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Elegant Intelligent Sequencing

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The quality of sequencing in a yoga class determines the quality of a class as much as the quality of the teacher. "Sequencing" has become one of the major elements in continuing education for yoga teachers. We hear about "innovative" sequencing or "dynamic" sequencing being able to lead to easier advanced poses, deeper flexibility, and powerful strength.

 

And it is true. Well thought out yoga pose sequencing can lead to huge breakthroughs in asana practice in a very short amount of time. However, we must be able to put the poses together in a thoughtful way and in a way that makes sense. And maybe most importantly, the sequencing should be building the ability to achieve the goal of the sequence and not make it harder by convoluting the sequence with unnecessary poses.

I used to create sequences with 6 million poses that really had very little to do with what I was trying to accomplish. That is, if I knew what I was trying to accomplish. I would also put poses in the wrong place, starting with poses that were too difficult, or teaching peak poses for which I had no idea how to prepare. This kind of teaching is common in yoga. It usually happens about a year or two out of a teacher training when a teacher is sick of the sequencing they learned in their training. Trust me we've all been there. I thought I would scream sometimes having to teach a set sequence of poses in a power class and tried teaching some crazy stuff too soon.

I learned very quickly in some Forrest and Anusara trainings I took that what I was doing was totally bat shakti crazy. And, in those trainings, I began to learn and see the logic of how these teachers constructed their classes. I would say the basis of the sequencing I teach now is a combination of what I learned from Forrest, Anusara, and Iyengar. These traditions all approach the idea in a slightly different way, but they all have flawlessly logical and elegant approaches to the Tetris game of constructing an asana class. In synthesizing these approaches into a style that worked for me, I have discovered these key elements to a well-sequenced class.

1. Know what you are aiming for: Are you aiming for a peak pose? Shoulder opening? Deeper and easier back bends? You have to know where you're going before you can plug it into the GPS.
2. Know why you are choosing the poses you are choosing: Often when working with a teacher coaching client on sequencing I do the equivalent of a "drop needle exam" from music school by taking a pose from their sequence and asking them specifically why they chose that pose at that point. I can assure you "because I felt like it" or "because so and so did it in their class" are not acceptable answers. You should be able to describe anatomically and energetically the reasoning for every pose you teach.
3. Simplicity: Don't convolute sequences with 50 unnecessary poses in the name of trying to look "innovative" and "dynamic". Choose poses carefully and in the correct order and you will save your students a lot of energy and time. Elegant sequencing is picking the exact poses needed to accomplish your goal. No more, no less.
4. Teach proper alignment rather than endless stretching: This is maybe the biggest thing I learned from my three main yoga influences. Use alignment to open the body, not more poses. I have been in back bending classes where all we do for 75 minutes is stretch the quadriceps and shoulders just to go into Wheel. Total waste of time. Instead, teach students to place their body in proper alignment and the body will open much faster and with less effort. You save time and energy and also create some wonderful habits for students to take beyond the yoga class.

Take the time to learn a little about the sequences you create. At first, you may need to think about them a lot. You may even need to write them down although I wouldn't recommend it. Writing down sequences often deprives the class of the spontaneity needed to adjust to the energy you find in the room and makes teaching rigid. Instead, construct a few sequences and teach them a few times to commit them to memory. Also, know which poses you can substitute for beginner, intermediate, and advanced practitioners. Eventually, with a little experience, you will be able to vary these sequences easily and have a sense of fluidity and variety in all of your classes.

Sequencing is always a fun puzzle to put together. Just learn how to put it together in a thoughtful and intelligent way. Enjoy!!

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