By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
For many new teachers and interns, designing a Hatha Yoga class presents some fun and challenges. It allows the teacher to embrace his or her own creativity, instead of copying the techniques used in a template. Designing a lesson plan creates a teacher who discovers why and how to substitute a technique, modify for conditions, and make students comfortable. Let us look at some ways to group techniques within a Yoga class, and keep them interesting for each session.
Please keep in mind that there are thousands of ways to design lesson plans. The only time a lesson plan is wrong is if it can potentially hurt a student. Granted, we want a balanced lesson plan of forward, back, right, left, and twisting movements. However, as teachers, we must constantly adjust for student health conditions and that overrides what we want. Below is a generalized view of designing a Hatha Yoga class.
This is a time for students to bring their full awareness into the classroom. If I were to compare Yoga to any other discipline, this is similar to the ceremonial bow at the beginning of a martial arts class. Some teachers go into a brief meditation, at this point, while other teachers may focus on seated or standing breath awareness. The point is – there are many ways to approach this, but time should be taken for the centering because Yoga is not an “exercise” class.
This might consist of circular movements, which are commonly seen in Kundalini Yoga and some Hatha classes. The slow circular movements create a flow of energy within your core. At the same time, they warm up your joints, create flexibility within the muscles, and massage your vital organs. Some Yoga styles practice Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) instead of the circular warm-ups. This is completely acceptable, as long as the initial flows are performed slowly and gradually increase in speed. By gradually increasing the speed, we want to keep in mind that this is warm-up time and time spent preparing to avoid injury.
There seems to be a debate on when to perform pranayama during class time. We should be practicing pranayama throughout the class, even when we are practicing other techniques. For example – if your students were practicing Sun Salutations, they should have also been practicing Ujjayi breath at the same time.
When to Practice Pranayama
Some teachers guide students through pranayama at the beginning, middle, or end of the class – as a separate segment. Personally, I see nothing wrong with this. In my classes, pranayama is usually taught as integration throughout the lesson plan. For example – you could open, or close, a class with Udgeeth pranayama while teaching other Yogic breathing techniques throughout the class.
There are many ways to approach asanas. Some Yoga teachers start from a seated position, go to Table Poses, and then standing, and so on. Here is a contemporary template for grouping asanas in a typical Hatha class:
Table (All Fours) Poses
This is just a sample guideline. There are many ways to approach asana sequencing. If this were a private session, for a student with a neurological disorder, the entire lesson plan would have to be customized to meet the needs of that student. The above-mentioned lesson plan did not take into account teachers who organize Vinyasa Yoga classes, which continuously flow through all of these groups of asanas, within their flow sequences.
This is a special time, during classes, that can be performed at the beginning, end, or at the beginning and the end of a class. In other words, there is no “bad” time for meditation. If you survey your students, and they answer you honestly, you will find that most of them do not make time for meditation during the week.
Sometimes, Yoga instructors run two relaxation segments, in a single class. For example, a class might begin and end in Savasana. Sometimes, teachers offer guided relaxation at the beginning of class. Most often, guided relaxations are performed at the end of class, or just before the last meditation session, which is near the end of the class.
Types of Relaxation
There are a variety of relaxation methods. The classic method seems to be stage-by-stage relaxation, but body scanning has also become very popular, and it does not take as much time. This may be important if you are trying to schedule time. There is also the relaxation-through-visualization method – where the teacher guides the student through a mental exercise, with the focus being on one thought, or object, at a time, in that sequence.
With all that said – relaxation through visualization existed in Yantra Yoga for centuries before some of the popular methods of this time. If you want to research Yantra Yoga, it would be wise to seek out a competent Guru, who is familiar with the many methods of that discipline.
Food for Thought
Hatha Yoga is much like music, in that careful creativity can be a good thing. It is a matter of preference, as to whether the Yoga teacher or student likes a particular sequence. This does not make it right or wrong, but any methods taught from other branches of Yoga should be carefully studied under the guidance of a competent Yoga teacher from within that style.
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