A lot of students ask me how I decide to make yoga classes. I tell them that there are a lot of things to consider when sequencing* a class. Most importantly, I need to know “who” I’m teaching and what the specific needs of the students are. I pick a theme as a place to start. A theme can be as simple as focusing on one particular pose to something educational or inspirational. A yoga class may flow seamlessly, but it definitely is purposeful and has a beginning, middle, and end. I tend to over-plan and try to give a few options when it seems necessary.
When a yoga class first starts, it’s important to do something called “centering”. This really just means a time to get calm, and have a first glimpse at how the body and mind feel in the moment. At this time students might notice how they’re breathing or I may introduce a specific theme so everyone knows what the class is about. After that, sometimes I introduce a meditation or focus on breathing. Most often, this is done seated, but we also begin class standing. It all depends who is in class and what the theme is.
After that, it’s time to “warm up” with some simple stretching to get the large muscle groups moving. Nothing rigorous yet, just preparing to move mindfully with breath. This movement is often gentle so students can notice where they might feel some sensations. Depending on the focus, theme, or intention of the class, this can be a few minutes or most of the class. It’s important for me to pay attention at this point to see how students are doing. If I notice there is difficulty or something comes up, it may be time for me to switch my plan and go a different direction.
The middle of the practice is where I put the most challenging components. It doesn’t always mean physically challenging. Here, students may become keenly aware of how they feel. To me, this is the most important part of the practice because it’s when students can become more self-aware as they are noticing a lot of different sensations in their bodies and minds. A particular pose may occur here or the theme of the practice may reach its peak.
After moving mindfully it’s time to come down for relaxation, this is the cool down. I usually plan a series of seated poses and end up in final relaxation, savasana. This is an extremely important part of all yoga practices because it helps students reap the benefits of the entire practice. Students can settle their minds once again, the heart and breathing rate come back to normal, and it gives their bodies a chance to relax.
The final phase of a yoga practice is the closing. After everyone is out of savasana (final resting pose) and seated comfortably, we will take a few cleansing breaths together, acknowledge the theme of the class, and I may offer a closing quote or thought. We always end the class acknowledging and thanking each other for the class we had together. No matter what, I always remind my students that yoga is a practice. They can practice wherever they are, without a yoga mat. I remind them that if they’re breathing they can practice!
*(Remember that you are your own best judge of what feels good for yourself or for your students. This is how I usually sequence a practice for myself and for students.)