The Two-Thirds Rule for Yoga Teaching

When I was in teacher training, my instructor told us, as a general rule, that 2/3 of your class should be standing and the remaining 1/3 seated. One reason for this guideline is that my teacher was an Ashtangi. Its basically how you approach the Ashtanga Primary series. And since I’m an Ashtangi/Rocket practitioner myself, I abide by this rule fairly well.

A trend that I’m seeing in yoga classes is toward NOT including seated poses at all. Its all standing poses. And even worse, its standing poses that are repeated over and over again. Or its a long sequence, then the sequence is repeated again with something else added. The problem is, if I didn’t like some of the poses in the beginning sequence, then I have to endure doing them all over again. Its so mentally defeating when you realize you’ll be doing the same thing again.

I always mention that one Yoga Sutra says there are 80,000 poses and another says 80 million. When people think they are inventing poses, they are fooling themselves. Every body movement and position has been tried and done. I have the book 2100 Asanas. It has many variations of every pose. Except, that’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to the Sutras. What I’m getting at here is there is such a variety of poses you can present in a class. Instead of repeating poses, why not add something different. And I’m not talking about some creation that you think you’ve made up. Actually get into the books and find poses you’ve never done before. Then you won’t bore the heck out of your students. That variety will also bring balance to your practice. We often get biased and one sided in our pose selection. Make sure you work antagonistic muscle groups and balance movement patterns (folds vs. back bends).

If anything, I’m probably presenting even less standing poses, like 3/5 standing instead of 2/3. I very often will present my Goat poses too, those that I don’t do very well. It makes me more vulnerable and shows that I’m human. Yoga teachers often are very ego driven. They only do what they are good at. Teacher training tells us to teach how we practice. And technically, we should be practicing things we’re not good at more than those things we like. Its probably meeting a deficiency in our bodies.

Give your students variety. Don’t always use the some old tired sequences in every class. I always do moon salutations on moon days (since we still practice on moon days in Rocket). This gets us away from just doing sun salutations every practice. You can also change the pace, the order, and the intensity of classes. When students can start to predict your every move and go to poses before you tell them to, then you know you’re in a rut. Don’t be predictable. Make it so that its a new experience for them every time they practice with you. Make it fun and mentally stimulating. Give them new information every time. Talk about Sanskrit origins. Talk about the origin of your style of practice. Talk about the founder. It gives them insights into the "why". The founder of Rocket Yoga always said live in the question. Live in the space of why.

And by all means, don’t forget about the importance of savasana. I always tell my classes, asana practice is only the 3rd limb of yoga. Pranayama is the 4th limb and considered a higher order of practice. The 8th limb is samadhi. Its the goal of every practice. And we feel the bliss of samadhi the most in savasana. The general guideline I was given is at least 1 minute of savasana for every 15 minutes of practice. And for me, the harder the practice, the more savasana is needed.

Seated poses are not lesser poses. In fact, they can be very challenging. Don’t neglect them in your practice or in your teaching. Give students variety and don’t bias your selection on your own strengths. And, I didn’t say before, honor svadhyaya (self-study). A yoga teacher should be seeking to gain more knowledge and awareness of their practice. A stagnant teacher is no good for enlightening students. Self practice means that you can give the background. Pattabhi Jois always said 99% practice, 1% theory. But the reason he was saying this was that there were people who were not practicing at all, just postulating on theory. Too much talk, not enough action. But the 1% is monumentally important. We need to know these higher levels of understanding. Then put them into our practice and our teaching.

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