Sunday, May 14, 2017

Opening Up Yoga Class in New Ways - 2 to Try

proceeding into warm-ups
By Kathryn Boland 

Have you noticed yourself, or other teachers, opening up class in the same Child’s Pose or Easy Pose? Are you searching for ways to open up class that will be grounding and comforting for your students, but also pique their interests while potentially teaching them something new? We teachers learn and grow through reaching out of our comfort zones, and experimenting (with proper judgement and caution) with new methods and content. 
           
At the same time, students can learn and grow through those offerings. All involved can walk steadily on the path of the yogic lifestyle, ever closer to our highest selves. What better place to start all of that than the beginnings of our classes? Read on for two ways to open up classes with a balance of grounding and energy, those which you might not yet have thought of or tried. Shanti! 




1) Crocodile Pose

Starting classes prone, on the belly, can be a grounding and relaxing way for opening up classes. On the other hand, it can feel vulnerable to some students - particularly those who have histories of trauma. If you are working with a specific population of students who might very well have trauma history (such as mental health patients, the incarcerated, those in certain social services agencies), perhaps this might not be the wisest of options. 
            
All people potentially have trauma history, however, so offer students alternatives (such as Child’s Pose, Easy Pose, or any of the following options). Otherwise, have students lie on their bellies, with one hand on top of the other to make pillows for their heads. 

As an optional energetic cue, guide them to soften their frontsides and let that release seep into their backsides. Breathing while prone can be more restricted than in other positions, so inform them that they can breathe into their backsides (a strange idea, but anatomically logical, as the lungs can expand into one’s posterior side). 

Options for proceeding into warm-ups in movement include gentle, low Cobra pose, Sphinx Pose with rolling the head side to side, and bending the knees to windshield-wiper the feet or roll the ankles. From Prone, one can smoothly transition into Tabletop, Plank, or Down Dog (though be mindful that it’s still early in class, and to proceed slowly and cautiously). 

2) Supported Hero’s Pose 

This option can allow students to connect with fuller breath, greater spinal length, and connection to “core center”/midline - right at the beginning. If they can maintain any/all of those connections throughout class, they can enjoy a more fruitful and rich practice. That carried through to subsequent classes can mean greater benefit of students’ yoga practices in their lives. 

Many students need to sit on one or more blocks (at the lowest and widest position, in between their ankles) in order to maintain safe, natural spinal alignment in this pose. Warm-up options here include head (side to side swings), shoulder, and wrists. Gentle movement to transition into fluidly could be a seated Cat/Cow flow (mild backbend and forward curve), Urdhva Hastana (Upward Reach), sidebend variations (with numerous mudras possible), and twist (bound or unbound, arms raised shoulder height or touching thighs or floor/block). 

Within reason, good judgement, and regard for students’ desires and needs, enjoy experimenting with variations of any of the above. Your students might very well treasure experiencing the grounded energy, the upward lift and downwards stability, that starting in Hero’s Pose can offer. As always, inform students that they are free to enter alternatives that might better suit them. 
            
In addition, be prepared to work individually with a student who calls you over for assistance, or whom you notice looks uncomfortable. The beginning of class is not quite the place for healthy challenge. It’s a time to settle into the experience, away from the frenzy of everyday modern life, and prepare for the healthy challenges ahead. 

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