Armed with a 200 hour yoga teacher training, I try to navigate the expansive, and I do mean EXPANSIVE world of yoga and teaching. The practice of yoga is meant to be a lifelong one. I am quickly learning that the same applies for the teaching of yoga – there is so much to it! Asanas, anatomy, breathing control, handling students of various levels, meditation, sutras, philosophy, adjusting/assisting annnndddd so on and so on.
As I’m on this teaching adventure, I find that I am frequently pondering questions in my head, as well as wanting to seek advice from those who have thoughts, ideas, advice and wisdom that comes from years of teaching.
In an attempt to answer some questions of mine (and possibly other yoga teachers), I reached out to teachers that have taught, influenced and inspired me. Thus began the inception of a Learn from Yoga Teachers blog post series that I hope to continue! In case you missed it last week, please do check out Part 1.
In this post, we continue our journey and glean information from 2 more yoga teachers.
I hope you enjoy reading this post as much I did putting it together 🙂
The question of “How have you learned to safely sequence asanas in a practice?” is one that I am frequently asked by students and teachers alike. Perhaps it is because many of my classes are flow classes, where we move mindfully from pose to pose, guided by the breath and with a goal of moving effortlessly and with ease. One begins to question, “why that pose now?” or “how did you know to move in to that pose next?”
To answer those questions, I need to go back to the beginning….
The beginning of my personal yoga practice inspired a great desire to ‘know more’ about the practice. Why did some practices resonate with me and make me feel really good physically, mentally & spiritually and other practices left me feeling like I simply moved my body and received a nice stretch? I began observing the rhythm of my breath in each practice and how my body wanted to move with each breath – naturally. I also had a teacher who inspired me to be my authentic self…. That, coupled with an innate desire to simply know more – to learn all about yoga, ie the physical, the spiritual, the power of the breath, etc., took me on a path of breaking down the components of the practice which led to breaking down the components of a pose – and the impact of movement on the breath. I began to capture this information in small booklets where I took copious notes from many, many classes, teachers and workshops. I took anatomy training, therapy training, pranayama training and more (and still do as we’re always learning). I have lots and lots of books on yoga. However, with all that, it’s my personal practice and having taught classes for over ten years – gaining feedback both positive and perhaps not so positive about classes — that has helped me understand how to sequence a class in a way that moves students physically, mentally and spiritually.
As mentioned above, I took my personal practice to my teaching. Over time and with many, many classes having been taken and taught, I began to better understand the dynamics required to move the body and what it takes to get from one pose to another. The feel of the muscles in a pose, the placement of the feet or hands in a pose, the effort required to move in to or to hold a pose and last, but not least, the gaze and the breath. Lots and lots of factors impacted the feel of a pose. For example, coming in to a pose from the ground up vs. from standing and bending. Or the movements taken prior to a new pose vs. the poses that follow. I believe this needs to be experienced and cannot be easily ’taught’.
General sequencing guidelines: I found that at the start of a practice students like and need – 5- 10 minutes where they can simply ‘arrive’ and drop in, taking time for meditation and pranayama. Then, there is a need to ‘awaken’ and ‘connect’ with easy movement, range of motion movements to feel the body and bring the mind/body/breath together. I like to pause in my personal practice to absorb this movement and then connect to something greater~ then move on to poses where the structure of the practice leads a student on a journey. The poses may become deeper, require more strength or effort to build to a crescendo of a peak pose – or peak poses. And, I then like to repeat a vinyasa sequence at least once so we all move together with balance of effort and ease, finding our mojo.
I found that after a vinyasa flow (or a Hatha Vinyasa practice), I am more physically and mentally prepared for more challenging balance poses or poses that require deeper concentration. – Over time, my students have demonstrated that they, too, appreciate the ‘build-up’ – and are then prepared to be challenged with balance poses, inversions or deep stretches.
Following general principles, the latter part of a practice is time to stretch, to cool down and to simply return to the mat – preparing for Savasana~
I would encourage new yoga teachers to find a teacher whose practice they enjoy and to spend time with that teacher. Ask questions post class if the teacher is available. Ask the teacher what inspired him/her to create the sequence? Many (actually most if not all) of my sequences are inspired by a thought, a goal, a theme or other influence and the sequence is built with those aspects in mind. And, while I love books and reading is helpful for ideas, it’s the putting in to practice and getting on the mat that has worked best for me.
As a result of getting this question asked, I created a workshop designed to assist new yoga teachers on learning to sequence. This workshop started as a three hour workshop and is now also available as a full 2-day workshop. This workshop has grown as there are sooooo many things that a Yoga Teacher may wish to consider as he/she builds a sequence / teaches a class. My suggestion: Get on your mat. Perhaps have a peak pose in mind or a physical focus or theme. Start with Surya Namaskar A or your favorite ‘introductory’ poses to bring movement to the body and to simply connect with your mat in that moment. Breathe and move. Ask yourself, “what movements will get me to X”? Pause… Capture on paper. Rework it. Ask yourself, does it feel good? Does it flow well? Has my spine moved in five primary ways? Did this sequence enable my breath to stay in rhythm?
It takes time to build a sequence, however, with practice (no pun intended) the ability to create mindful, purposeful and safe sequences comes more easily and naturally. When done authentically, I believe each class and each sequence is a gift from the teacher’s heart that is shared with his/her students.
-Peace, Loretta-Jo, E-RYT 500. Loretta-Jo teaches her brand of Vinyasa-based yoga at Long Life Wellness Center, O2 Fitness, and Republic of Yoga.
Loretta Jo, left the corporate world in March 2014 to follow her passion as a yogi-preneur. She is dedicated to teaching and connecting through yoga and helping students and teachers use the practice of yoga as a means for personal and professional transformation. She is happily obsessed with exploring and sharing yoga and is locally recognized as a master of yoga sequencing. Loretta Jo is the founder of Yoga-Mojo, a practice where students focus on the integration of breath with purposeful movement. When I was quite new to yoga, I was a regular attendee of Loretta Jo’s classes. Her vinyasa flows would allow me to shut off the mindless chatter in my brain and really focus on my breath. She has taught me the real power of breath and what it can do for your body and mind. Over the years, Loretta has provided me with guidance, support, friendship and a mentor-ship that I will always cherish and be grateful for!
Question #4: You have been practicing and teaching Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga for a while. Ashtanga teachers adjust their students often. What methods / teaching tools have helped you learn how to adjust students? What advice would you give to new teachers who are trying to assist and bring their students to proper alignment?
Well, I started teaching before I really had any training to teach at all. I was mostly just guiding people through the series, and practicing along with them. When I began stepping off my mat and trying to correct alignment it was mostly trial and error…lots of error lol! I would try to fix up a Triangle pose and they’d end up still misaligned, but facing a slightly different way. Just moving one part of the body without stabilizing the rest was not working…go figure 🙂
So I went to an Adjustment workshop given by David Keil, and a teacher’s workshop given by Maty Ezraty and Chuck Miller. Both were very helpful, but in different ways:
David – a body worker as well as Ashtanga teacher, and anatomy expert – talked to us about adjustments specifically. He talked about foundation, how to work with a person at their edge – natural, theraputic, etc – and let us practice on each other. We worked our way through most of the Primary Series poses (or sets of poses) and were given some basic adjustments to use that work for most people. The most valuable thing I gained from that workshop was the confidence to put my hands on people.
Chuck and Maty’s workshop was a bit more broad in it focus. It was a combination of instruction on verbal adjustments, physical adjustments, and how to break down and approach some of the more challenging postures in the series. My take-away from that workshop was that there is an intention built in to each pose that included a foundation and an extension (or general direction), and that mostly what we are looking for is space and length in the spine and body.
I also went to several other workshops, intensives, and in-depth studies with other teachers over the years…some with a focus on teaching and others not. I took something from each one, and brought it back to my students to try out – they learned to be wary of classes that occurred right after I had been to a workshop – Ha!
But really what has taught me the most about adjusting students is experience. There is no substitute for seeing a wide variety of bodies (and personalities) doing the same movements and watching how each person reacts differently to adjustments and learns the practice differently. “Practice, and all is coming!” goes for teachers as well! We are students also 🙂
Main principles of alignment? Foundation, Spinal Alignment, Breath, Dristhi, Bandhas!
Stacy has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga since 1998, and has been teaching in the Triangle area since 2001. Certified with Yogafit, she has accrued over 500 hours of study in the Ashtanga tradition of yoga with such great teachers as David Swensen, Annie Pace, Chuck Miller and Maty Ezrati, David Williams,Eddie Stern, David Keil, David Garrigues and Matthew Sweeney. Stacy is also certified by Matthew Sweeney to teach his Moon Sequence – a complementary series to Ashtanga’s Primary Series. Stacy’s approach to teaching Ashtanga Yoga is to educate students on the joy of a consistent Yoga practice, demonstrating how to pay attention to the details of form and philosophy, and making Yoga accessible for all levels. Building a yoga practice that will last a lifetime is a collaborative effort between teacher and student, and Stacy strives for that collaboration with her students. Stacy is the founder of the Ashtanga Yoga School of Raleigh. Stacy has been a really strong influence and support for my still-new Ashtanga practice. Her adjustments are tough yet filled with compassion. Her overall spirit, energy and teaching style has a quiet sense of willful power that pushes her students to higher levels of yoga practice. She is a real gift to the yoga community here in NC.
I have to say this again, but these past 2 posts rank very high on my most favorite-of-all-time-posts-ever list!
I owe a big dose of gratitude to the teachers who have contributed their time and knowledge. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be here, writing this blog post, filled with a deep sense of happiness that yoga is in my life if it weren’t for you all and your teachings.
Thanks so much for stopping by and reading and I hope you go check out the teachers mentioned in this post and the previous one!
P.S The adorable boys in the picture are Vedic scholars in training from Madurantakam Sanskrit College (based in the outskirts of the city of Chennai in India). Don’t they just make you go squuueeeee??5