Yoga Class Sequencing

A good friend of mine just finished teacher training and she got me thinking about sequencing. We learned different ways in teacher training and they were different from what I read in books. I don’t know that I’ve seen a lot of hard and fast guidelines about this. I think much depends on the kind of class you are teaching. But the structure usually finds commonalities across disciplines.

The yoga teacher who I emulate most taught a Sunrise class on Saturday mornings. He was an incredibly introspective and kind person. He was also very capable to not only teach but to demonstrate technical postures. I loved his tone and his demeanor. He was very stern about certain things. When going into chaturanga he would insist “don’t you dare look down”. When we brought our leg forward and back in Surya Namaskar B, he would push us to not make a sound on the mat thereby engaging hip flexors and lower abdomen. Occasionally, he would look at his sheet to see where we were. I admired how much he thought about his classes. You could see him practicing his sequence before class. While I was in training, he showed me his process and what he wrote. It was all in Sanskrit.

I once mentioned this in teacher training and my teacher humbly acknowledged that his procedure was a good one. But she confidently said that what she does in a vinyasa class just comes from experience. Her sequences are creative and largely fall onto her Ashtanga base. As I look at what I do today, it combines both approaches. Sure, a general vinyasa class takes no preparation at all for the most part. You just go in and teach. You may ask students what body part or pose they would like to focus on, but otherwise its up to you. In specialty classes, you need to develop a more thought out plan. Slow flow, gentle, restorative, beginners,… all require some level of focus if you don’t teach that all the time. So you may scribble out some ideas. So what I do is usually off the cuff, but I write down a few peak poses now and then that I’d like to cover.

The general rule my teacher gave us was 2/3 standing and 1/3 seated. I follow this pretty well:
Warming – I once went to a class where the teacher’s first pose involved a deep hamstring stretch. I cringed with worry that someone would hurt something. Sun Salutations are the go to for Ashtanga Yoga. It covers the most ground while building heat. However, most beginner/intermediate classes require more warming than that. Child’s pose, tiger, cat/cow, seated twists. These are good starting points. I also like standing sun flows.
Heating – Once we are warm, I go into stronger poses. Planks, chaturanga, arm balances, warriors, triangles, side angles. These fit along with my Ashtanga bias as well. If I feel we are getting tired, I mix some balance poses along the way.
Forward Folds – Now that we are nicely opened, we can do wide leg forward folds, goddess, and hand to foot type poses.
Seated poses – The last third of class I do one and two legged forward folds; reverse plank and boat pose; then maybe marichyasanas and baddha konasana.
Backbends – Bridge pose and upward bow are stalwarts of any class. They are good completion to seated poses.
Inversions – Even if it is a beginner class, we do some form of inversion (meaning heart higher than the head). It may be hand stand prep, supported shoulder stand, or legs up the wall. Or we may go for headstand, forearm stand, shoulder stand, and handstand.
Twists – We always try to finish with twists and maybe crunched positions like knees to chest. This is what makes our bodies feel accomplished and ready for what life has for us.
Savasana – I come from a traditional and Ashtanga based practice. Since Samadhi is the highest of the 8 limbs, I feel it is the most important. We feel our greatest peace and bliss in corpse pose. The general rule is 1 minute of savasana for each 15 mins of practice. When I’ve taught in fitness gyms, they don’t acknowledge its importance. To some its just a waste of time. Its one reason why I prefer to teach in a yoga studio. Students there have been trained to understand the why.

I’ve been to a lot more classes lately where many of the rules I follow are different. I really love Baptise style yoga, but it seems we miss out on most of the seated postures. A lot of Vinyasa classes do very few seated postures, if at all. I think its how people are trained these days or maybe they don’t come from an Ashtanga background. We also see a lot of repeated sequences and postures. I can understand the reasoning, but it bores me a bit because I know there are so many other poses that we can experience. And I get a little tired of just standing for an hour. But people embrace these classes and it makes me happy for those students. I personally prefer the variety of a complete practice.

My best advice to a new teacher is to find a basic sequence that includes all the required elements. Then you can add and subtract from that sequence. We are taught in speech classes that you don’t want to read a text word for word. You bore the heck out of your audience that way. Instead, speak extemporaneously and maybe have a few key points listed. Write out a few peak poses or area of emphasis. But you don’t need to memorize a sequence or write out an entire list. You have to interact intuitively with a class to know what they need and want. If beginners wander in, you need to meet their needs while also making it challenging for the most advanced student. Give options and make it possible for everyone to practice.

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Thai Yoga

thai yoga script

I bought a new book on Thai Yoga and I totally ate it up last night. I’ll give more details later, but I just want to say how excited I am to learn something new. Thai healing goes back 2,500 years and involves several disciplines. Many are somewhat familiar with Thai Yoga Massage, or “Lazy Man’s Yoga”. There is also an Ayurvedic medicine component. But what most aren’t familiar with is actual “Thai Yoga“. It is a self-healing practice based on yoga poses. The level of detail in symptomology is very amazing. In many schools of healing in Asia, human dissections was something that wasn’t done, so familiarity with actual anatomy is not present. However, they have a very intuitive knowledge of energy. There are 10 major sens lines that travel through the body that are key to Thai healing. Actually, there are thousands, but we consolidate for practice. So I’ve begun to learn about this energy and how it is useful to healing.

I am going to start a Thai Yoga practice for myself and to see if it fits with me. As I was reading last night, I was visualizing and mimicking what I could as I sat in my recliner. I don’t know if it is just the power of thought or if I was actually feeling what I was feeling. I actually felt an amazing difference just walking through poses. I am so excited to develop this practice.

I will share more when I know more. Right now, I’m just at the tip of the iceberg. I’m hopeful this will bring healing in my own body. Then I hope to share with others. Maybe it will begin as a class in Thai Yoga. We’ll see!!

Spread Happiness

Have you ever smiled at someone who is not smiling and suddenly their face brightens to return your smile? It really happens. I saw a nice older lady at the grocery store yesterday and when I smiled at her, she just beamed from ear to ear back at me. Happiness is truly contagious.

We talked about the dynamics of a yoga class in teacher training. I had a day in Rocket Yoga not too long ago. I was very tired and sore from my workouts, but I tried to put on my best “teacher face”. But it wasn’t enough to overcome my lack of energy. I don’t know if it was me, the weather, the moon, or whatever, but everyone seemed to feel like I did. I offered a few challenging poses but nobody went for it. They all took a gentler version. We were all in an energy slump.

Then just a few days ago, I taught a Rocket class that was completely the other way. Even before class, I couldn’t get people to quiet down when I read the announcements. Everybody was talking together and giddy with excitement. And to top it off, one of our Ashtanga teachers who just glows with goodness came to class. I think everyone was feeling good, but especially my yoga teacher friend. Her energy and the effort she put into each pose brought everyone else’s levels up too. It got super hot in there with all the energy. It was one of the best classes ever. Again, happiness is contagious.

Unfortunately, you can’t fake happiness. There are people who are truly having hard times. There are people who’s demeanors are naturally depressed and tamasic. Biting words, sarcasm, dark thoughts, and frowing faces are the norm for them. Teacher training talked about these kinds of people. It only takes one person who can spread negativity to an entire class. While yoga teachers aren’t usually therapists, it is helpful to talk with them to make sure they are OK first. But you also have to set an expectation of living in the now. Forget your troubles of the past or agonizing about the future and live for now. Make it a happy now. You can always choose to be happy.

Recent generations have been burdened with feelings of unworthiness, self-loathing, and negativity in their view of the world. They are not comfortable with the color of their skin or the gender to which they were born. They’ve complicated all of life with lots of clutter and chaos. Most of it is completely unnecessary. Most of it is selfishness. When you think of someone truly in need, where water and warm clothes are lacking, they are only focused on what is real. The unecessary frivolities we worry about are obstacles to happiness. When we live in comfort and excess, we have the opportunity for burdensome worries.

My recommendation to them is this, come backpacking with me for a weekend. We’ll hike back a few miles into what is real. All you can have is what you can carry in your pack. You can’t burden it down with unncecessary things or it will drag you down, both physically and metaphorically. If you’ve ever carried a 100 pound pack, you know what I mean. You only take the essentials. You make your own fire to stay warm and cook food. You use a filter to clean your own water. You consider weather and wildlife when setting up your sleeping area. You don’t get cellphones, headphones, or anything that distracts you. All you get to think about are the leaves at your feet and the stars in the sky. You listen to the coyotes in the distance and squirrels rustling in the brush. All that clutter in your mind goes away when you are down to only a few ounces of water. When you are needy, you prioritize what is important to you. Believe me, all this social nonsense goes away. It really isn’t very important in the grand scheme of life.

Simplify life. Seek nature and the little things. Find love. Believe in something greater than you. You don’t always have to be in control. Find a beautiful animal that will always love you back. Go to the park and watch the kids run barefoot. You can choose to be happy. You don’t have to wallow in negativity and despair. And if you don’t know how, I’m always here to help you. Someone can help. Its not hard to do.

Find ways to not Overthink!

When I teach rocket yoga, there is a part where you do boat pose, Navasana, and then I say “cross your legs and roll up to a handstand….don’t think about it; just do it!”

Think of yourself standing at the edge of a tall cliff that overlooks a deep pool of water. You stand there watching others for hours as they gleefully jump into the water. Then you finally muster the courage to try it yourself. You stand on the edge and look down. You are afraid, but you aren’t even sure what you are afraid of. Multiple times you toe the line only to talk yourself out of it. You see some kids walking up the path and one guy just tears off his shirt and jumps in. He didn’t even think about it, he just did it.

I’m a type-A planner type of person. In fact, I love the act of planning. I love to overthink things a lot. Its my job as a scientist to overthink things. I analyze and evaluate efficiencies. I consider the work flow that creates the most productivity in a short amount of time. Its how my brain is wired to think. So creating a workout plan is something that I love to do. I’m thinking about body parts and energy systems. I’m thinking about progressions to a peak maneuver or building strength to a one-rep max! Its what I do. But every once in a while, I want to turn that part of me off. I just want to hear someone say, do this, and then I do it. Instead of doing my own personal yoga practice, sometimes I just want to go to a class and do what they tell me to do. Maybe it doesn’t always feel good in my body, but it makes me experience something different. It allows me to “feel” and just “be”.

I had a back injury recently and was doing bodybuilding to recover without putting powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting loads on my back. I actually heard a podcast this morning of the strongest pound per pound powerlifter in the world. She spoke about how years of bodybuilding, building muscle mass and tendons, and doing antagonistic work of push-pull muscles. She mentioned how bodybuilding creates balance and doesn’t have weaknesses. So when she turned to the strength performance realm of powerlifting, she had the mass and the machinery to do the job. So I was doing bodybuilding for several weeks until my back could handle a load again. But instead of transitioning into my same old workouts, I turned back to CrossFit. Not just CrossFit, but the Main Site daily workouts.

What is so nice about doing the CrossFit.com WOD (workout of the day) is that you don’t get to choose the workout, it chooses you. I absolutely scale it as much as I need for that day. Sometimes, I may only do 60% of the prescribed workout. But I still do the workout every day! It is 3 days on and 1 day off. And I do it around my yoga teaching. It looks like:

  • Mon – Teach yoga (rest day or active rest with light cardio)
  • Tue – CrossFit day 1 (I pick the last day one of the 3-day sequence)
  • Wed – CrossFit day 2
  • Thu – CrossFit day 3
  • Fri – active rest or go to a yoga class
  • Sat – Teach yoga at Noon – Then do CrossFit day 1 (the last one published)
  • Sun – a.m. CrossFit Day 2; p.m. CrossFit Day 3

It has really worked out nicely. And since I scale as needed, I haven’t been wiped out. I am only mildly sore most days. On my Day 3, I have been doing calf raises (from research I read on eccentric contraction improving mobility). I also do any other bodyparts that I feel I missed in the past 3 days. If I feel super motivated, I may do Olympic weightlifting along with the workout of the day.

Its fun to plan and deload and cycle through a progression that you’ve designed. But its also nice to take a break and let someone else decide the workouts too. Then you just get down to it and get work done. You don’t think about it, you just do it!