Teaching Fun, Safe Yoga: 3 Top Tips to Sequence Your Classes
This is the most valuable thing learned from teacher training: class sequencing. Yoga teachers, class sequencing smartly with every pose will keep your students coming back to your class. Every time.
It's like you take your students on a journey through beautiful territory. They don't have to worry about where they are going, but they get a sense that there will be a spectacular view, a little sweat everywhere, and that fabulous feeling of aliveness. Then they trust that you will bring them back to earth, calm them, prep them again for everyday life.
You are a tour guide for them: a tour guide for their own bodies, minds and soul.
The best yoga classes are themed, build to a peak, have a certain rhythm, slow and cool the students back into real life. The best classes take on a life of their own.
This is not to say that you must strategically plan a perfect class, fastidiously edit poses according to your yoga textbook, cram a bunch of related poses into one class. The opposite is true: listen to your instinct, trust your own practice, be creative. Most importantly, inhabit the moment.
Teaching yoga needs to be creative. Yes, it can be rigid, and according to what tradition you are teaching, that might be a good thing. But in most cases, don't be afraid to let the sequence blossom and bloom and morph into something else.
After all, you are always listening to the energies of your students and their needs. So recognize that what you planned might need to go down a level or perhaps the class you planned has a little bit too much or too little: add a fun pose, slip a restorative pose at the end if everyone seems to have that mid-eyebrow perma-crease, or cut out that pose might be too much for today. Edit as you go. Enjoy the process and fun of that.
All that said, having a plan for your class, a sequence or a journey to take your students on is really a wise thing to do in preparing to teach a class.
Here are the top 3 tips for sequencing your yoga classes:
1. Rhythm of your teaching:
Class should be like a dance. Not every class is going to be a tidy little waltz either. It might be a dramatic tango or a messy, funky jam session, but please let there be rhythm.
Whether you're building a ladder sequence or you are adding a bit of HIIT (high intensity interval training), recognize that there has to be some kind of pace, and then a different pace, and maybe another one, and these paces must complement each other.
An example of what you don't want: a fast slew of poses followed by an unsure, slow pace as you nudge them into a challenging pose followed by a lop-sided (too much time on the right side, not enough time on the left) quick slew of poses into savasana.
Though that might seem like crazy-fun for a rollercoaster ride, people come to yoga to get into their bodies and let go of stress (actually, they come for a ton of reasons, but not to ride a rollercoaster). So...
An example of what you do want in the rhythm of your sequence: a warming mini-sequence for the spine or core, followed by multiple standing poses a little bit faster, an even faster mini-sequence leading into your main pose where you slow and take as many breaths as possible, followed by a slower restorative mini-sequence into calm, cooling twisting into savasana.
Speaking of rhythm, have you thought about music? Here are some free playlists for different classes as a gift from SR:
2. Build to something in your sequencing:
Yes, we were discussing dancing a second ago, but now I'm going to reference literature: you've got to have a climax. Imagine you are telling a story and every pose of your sequence is another step toward that dramatic climax.
Every pose you teach in your sequence must enlighten your students’ way to this climax pose either through core work, breath, balance, opening or strengthening certain parts of the body that will need to be opened or strengthened to reach the desired pose. This is easy because every pose helps every other pose in the long run, but in the short term, you’ve got to remember how the body works: a bunch of back-bending leading up to a core-cranking inversion is not going to help them get up there. But a core-centered class will bring them upside down easily.
We do this for safety reasons too: not preparing your students for a major backbend or a major hip-opener could have bad consequences for them. So be sure to pay attention to what the body will need when you reach your main pose.
Another safety and alignment note when it comes to teaching: you have got to remember counter-poses. Even if you are working them and building them to a specific pose, it’s important to stretch what’s been worked even right after or to free what’s been closed.
For example: a lot of back-bending to bring them into full camel pose needs to offset by some lovely, back-opening forward folds. A lot of inversion work needs to be offset by a child’s pose followed by a nice sitting pose like baddha konasana, bound angle pose.
Now to bring them to the main event: Divide your steps to reach the peak pose into phases, and then teach your students to move into the climax in these phases, giving modifications along the way. Teach them to honor their bodies, but most of all, to avoid injuries. Tell them to stay in “phase 1” if they are wobbling or their legs aren’t straight or they can’t get into the bind, whatever the instructions are on the way into your peak pose. Encourage them to stay where they are or ELSE.
Joking, but seriously emphasize how important patience is to the practice and that doing phase 1 or 2 is better than not practicing at all because of an injury.
3. A theme is a good thing:
Going along with having a pose to build to, you also want to have some idea or theme that coincides with the peak pose.
For example, if you’re building to mermaid or Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, your theme might be opening to and loving life in the present moment. Or if you are doing a restorative class that uses a lot of forward folds, it could be something more scientific and biological like adrenal health.
You don’t even have to talk about your theme. But if you teach meditation as a part of your class, this might be a wonderful time to incorporate your theme. This could be done through breath, visualization, mantra, mudras, or simply talking about the theme.
The point is that you want the whole thing to be cohesive. That’s what tips 1-3 are all about. You want to take your students somewhere, down to earth, up to the stars, deep within the soul. You want them, at the end of class, to feel like they have been on a gorgeous journey where they danced, saw a breath-giving view, and learned something new about themselves.
Those are the best classes.
I’ve found that these are the best tips to build a nice sequence for my students. But the most important point is to be authentically you in your teaching. These are only tips to consider; you get to create your own teaching—your own ways of making the world a more delightful place in which to live.
One class at a time.
As a teacher, what are your thoughts on sequencing? What are the most important things about sequencing to you?
If you're a student, what insights do you have about yoga sequences that make you feel good? You are, after all, the audience.
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