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Dr. Sage Rountree: Sequencing Yoga Classes

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

Sequencing Yoga Classes: A Flipbook Approach by Dr. Sage Rountree

Remember the flipbooks we had as kids, where you could dress up a figure in various tops and bottoms combined into interesting outfits, or create a novel monster with the head of a dinosaur, the torso of an eagle, the legs of a goat, and the feet of a lion? This model works well not just for entertaining children (and adults), but also for structuring a balanced sequence for a yoga class. Think of the entire class as a full outfit or monster. Envision what you want that outfit or monster to look like, play with interesting combinations of options, then present that entire creation to your students. You’ll be engaged, they’ll be engaged, and you’ll be helping them not only with that one sequence but also by teaching them structural rules so they can keep themselves balanced in home practice. Let’s investigate.
For our purposes here, we can think of a four-section flipbook, comprised of the opening of class (the head), the standing portion of class (the torso), the low-to-the-mat portion of class (the legs), and the closing of class (the feet). While staying true to the function of each portion of class, you can mix and match sequences to create a complete whole that suits your vision.
As you consider this approach, think through the opening sequences you usually practice and teach. Do you begin standing, sitting, or reclining? Do you include breath exercises? What warmup exercises do you lead? Take students through a routine that moves the spine in all directions: forward and back, side to side, and around in both directions. That can look like this:
Seated Warmup
Seated cat/cow
Seated side bend
Seated twist
Prone Warmup from Table
Child’s pose with side stretch
Threading-the-needle twist
Supine Warmup
Hugging knees
Bridge pose
Knees-down twist
Side bend (“banana” pose)
Combined with a welcome and centering exercises, any of these three sequences would constitute the head of the class. For another example, see the first segment of the Yoga for Cyclists video.
Yoga For Cyclists
This video demonstrates another prone spinal warmup:
Prone Warmup from the Belly
Tree leg with side bend
Threading the needle twist
Child’s pose
Moving on to the torso of the class, you’d then take students through a standing pose routine. Depending on the students’ needs, this could be gentle or vigorous. A gentler standing sequence might include static holds of appropriately modified versions of triangle, side angle, and warrior poses. A vigorous sequence could be based on sun salutations or some other dynamic flow. To ensure a well-rounded approach, include poses facing forward, like lunges and warrior I–based poses, as well as those that face sideways with the legs in external rotation. Standing balance poses belong here, too.
Moving to the mat, choose sequences that target the core and hips. Core poses will group into stabilization exercises, like planks and boats, and articulation exercises, like rolling down to the back from staff, or lifting and lowering into and out of bridge. Include some of each to balance the body. Poses for the hips should target the front, back, inner, and outer lines of the legs and pelvis. For the front, lunges and backbends will stretch the front while strengthening the back. Release the back line in forward folds. Wide-legged poses will stretch the inner thighs, while poses based on pigeon and cow-face legs will stretch the outer hips. A well-balanced floor sequence hits all these areas.
For an example, see the second segment of the Yoga for Cyclists video. This features a shift from low lunge (which releases the front of the back hip) to runner’s lunge/half splits (which releases the back of the front leg), combined with a twist toward the front leg (to stretch its outer line) and a lizard lunge inside the front-leg knee (to release the inner thighs).
Finally, move through a finishing sequence. This could include passive or active backbends, inversions, a final twist, and relaxation, as well as meditation and the formal close of class. You may use the same or a similar finishing segment in most classes, like wearing a favorite pair of shoes almost every day—this is comforting and familiar for students, and the routine helps them prepare for deep rest. Or try new approaches, choosing exactly the right shoes to balance the outfit you’ve presented.
Play with Different Combinations
This four-part structure yields a balanced practice that will suit most populations. To dial down the intensity, lead a spine-focused class with several different warmup sequences, or a hip-focused class with more than one mat sequence. To build heat, combine several standing sequences in a row. And to make a short, standalone practice, choose just one segment to focus on: warmup only for early in the morning; standing poses as a short strengthening practice; mat poses to unwind after work or a workout; finishing poses as preparation for bed.
As you develop these sequences, collate them into a notebook, spreadsheet, or notes application. These notes will help you develop a yoga sequence flipbook of your own, to help with your personal practice as well as class preparation.
To get a visual of this approach, as well as concrete suggestions to slot into each portion of class, please see my book, The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga, or check out my online course, Sequencing Yoga Classes from Welcome to Namaste.
~ Learn more about Dr. Sage Rountree PhD, E-RYT, prAna Ambassador

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