Sequencing and Personalized Yoga Part 1
So this was originally written for and posted to e-Sutra. The subject was sequencing and someone brought up the subject of personalized yoga so I could not resist commenting. Hope you enjoy this piece. I will post parts two and three soon but if anyone has any comments you would like to make please feel free to post them or e-mail me at email@example.com
From: Carl Horowitz
Oh boy, personalized yoga and sequencing. I am a silly person so I could not resist this subject. It almost sounds to me like this could be a completely new thread.
Leslie used learning to play chopsticks on a piano as an analogy. I am going to use the skills required by a musician to play a set piece of music and the skills required to improvise on an instrument to talk about understanding some of the underlying principles of sequencing.
While performing a set piece, part of how the performance begins to approach musical creativity is based on how the practitioner interprets and expresses the notes and phrases. This is what would distinguish between Vladimir Horowitz and Carl Horowitz playing the same piece of music on the piano. While the sequence of notes, the music, is the same, its execution may not be. So within a set piece of music it is possible for art to happen. However, the problem with this analogy, as Leslie was pointing to, is that no serious musician would consider learning only one or two songs.
Just as a classically trained musician may learn hundreds of different pieces of music, it would ultimately be beneficial for a yoga teacher to learn many different sequences and to explore the relative benefits of each. I feel an important part of learning a sequence would be to practice it for long enough to know how your own body/mind/spirit experiences its different components. This might not tell you how someone else would experience the same sequence but at least you will know about your own experience.
The art of improvisation is usually developed by a musician who has a certain degree of mastery over his/her instrument and an understanding of music in general. Often when a less experienced musician attempts to improvise they tend to fall back on certain simple patterns repetitively and it might not really be that creative or that improvisational. But when a person has mastered an instrument and developed the skill of improvisation it can be a rare art form. The musician is spontaneously creating something that is based on an interaction between him/herself and the other musicians with whom he/she is performing. For this to occur, the qualities of openness and receptivity are required.
I do not think that the skills required for improvisation indicate a higher level of musicianship than the heights of artistic expression that can be achieved by a great classical musician performing a set piece. However, for a more advanced yoga teacher, I feel that understanding how to ascertain the practitioner’s needs and create a practice tailored to that person by spontaneously adapting based on immediate observations would be a valuable skill to begin cultivating. Here too, the qualities of openness and receptivity would be important.
Understanding the deeper aspects of the principles of sequencing rather than simply knowing a sequence or even several sequences would be a necessary first step in this direction. Knowing these underlying principles could eventually lead a teacher to develop the ability to create a practice that would take into account physical skills as well as limitations, constitution, mental, emotional and spiritual requirements as well as the immediate issues of the day for the individual practitioner.
Of course if you were working with a set sequence you could adapt the postures and the practice within that set sequence to the person’s individual needs. But as I understand it this would only be a very small part of what personalizing a practice to the needs the individual would entail. I can see many benefits in having a less experienced teacher use a set practice. This would free them from needing to focus on the details of creating a sequence as they develop some of the other skills required for teaching. However, at a certain point it would be beneficial for a teacher to develop past this stage.
In music we know that a song can be energizing, uplifting or relaxing, and that a song can inspire feelings of pathos, somberness, or nostalgia or create any number of other effects. All this would occur as a result of how a relatively small number of musical notes are arranged. The same can be said for a yoga practice.
Utilizing postures in different combinations can dramatically change the overall effects of a practice and will change the benefits obtained from each individual posture. A twist performed after a deep forward bend would have a slightly different effect than the same twist performed after a different, but equally deep forward bend, and another effect after a more gentle forward bend and still different benefits after a back bend, a side lean or a different twist. A more gentle twist performed before a deeper twist can prepare a person to go deeper. A more gentle twist performed after a deeper twist can create a quality of release. Given all these details, what would happen if you added different techniques of breathing or sound in a posture or movement sequence?
Shifting from looking at the minutia to a broader perspective, there are many other elements that could change the overall effect of a practice as well. A practice with a different overall flow will create different results. One practice could start slowly and build to its energetic height towards the end thus enabling the practitioner to finish fully energized; another practice could start strongly and slowly wind down leaving the practitioner more relaxed; yet another could start slowly, build to a climax and then wind down. There are practices that are more gentle or restorative from beginning to end, and others that are strong work from beginning to end. Some practices have a specific posture that the practice leads safely towards and then compensate for afterwards. And there are still others where the goal is a general practice that covers all the bases. While one practice could emphasize the removal of waste, another could emphasize the bringing in of vital force. A practice could have a specific intention in terms of structural therapeutic benefits, or a different kind of intention in terms of emotional and spiritual, therapeutic benefits. Because the possibilities are limitless the effects created are as well.
The most therapeutically beneficial way to organize a practice would be based on the needs and requirements of the practitioner at the time of the practice. A sequence that might be beneficial for a person one day might not meet the same person’s needs on another day. It is worth keeping the practice open to change.