Published on May 22nd, 2017 | by Catherine Tingey0
Sequencing a Private Yoga Session
The Art of Sequencing a Private Yoga Session
Something I think a lot about is sequencing. I know most of my fellow teachers do as well.
I remember reading in film school that Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish directing giant, said there was only ever one correct location for the camera in any given scene…and the director’s job is to find it!
I approach designing a private yoga session in the same way.
There many things to consider: a client’s age, general health & lifestyle, specific yoga or fitness-related goals, injury status, current movement patterns i.e. what type of activity they typically do each week, etc.
It can be a little overwhelming to say the least. I aim for a balance between specficity and generalization. Typically, in a single session, I’ll apply 50-60% of the tools I have for their chief complaint, while providing a well-rounded class that provides a full body experience.
If I used every single tool I had, we’d end up spending the majority of the session on a single region of their body. That’s not balanced.
So what does one of my sessions (75 min) look like in concrete terms? Let’s take a look at an easy case study — my client, ‘Jason’.
Jason, 36, is a weekend warrior who complains of extremely tight hamstrings. He wants a full-body yoga ‘workout’ with particular attention to his hamstrings, which he feels are hindering his running performance. By day, he sits in a chair for up to 9 hours/day. He has taken group yoga classes before but didn’t feel like he ‘knew what he was doing’.
In observing him, I notice that his chin juts forward from mild thoracic kyphosis. Nothing serious, but I want to address it in future sessions so he won’t develop neck/shoulder pain in the future. I also make notes to check him for gluteal weakness (common in runners) and hip flexor tightness. And I want to address his core with some Pilates; again, for future sessions.
Chief Complaint: very tight hamstrings but no associated pain.
Yoga Level: Advanced Beginner/Intermediate
Additional Goals: Better sleep
Each teacher has her/his own style that ideally is a synergy of THEORY (TT’s, workshops, and intellect) PRACTICE (yoga, sports, pilates, etc.) and HEART (this you can’t learn in a workshop, unfortunately!).
You might have noticed I don’t include any Prasaritas even though they’re great for hamstrings. That would be in session #2. If you include ALL the poses that might be great for a condition, that body part can become overly worked and the session becomes unbalanced. Just as if you were getting a sports massage for shoulder pain, 100% of the time would not be devoted to your shoulder, yoga is the same. We address the whole body.
Make notes (I always have a notepad) for other poses or stretches or myofascial release that you want to do in sessions 2, 3, etc. Designing balanced sessions is good for your clients, and allows you to cycle through your diverse toolkit, keeping your teaching fresh and exciting. Never teach the same class twice!
You might also have noticed that there is no real Core Work or Seated Meditation in this session. You can’t do all your greatest hits in a single class!
Lastly, you’ll see that I borrow freely from Classical Mat Pilates when I feel it’s useful.
Another thing I think about are transitions, specifically how to get a client gracefully and effectively from various body positions. I hate clunky transitions. I think they’re super distracting. For example, I’d never put Tadasana and Half-Moon together. Or Wide Legged Seated Forward Bend after Down Dog. And yet, these latter two poses are both good for hamstrings. (Sadly, I’ve been to classes where those poses were side by side, but it doesn’t happen often).
A good private yoga session begins with centering, graduates through warm-ups to a peak pose or sequence, and then unwinds the body through some deeper poses and ends with a resting meditation (Savasana). This is a general rule, not to be taken literally or applied rigidly.
Many a time I’ve planned a sequence I think my client will love only to find they woke up with a back spasm, or a stiff neck. On the spot, I create a therapeutic session that gently targets the painful area and its surroundings with deep breathing to get the client some immediate relief.
I believe being a great private yoga instructor means being both phenomenally prepared and yet nimble enough to pivot spontaneously. That for me is the greatest challenge and what keeps me excited about teaching.
If you have ideas or feedback on sequencing, I’d love to hear your comments below. This a fertile topic in yoga and there are many different approaches!