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How to Plan a Basic Class

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Dean Lerner’s Reply:


Dear Linda,

Yes, there are studios and experienced teachers who have developed teaching templates and sequences for various class levels. Such templates are especially important in larger studios so that there is continuity between classes and sessions.

In your situation, you can best plan and strategize your course through a solid understanding of the theory of sequencing and its practical application. I will outline a few main ideas below, according to my thinking as a practitioner and teacher of Iyengar yoga—which is a classical approach. Other methods of yoga may take an altogether different view.

The premise of sequencing is to develop the students in a progressive, methodical, and proper manner, not doing poses according to whim or fancy. Yoga is an orderly subject and should be presented systematically, more mildly in the beginning and with increased intensity as the students’ abilities and capacities improve. Keep in mind the characteristics of the students—their general age, physical condition, overall health, and maturity. It’s easy to forget what it’s like to be a new student who lacks awareness of body and mind. Classes should introduce a variety of asanas to acquaint the student with each part, area, and system of the body.

Theoretically and practically, the standing poses are introduced first, as they familiarize beginners with the outer body: the arms, legs, elbows, knees, ankles, wrists, feet, and palms, as well as their interconnectedness. Standing postures disrupt the lethargic nature of the body and bring activity and energy to it. They increase physical and mental awareness and improve posture, balance, coordination, and movement. Students of both genders and all ages and conditions can practice these poses and develop increased strength, stamina, and understanding. The fundamental movements and knowledge of all the basic types of asana—forward bending, lateral twisting extensions, backward extensions, and inversions—are found within the standing poses.

Practically, then, a possible template or base class for beginners would begin with a few standing poses:

  • Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute) in Tadasana, or stretching the arms over head in various manners while standing in Tadasana
  • Utthita Hasta Padasana (Starfish Pose) and Parsva Hasta Padasana (Starfish Pose with the leg turned out, as if setting up for Trikonasana), or learning to jump the legs apart and turn the legs and horizontally extend the arms; Trikonasana (Triangle Pose); Virabhdrasna II (Warrior Pose II); Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose, first position); and Prasarita Padottanasana (Intense Spread Leg Stretch, first or concave position)
  • Vajrasana (Thunderbolt Pose), followed by Dandasana (Staff Pose), extending the arms up and forward in Dandasana, and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
  • Savasana (Corpse Pose)

This initial or base class can be repeated the following week, with a few additional standing and seated poses. The third or fourth class can introduce fundamental inversions, such as Ardha Halasana (Supported Half Plow Pose), Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), and Eka Pada Sarvangasana (one leg up in Sarvangasana, the other let down in Ardha Halasana). Add the simple seated poses after the standing poses, to rest the legs and remove strain. The seated poses also help create freedom and mobility in the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. The forward bends, such as Paschimottanasana, follow, bringing quiet and soothing the nerves.

From this base class, other poses—lateral extensions; twists, such as Bharadvajasana (Bharadvaja’s Twist); inversions; and supine poses—can all be systematically incorporated during subsequent classes. In this safe and progressive manner, the practitioner will develop body, mind, and intelligence for the yogic quest, the inward journey toward the Self.

Certified Advanced Iyengar instructor Dean Lerner is co-director of the Center for Well-being in Lemont, Pennsylvania and teaches workshop across the United States. He is a longtime student of B.K.S. Iyengar and served a four-year term as president of the Iyengar National Association of the United States. Known for his ability to teach yoga with clarity and precision, as well as warmth and humor, Dean has conducted teacher training classes at Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana and other locations.