Sequencing a yoga class is more than picking out cool-looking poses and slapping them together. Yoga works to bring you back into balance. But if your asana-practice is imbalanced, not only can you get hurt, but that imbalance seeps into other areas of your life.
For example, the yoga populace’s obsession with strong, sweaty vinyasa flow classes. Strength-building poses might give you a banging body, but without stretching and relaxation, you risk causing injury.
What good is a beautiful exterior if your rotator cuff is always jacked up?
3 ways to avoid injuries in yoga classes
When sequencing a yoga class, not only do you need to choose poses carefully, but you also need to organize them in a logical order.
In Sanskrit we call this vinyasa krama, or logical sequencing, a concept where we have a beginning, middle, and end. Another layer of vinyasa krama means we start simple and progress to the complex. Both ideas apply whether you’re designing the entire practice, a series within, or a single pose.
Also, don’t confuse the principle of vinyasa krama with vinyasa flow classes. Similar, yet different, uses of the Sanskrit word vinyasa.
You can minimize negative effects by avoiding these 3 common mistakes when sequencing a yoga class: forgetting modifications, neglecting counterposes, and overlooking transitions.
Not everyone who attends yoga classes is in perfect shape and condition. Just because someone appears capable and healthy doesn’t mean they are. Too often they won’t tell you when they have fused disks, a rod in their ankle, or asthma.
We all have a unique make-up of abilities and limitations we bring to the yoga mat. Modifications help us adhere to the vinyasa krama principle of simple to complex. When you allow your clients to progress in this manner, they achieve maximum gain with minimum effort.
No one has left in the middle of class because you gave too many modifications. In fact, they might appreciate the nuances because it created more awareness or relieved boredom from doing it the same-old-same-old.
For those who take issue with the word “modification,” you can also call them variations.
A counterpose is a pose we use to balance the possible negative effects of other asanas. Counterposes help maintain the balance of your body because every action has two effects: one positive and one negative.
For example, a twist and other asymmetrical poses (Warrior 1, Triangle, Tree) must be completed on both sides in order for your body to balance out. If you didn’t, you’d have one side of your body that was stronger and/or more flexible than the other. It’s easy to remember to practice both sides.
But the most overlooked counterposes deal with forward bends.
A typical class usually involves a lot of forward bends (because these stretch the back and hamstrings) but without including back bends you risk building up negative effects and excessive tensions that can lead to injuries down the road.
Back bends include cow, cobra, prone boat, bridge, wheel, camel, arch backs, seal (yin), sphinx (yin), reverse plank, updog, bow, melting heart. Where forward bends stretch the back, back bends strengthen. Unfortunately, you have to practice back bends with caution otherwise you might hurt your neck or spine.
For any one pose there are various counterposes. If you’ve got five forward bends in your sequence, you don’t have to do five wheel poses. You can select the gentler variations such as cow, cobra, or prone boat.
And if you hold a forward bend for five breaths (because it feels so good), give the back bend the same amount of air time.
During yoga teacher training, I harp on transitions the most. Transitions are any time you enter or exit a pose, and people rarely put the necessary attention into the movement use to stand, sit, or release a pose.
And it’s that lack of awareness that causes injuries during an asana-practice.
Also, if you’re not careful with the transitions, you’ll make your clients look and feel like fish flopping on dry land. Rather than jump from one random pose to another, think about which pose makes the most logical sense to go to next.
Good yoga teachers help move their participants into poses, one incremental step at a time (vinyasa krama at work again). Great yoga teachers place as much emphasis on exiting the pose, completing the vinyasa cycle of beginning-middle-end.
no guarantees in life
Of course there are no guarantees. Injuries can occur in any physical activity, a fluke accident can happen to you, to your clients. But you minimize the exposure to injury by avoiding the 3 common mistakes when sequencing a yoga class by including the appropriate modifications, counterposes, and transitions.