "Surya Namaskar: The Sun Salutation" from April 2006.) Some variation of it is often thrown in at the beginning of yoga classes in order to warm the body up. It can be modified to make it easier or more challenging, to make it gentler or more vigorous. It can be immensely challenging for those with a limited range of motion. Sometimes people think that you are not doing yoga if you do not have a Sun Salutation in your practice. This is entirely untrue. It is not the external trappings, but the inner awareness of a practice that make it yoga. The Sun Salutation is merely a tool, as are all the asanas, with which to anchor your awareness in the body, in the present. Depending on which poses you choose to include, Surya Namaskar can be more or less invigorating and challenging. For the purposes of sequencing, it should be considered activating.