with Lisa Tilch
Why must we give any thought at all to what order we place asanas when constructing a class?
As teachers, we want our students to achieve the maximum benefits from the yoga practice and leave closer to a state of yoga, or union, than when they arrived. It is not necessarily about achieving the “correct” pose or the biggest, fullest expression of a pose, but more so about how the student steps off of the mat and re-enters the world. After a well-sequenced yoga class, the physical body should feel expansive and balanced and the student should have more access and a deeper understanding of the inner frame of their body, energetically and even spiritually.
When sequencing a class, there is much to take into consideration, but it is valuable to keep in mind the concepts of vinyasa krama and parinamavada. Vinyasa krama refers to the class occurring in a step- by- step progression, from simple to complex, to ensure that there is minimal risk of injury when instructing more advanced asanas. Parinamavada is the understanding that constant change is an inherent part of our lives. Not every body will respond in the same way to a sequence and those bodies may feel different from one day to the next. Teachers should be able to hold a space where students can safely explore their own varying levels of practice within the arranged sequence.
Regarding choosing postures and in what order to place them, teachers must first be able to identify the physical risk in each asana to ensure sequencing in a way that is safe. Protecting the joints, tendons, and muscles of our students goes hand in hand with building the strength and flexibility of those same parts. Mindfully choosing poses that are appropriate and accessible for the level of class and ability of the students will lead to achieving the desired effects of the practice.
In order to create a practice that builds, (vinyasa karma), it is helpful, especially as a newer teacher, but even as a seasoned teacher, to plan a class based on a theme or a peak pose. It is a on a rare occasion that a teacher can create a truly transformative class on a whim. Having a peak pose or theme will begin to narrow down the focus on specific postures you choose to place in the sequence and the actions within those postures worth highlighting in order to reach the desired peak. Whether or not the student is able to achieve the posture is not important, rather, it is about constructing the journey to potentially get them there. As long as sthira (steadiness) and sukha (ease or comfort) are present along the way, the movement toward a state of yoga will have been achieved.
Our practice should not be driven by the ego to simply achieve the most advanced shape, but by desire to nourish the body as well as the mind and soul. When approaching the asana practice from this place, the student can more deeply tune into the energetic qualities of each individual asana and their effects. It is the teacher’s job to take this knowledge and intelligently put a well-rounded class together. Over time, a teacher will find their own voice through an authentic desire to serve their community of students and friends in a way that is safe and transformative.
Lisa teaches on Tuesdays at 7:30pm and Fridays at 9:30am. She is also one of the lead teacher for Grinning's RYT 200hr starting April 1st, 2016.