Teaching yoga is no easy task, and there’s no such thing as sequencing a “perfect” yoga practice. There are, however, certainly classes that can be more rewarding and beneficial to your students than others. Creating a well-sequenced yoga class requires attention to detail, intelligence of the human body and mind, as well as experience and practice.
There are as many ways to teach yoga as there are yoga teachers in the world. Every instructor has his or her own personal style and method to facilitate learning and growth for students. Each method is unique and beautiful in its own right, and I don’t believe it’s possible to encounter a teacher who can’t teach you something.
While there are many different styles and ways to teach a yoga class, there are three overriding methods that will help you construct a good rhythm in practice. These three main styles of sequencing make your classes flow seamlessly and effectively, and will be of most benefit to your students.
The following is a breakdown of these different approaches and the best practices to utilise each.
Of course, there is a style of sequencing that is very general and open. A broad-spectrum practice has no particular focus other than yoga as a whole. This style moves students through an overall, full-body experience.
The structure of this practice ideally follows a bell curve sequence, starting with gentle warm-ups, moving toward more challenging asanas, and completing with restorative postures.
This class style has no specific goal in mind other than simply practicing, and moving with the body and breath toward a meditative state.
Sequencing toward a ‘peak posture’ is a great way to prepare your students’ bodies and minds for a specific asana. Peak postures can either be quite fundamental, or more advanced.
For example, you can sequence an entire class toward finding the proper alignment for the foundational posture Virabhadrasana I (Warrior One), by focusing the practice on the sensation of closed-hip positions and a neutralized spine.
You can also sequence a class towards the more “advanced” Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm stand) by opening, strengthening and stabilizing the shoulder girdle, awakening the core, and preparing your students for the emotional experience of inverting.
Sequencing a peak pose practice is helpful for both you and your students. You should choose any posture that you feel very comfortable teaching (ideally a very strong posture in your own personal practice), so that you can specify and articulate every movement of the body necessary to reach it.
Sequencing a class toward finding a particular pose allows students to fully immerse themselves in the subtle movements of the body (both physical and esoteric) and create muscle memory of necessary actions required to work toward the chosen posture.
For instance, if you’re sequencing a practice toward finding the challenging arm balance Astavakrasana (Eight-Angle Pose), your students will need to strongly activate their adductor muscles. This group of muscles running along the inner thigh allows for the action of squeezing the legs in toward each other (a super important action of Astavakrasana). Incorporating the activation of this muscle group into more familiar postures (such as lizard pose or low lunges) will help your students to better understand its functioning, and how to turn this group of muscles on and off. This way, once they reach the final peak posture, they can easily access these necessary muscles that they otherwise wouldn’t know how to use.
By sequencing a whole practice toward a specific pose, you better prepare your students so they understand the finer tunings of the body in more complex postures. This understanding of the smaller pieces helps to add up to the whole, so that your students can surprise themselves (and appreciate your teachings) by achieving postures that they previously found impossible, only because they did not have the proper foundational skills required.
Your sequencing can be themed around just about anything. The practice can be themed around such topics as opening the hips, facing your fears, activating the manipura (solar plexus) chakra, relaxing and restoring, preparing for sleep, arm balancing, restoring the natural curvature of the spine, awakening your inner goddess energy… and the list goes on!
A well-structured themed practice takes the students on a journey from start to finish. Creating a theme for your class allows your students to understand the overriding arc of their practice. They know what to expect, and how to prepare and adapt for it. For example, a practice geared toward facing your fears may include postures that typically cause apprehension, such as inversions.
The best way to run a themed practice is to invite your students to set their intention in the beginning of class, offering them suggestions revolving around your chosen theme for the practice. This will allow your students to mentally prepare for what lies ahead. Try to remind them to keep this intention in the forefront of their practice throughout, so that your theme remains a constant during the whole class.
Choose a theme that resonates with you and will also resonate with your students, and then teach from a place of sincerity. Be creative with working your theme into all aspects of the practice, encouraging your students to grow as they meditate on the topic of choice. Take them on a journey of exploration through both their bodies and their minds, offering insightful cues to advance both their physical and spiritual practices.
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