Nothing is random when it comes to sequencing a yoga class. There is thoughtful intelligence required. It comes from the teacher’s dedication to an ongoing pursuit of a deeper understanding of the juxtaposition of the beautiful movement and stilling patterns of the human body.
A sequencing approach then becomes one of simplicity within the complexity of the vast array of experiences that one has within the experience of moving towards stillness in and out of the shapes we call yoga poses. Yoga teachers would benefit greatly from placing priority on dedicating time to the development of this deeper understanding of sequencing. An understanding that lies within the answer to why the skillful arrangement of the yoga poses matters so much.
Sequencing is an aspect of practicing and teaching yoga that I could speak about for hours. Skillful sequencing is vital and filled with rich details that extend well beyond creativity and choreography. - Sandy Raper
Practicing and teaching yoga are two entirely different experiences and require different skill sets. If you are a teacher reading this, it will benefit you greatly in your ongoing development to know the difference between the two.
In this blog, I will share three key areas that support the intentional arrangement of yoga postures within an approach of simplicity and symmetry of sequencing yoga classes. Within these three aspects, I will highlight keywords and define them in a way that provides you context, clarity, and relevance in the depth of their meaning supporting the impact and reasoning behind why their qualities are influential in sequencing yoga classes.
Reliability and Consistency
We'll begin with reliability and consistency. Consider yoga asanas, the posture shapes we practice, as vehicles. Just like the vehicles we use to get us from point A to point B, it's the same with the yoga posture shapes we create during our practice time. We get into the shapes as we would get into our cars. Through the ride of the experience, we explore, notice, and encounter all the details within the movement patterns and sensations of the encounter along the way.
f we liken the yoga postures to vehicles, it becomes crucial to ensure that our 'vehicles' are reliable. What aspects, then, would offer us a reliable asana practice experience? Consistently stepping onto our yoga mats allows us to create a practice where our movement patterns and static holds are evaluated to provide us with a reliable base of support. A foundation is established and sustained, upon which we can rely, enabling us to consistently step into these 'vehicles' again and again. This holds for both the student practicing and the teacher guiding this exploration. The teacher offers the necessary attention to detail through thoughtful, confident, and clear cues, which become the framework of the class experience. Along with skillful sequencing, this supports students in a wise decision-making process. Students are kept safe in a space of understanding their body's capacity for the journey, determining whether a rest stop—a pause—is required along the way.
When sequencing yoga postures is viewed through the lens of creating a reliable practice experience that produces consistency, you can begin to organize your class plans around the complementary action traits that each set of postures represents. The transitional movements taken between these postures help sustain the thoughtful thread of action. Along with the teacher's choice of clear directives and language that will support the sustained focus and attention required, this can reduce unnecessary distractions when the movements in and out of the various yoga pose shapes become too complex. This supportive opportunity offers students a beautiful encounter within the exploration.
The sights and details noticed within the interior exploration of the yoga posture shapes become more valuable and engaging, evolving into a desired experience you will seek to explore again. The quality of consistency emerges. - Sandy Raper
Quality and Safety
Next, let’s consider quality and safety regarding the sequencing progression that we are leading others within. The sequence progressions that the teacher selects is one that not only keeps students safe but provides a quality experience at the same time and here’s where the amount of postures in your sequencing model or approach comes in.
A fine balance lies within and between challenge and exhaustion of action regarding how many postures you link together within the sequencing framework.
I encourage you if you're a teacher reading, not to forsake the aspect of providing a quality experience over quantity—meaning the number of postures you are trying to offer and have students practice within one class period. This takes us back to the aspect of simplicity in sequencing. Including too many postures in one practice experience becomes cluttered and lessens the thoughtful, slower progression that is needed to maintain the steady stream of focused awareness and mindfulness within the asana practice. As a teacher, new or seasoned, you may find yourself trying to fill the space of the 60-minute class with a long list of various postures. Not only does this complicate your sequencing recall, but it doesn't give you enough space to be present for the students you are teaching because you will most likely reside in your head, trying to remember it all while forsaking the relational aspect of teaching. This leads to safety concerns, as well, because you are seeing the poses more than you are seeing the people practicing right in front of you.
The quality of the practice experience is heightened when you offer a balanced blend of postures with space in between to allow students to absorb the experience they are creating. Such an approach reduces randomness and educates students on how to use the Asana limb of the practice to support the exploration of the other limbs of the yoga practice. Teaching students how to practice is just as important as providing the class experience.
Sequencing Through a Lens of Restraint
Approach sequencing through a lens of exercising restraint. Now, there are a couple of ways that you might think of the word restraint. You may have, or now be perceiving the word as a lack of freedom or a quality that suggests the nature of constricting. When we think about the yoga practice and the concept of going with the flow or the aspect of the Vinyasa flow style practice, then you might be thinking that this wouldn’t be what you’d want to present within your approach to sequencing. I want to offer you the consideration of another point of view and another definition of the word restraint. Let's see if this viewpoint lands in a different place for you and lessens the constriction you might have initially associated with the word, restraint. Consider instead, calm and controlled. A measure or condition that keeps someone or something under control or within limits, or restraint. This definition speaks to self-discipline and self-control.
I think these would be the qualities that we’d like to develop and expand upon within our personal development and our practice of yoga postures. This quality supports the vehicles of Asana that provide us the opportunity to explore the deep excavating work that takes place when we practice. Restraint is one that, as teachers, we would also seek to express through and within how we organize the sequences in the classes we teach. Restraint also shows up in how many cues and directives we provide during the classes we lead. Try limiting yourself to three clear and concise cues per posture. Give students time to do what you're asking them to do. What you say matters. Provide the necessary cueing guidance based on what you're seeing in the room and meet the student's needs where they are, in that given practice experience. Yoga teacher, it requires great restraint to not tell everything you know about a yoga pose and to approach sequencing in the same manner with simplicity.
Simplicity and Symmetry
Now, let's tie all of this together to discover the relevance that symmetry and simplicity offer to yoga students and the skillfulness these two aspects provide in the way yoga teachers can approach the organization of class sequencing.
Represented within our bodies is the opportunity for balanced symmetry, primarily contributing to our ability to function optimally. The equal distribution of body parts and sense organs plays a significant role in enhancing our ability to perceive, interact, and react to the internal and external stimuli we encounter daily. This symmetrical arrangement ensures that sensory inputs are received uniformly from all directions, allowing for a more comprehensive and efficient response to external factors.
When yoga postures are linked together and practiced in a cohesive and harmonious organizational pattern, they offer the practitioner an encounter that aligns with the inner working pattern of balanced symmetry. We can expand and engage these patterns within our mental state of being at the same time. This symmetrical association can then be applied to the seemingly symmetrical aspect of our nervous system, understanding the cohesive balance with the right and left halves functioning. Interestingly, we can dissect this understanding of symmetry even further as we begin to explore the concepts of brain lateralization and the asymmetrical qualities found within the two seemingly separate left and right side functions of our brains. This is true for the yoga student and supports the yoga teacher in the aspect of symmetry and balance found within the development of a full-brained teaching methodology and teaching skillset.
The concept of balanced symmetry could then be applied within simplicity by dedicating time to the thoughtful selection of yoga postures placed and linked together within the context of a 60-minute yoga class practice. This practice includes both symmetrical and asymmetrical postures, arranged in a well-thought-out progression moving from simple to complex, considering the requirements of the movement actions and alignment of each posture.
Asymmetry in Sequencing
For the yoga teacher, it's important to consider the asymmetrical characteristics of sequence organization. Ensure there is enough space and time for students to explore both halves of the experience, assessing and discerning what supports the overall balanced symmetry of the body and the optimal function that practicing asana within this approach will offer. This emphasis on the practice leads to the relevance of yoga becoming a daily discipline—a requirement within the routine and a keystone habit for overall health and well-being. Allocating time for exploration on both sides of the pose provides students with not only balanced symmetry physically but also mentally. Tapping into the best opportunity to create a practice space where students approach the asana practice through a holistic application of mind, body, and spirit becomes the overall objective for the yoga teacher and the students 'success' in creating this experience for themselves.
Lastly, when it comes to understanding the fuller meaning of the qualities of simplicity and symmetry in sequencing, adhere to the natural tempo and rhythm of the class. Tempo shows up in the cadence of how the teacher speaks, as well as the space and time given to students to explore—space provided so that students can do what you’re instructing and notice the experience they're creating simultaneously.
Restraint is revealed, once again, in not attaching yourself rigidly to your sequence plan. Allow the present moment to dictate what you will offer students to provide relevance and a deeper understanding of balanced symmetry. Teachers need space for this assessment. This is where simplicity in your sequencing rises to provide great support. Pull away from over-complicating the sequence structure. When your sequencing structure is overly complex, you diminish your ability to show up in a way that supports all that I have just spoken to.
When sequencing is too complex, it becomes hard for you to communicate clearly with your cues and guiding language. When complexity rises above the simplicity of sequencing, you heighten the chance of disconnection as students may become frustrated. If it's hard for you to communicate, it will be hard for students to understand and apply. Simplify the process so that a greater learning objective can arise.
Curious to learn more about this topic and how you can grow and develop as a yoga teacher? Check out the Beyond Yoga Teacher Training Podcast with Host Sandy Raper. There you will find a library full of episodes that will support you in expanding and maturing in both the technical and relational aspects of your teaching skill set.
About the author:
Sandy Raper is an E-RYT 500, RYS, YACEP, Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist, author, and host of her globally recognized Beyond Yoga Teacher Training Podcast.
She has been a respected yoga teacher and mentor for over twenty years dedicating to the ongoing pursuit of educating others on movement literacy within the yoga practice. Sandy seeks to equip yoga teachers with the resources they need to be successful and highly effective in teaching yoga.
Within the Beyond Yoga Teacher Training Programs, Sandy offers a variety of resources to support the ongoing growth and development of yoga teachers through foundational teacher training, online courses, and mentorship. Sandy's much anticipated first book, Teaching from the Heart, is due to release in early 2024.
Find all of these resources and more at: www.sandyraper.com
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