This is an excerpt from Instructing Hatha Yoga 2nd Edition With Web Resource by Diane M. Ambrosini.
Like any organized physical activity, a comprehensive yoga class follows a certain structure, which allows the class to flow smoothly and logically. In the case of yoga, the class must be balanced and provide a variety of poses in a manner that facilitates harmony in students’ physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. It must also be as free from distraction as is possible.
In general, asana sequencing should be characterized by continuity and balance in both effort and purpose. For instance, in the warming phase at the beginning of a session, it is best to start with poses that emphasize the larger muscles. As body systems begin to move more fluidly, you can then offer more refined movements involving the smaller muscle groups. Such a progression enables students to feel energetic and physically comfortable with movement; it also helps students avoid injuries that might occur if the muscles and joints were not adequately prepared for strenuous or intricate poses.
With these same principles in mind, some hatha yoga styles, such as Bikram and Ashtanga, practice the same postures in the exact same sequence in each class session. In addition to the physically logical progression of these series, students become familiar with the flow of poses, which allows many of them to feel a kind of comfort as they flow from known pose to known pose. This is not to say, however, that more eclectic hatha styles cannot be just as comforting to students. It is simply to illustrate the importance of being thoughtful when arranging the asanas in your classes.
Just as hatha yoga has many styles, many personality types make for effective yoga teachers. Some instructors plan a class with great detail and organization, down to such minute details as what song will play during a particular asana. Other instructors seem to simply wing it, modifying and adapting the class structure based on the changing energy of the students in attendance. Either way, you must have a good repertoire and the ability to address both the immediate and the long-term needs of your class.
Using the tools presented in chapter 2 for understanding your students’ needs, you can apply the outlines provided in this chapter to create a sequencing formula and chart the progress of each session for yourself or your students. Examples presented here range from basic lesson plan frameworks for generic or classical-eclectic hatha yoga classes to more sophisticated and detailed class charts. The examples are given as guidance for you to study and then use either exactly as presented or as a seed for your own inspiration and creativity.
A basic class framework consists of a vital yet often superficial outline of a class session. No matter if you plan a session with generalized goals, or with every detail outlined, this essential framework should remain at the forefront of your mind. Just as the foundation and frame of a house enable the rest of the house to be fabricated and completed with different materials, so a basic outline and lesson plan give form to a yoga session’s strategy and allow it to unfold over time based on students’ needs and the instructor’s inclinations.
In another way of conceiving this work, David Swenson (1999), a well-known Ashtanga instructor, has saidthat each series of Ashtanga hatha is structured like a sandwich. The warm-up and finishing poses are like the bread, and the main asanas are the sandwich filling. Moreover, the warm-up and finishing poses in Ashtanga hatha are alwaysthe same for every series; only the physical movements in between differ from series to series. This is an illustration of using the basic framework of sequencing, specific to Ashtanga classes, yet it may be adopted for any classical-eclectic class if the teacher finds the outline has value for his or her students.
A class framework can also be likened to a flight plan (see table 12.1). A flight entails checking in with the control tower, which is similar to getting centered. Then, before taking off, the plane’s engine needs to warm up; similarly, the body needs to be warmed before it can go through more strenuous poses. The main poses then correspond to the flight itself, and the cool-down period corresponds to the plane’s landing, which is gradual and, like Shavasana (Corpse Pose), often requires the most skill.
In a yoga class, the basic framework consists of the following elements: centering of mind and body, warm-up of body and loosening of physical tensions, main asanas, cool-down period, and class closure. With this basic framework, you can choose your class goals and the activities, rationales, and objectives through which to meet them. To put it another way, the asanas and the pranayama you instruct are activities that you offer your students in order to meet the chosen goals. The following bare-bones, class-structure outline can be applied to almost any style of hatha yoga.
Centering is the part of class in which students begin to prepare mentally for practice - a time to clear the mind of extraneous thoughts and begin drawing the focus inward. To help your students move into this mind-set, remind them to turn off cell phones and other devices, move belongings away from the practice space, and slowly begin letting the outside world dissolve. During this portion of class, atmosphere plays a big role in directing students to their practice. If you choose to use music, you can play it softly in the background as students enter the room to help set a peaceful, calming mood before a word is spoken.
In many hatha traditions, Tadasana (Mountain Pose) is used to bring the focus of the mind into the body. By inviting students to focus on breath, balance, and alignment, you help them begin to ignore outside distractions and eliminate mental stresses. Some hatha styles, especially restorative classes, generally begin with students in a seated position. Others start in Shavasana to create restfulness and help push away ordinary distractions. Many instructors also facilitate centering by means of intention setting, chanting, or motivational readings.
In addition, breath work, or pranayama, is used in many forms of hatha yoga to help keep the mind focused within the body. In general, either durga or ujjayi breathing (see chapter 4) is practiced to slow the mind and create a feeling of relaxation. These breathing techniques also help warm the body as preparation for the rest of the class. Focused breathing alone can bring the energetic channels (the ida and the pingala ) into balance.
To prepare the muscles and joints for movement in any asana practice, the tissues need to be moved and warmed to a certain degree in order to avoid injury. The same rationale applies to any type of physical activity: warmed muscles are less apt to strain or tear. In addition, when joints can move more fully and smoothly through their designed range of motion, students are generally more able and willing to open themselves and tune into their energy throughout the class.
Warm-up involves the Sun Salutations. Practiced slowly or rapidly, this series of asanas increases circulation to the muscles and joints and allows practitioners to link each movement with the rhythm of the breath. As presented in chapter 6, the sequencing of the classical Sun Salutations, linked to the breath, allows students to form a deep mental and physical connection with the truth of how they feel on a physical and emotional level.
In some styles of hatha yoga, however, teachers choose either to not implement the Sun Salutations at all or to introduce them later in the class. This decision is based on a teacher’s preference and the style of yoga they instruct. In classes that do not practice Sun Salutations as a means to warm the body,the beginning of class generally focuses on using the breath as a means to warm the body and on practicing simple, rhythmic joint movements. In Iyengar hatha yoga, the practice begins with standing postures, and some teachers might utilize poses that require strong isometric energy, such as Utthita Chaturanga Dandasana (Plank Pose).
Learn more about Instructing Hatha Yoga, Second Edition.