Good teaching is editing.
Meanwhile, the possibilities of what to teach in a class are endless.
To create a container for my creativity, I often plan my classes around a muscle group. I’ll choose a peak pose that highlights it, and then sequence skill-building exercises, mixing them with other asanas, all while highlighting the chosen muscle group.
Side note: for many years I only taught asanas. Then I learned that asanas are not always the best preparatory movements for asanas.
Now, in any pose, the whole body is involved. That’s a lot to focus on. So by filtering my teaching through my chosen theme, I get to teach more about one thing instead of less about everything.
This may sound like it makes the focus too narrow, but in fact, in teaching one thing really well, what’s often revealed is how that one thing connects to everything.
In distilling this meaning, the syllabus of poses needs to be like a well-curated tour that accomplishes multiple objectives, some of which might be to offer an accessible experience, a proper warm up, a clear through-line, and feel good movements that keep students coming back for more.
There is so much that goes into choosing what to include and (maybe more importantly) what not to include in a sequence.
Below, I share a couple of my Yoga Balls, Bands, and Bliss moves along with my reasoning as to why. This is not a complete sequence, but rather, one idea for how I’d sprinkle these moves into a class that combines traditional asanas and multi-disciplinary movements.
Let’s say my peak pose is upavista konasana. And let’s narrow that further to say I’m focusing on dynamically internally and externally rotating the hips within this wide range of hip abduction (so not your typical flop and fold, passive, static version.)
Here is how I might use an entire class to explore this specific theme.
Ever heard the expression “sensory drives motor”? This is one reason why I like to start with self-touch using Yoga Tune Up® therapy balls. In awakening sensory perception of a muscle group, our brain can more easily find it and use it.
Here I use the Alpha ball to map my adductors. These muscles stretch in upavista konasana. Several are also hip internal rotators.
After the massage, I might take everyone through a targeted joint mobilization sequence that feels sun salute(ish) because it’s dynamic and breath-centered, but that might not involve a single chaturanga. I’m gonna edit out chaturanga to be able to focus more on movement relevant to my theme.
Once I’ve gotten everyone moving for a bit, I might shift to some more concentrated work with the bands.
This band arrangement requires some explanation, so to minimize futzing and maximize movement, I’d get everyone in their bands, and then probably teach the next three moves consecutively.
(When introducing new stuff to your classes, it’s helpful to chunk new types of learning in this way so that you aren’t interrupting your students’ regularly scheduled programs too often, all at once.)
This single-joint isolation exercise highlights hip internal rotation against resistance. This hip movement is under-explored making it a valuable blind spot to reveal.
This exercise targets abduction against resistance during both an concentric and eccentric phase.
I’ll usually include core work toward the beginning of my sequences. The core is a vital area for transferring force between the upper and lower extremities. Prepping this area early on can be beneficial to students’ ability to access it later. Of course, this isn’t any old core routine, but rather, one that compliments my class theme.
After this, I’d likely capitalize on the fact that I’ve just spent a big chunk of class time imprinting a lot of valuable sensory experiences for my students to draw on kinesthetically.
For instance, they likely have a better understanding of where their adductors and abductors are, the actions these muscles create, and how to access these muscles for better control and force output. This is because both the bands and the balls offer external feedback that enhances proprioception (sense of bodily position), neural drive (the way your brain talks to your muscles to initiate, maintain, and increase muscle tension), and motor control (coordinated contraction and relaxation of muscles to accomplish specific tasks.)
To capitalize on this new awareness, I’d probably take students through a series of standing poses and highlight some of these key actions.
What I find so fun about this is that through teaching the pieces ahead of time, I’ve made my job so much easier. I’ll likely be able to cue things like “pry the mat apart” or “pull the mat together” or “corkscrew your right thigh inward” and it will actually mean something because they’ve been given many opportunities to feel these muscle actions. Additionally, from a physiological perspective, they might be able to generate more force within these actions.
Finally, before the peak, I might land students in a supine version at the wall. Here the bands provide feedback on internal and external rotation of the hips, the very action I’ll ask them to explore in the peak.
Lying supine also helps students shift gears energetically and start to wind down for savasana. Additionally, it might also offer a more accessible experience of the peak, so that students who need a modification have already learned it. Again, my job just got easier as a teacher.
Truly, and this is my favorite part, many students might be so comfortable here, they skip the peak entirely. I love it when that happens because it’s evidence students are immersed in their process, not the end goal or my agenda. To me, this is a sign that people are practicing yoga, and not just asana. Hopefully, in highlighting the process rather than the outcome, my teaching has supported their choice.
If you are interested in exploring this mode of practice with me in person – targeted sequences that incorporate balls, bands, and bliss – check out my teaching schedule here to find an event near you!