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Savvy Sequencing

Can you recommend a good sequence that would culminate in Natarajasana? —Rhett

Maty Ezraty's reply:

Dear Rhett,

The classical version of Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose) is an advanced asana. The pose demands that the student be strong in the standing leg and open in the hips, spine, chest, and shoulders. Since I teach Ashtanga Yoga, I teach this pose in the context of the Ashtanga sequences, and therefore the student is already quite advanced. What may be more appropriate than giving you the "third series" sequence would be to go over key sequencing rules that can help you come up with a sequence not only for this pose but for any other pose you want to teach. Here are my rules of thumb:

(1) Teach what you know and do not teach what you do not know!
As a general rule, you should be able to do the pose before you attempt to teach it.

(2) Know the component parts.
Before creating a sequence that leads to a final pose, it is important to understand the smaller parts of the body, the "component parts," that need to be open in order to achieve the final pose. You can think of components as a collection of parts that, when put together, make up the complete posture. What parts of the body need to be open or cooperative in order to complete the pose? Which need to be strong and stable?

In Natarajasana, these are the standing leg, the hips, the low back, the groins, the chest, and the shoulders. You need to address these component parts with proper warm-up in your sequence before you teach the final pose. If the spine is stiff, then your students should not attempt this pose, or you will need to modify it greatly. If the hips are stiff and cannot square, the pose could damage the sacroiliac joints. If the groins and shoulders are not open, this pose will be very difficult and frustrating. You can include, as examples, both Virabhadrasana I and III (Warrior Poses I and III) to address the squaring of the hips and the proper strength of the standing leg. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) or "reverse namaste" is an example of a pose to address the shoulders as component parts.

(3) Break down the pose.
This is a very easy concept that you probably use intuitively in your classes. Teach easier poses that move in the same direction as the final pose. Use easier poses to break down or warm up to the final pose. For Natarajasana, we would need to include easier backbending poses and possibly some standing balance poses to address the aspect of balance.

(4) Focus on alignment principles or themes.
The proper alignment of the pose could also help determine the direction of your sequence. This is like creating a theme for your class. You would build up these alignment points from the beginning of the class and then put them together in the final pose. For Natarajasana, you have many choices, such as the squaring of the hips, the importance of the groins, or the proper work of backbending. Your choices are endless.

(5) Know the risks.
Keeping in mind the risks of a pose is helpful in creating the sequence. It is another way of looking at component parts, or breaking down a pose. In the case of Natarajasana, there are many risks: hyperextension of the standing leg, injuries to the lower back, endangering the sacroiliac joints if the hips are not level, and, of course, the risk of forcing the shoulder while grasping the foot. Your sequence must take into account these possible risks and include warm-up as well as careful instruction regarding the important actions and precautions needed to protect these parts of the body.

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