Ecstatic Yoga Workbook
Asana II Workbook
Leading A Yoga Class
Basics in Leading A Yoga Class
Welcome to this very important class that will build confidence for you to begin leading yoga classes with ease and grace.
Basics of leading a yoga class
These suggestions for leading a yoga class are logical and you most likely already know many of them already, however we will review them to build confidence and ensure a flowing and powerful yoga class every time.
There are many elements to leading a class that include preparing the space and energy of the class. Checking to be sure the temperature in the room is ideal for your class, Making sure the environment is ideal including the lighting and heat in the room, and creating the necessary atmosphere with candles, incense or music. Making sure props are available, clean and accessible if needed and creating a prepared sequence for your class. All of this preparation will come together to create a powerful and magical experience for your yoga students.
Most important element is to take five to ten moments for yourself before teaching your class to center and ground yourself. From your space of presence and peace you are invited to create an intention for the class and visualize the class with the outcome of your intention. In just taking those few moments to create your intention and visualize that intention manifested already, you will be more empowered and the class will run smoothly and gracefully.
You will want a clean space, clear of clutter and distraction. You may want to light candles or light incense or use essential oils to bring a meditative energy to the space. Some yoga instructors like to set up a small alter in the front of the room with a crystal or inspiring picture. You may want to bring a drum or guitar for your opening or closing. You will want to have props like blocks, blankets or if a restorative class a bolster, eye pillows and blanket. The most important aspect of your environment is that the students feel safe, comfortable, and welcomed to the space and class. It is suggested to greet the students as they arrive and learn their names. Have your yoga mat in the spot you wish to start your class and the room all set up and prepared before the yoga class is to begin so you can be available to greet students in a present and center fashion.
The music you choose will vary depending on the intention of the yoga class. If you are teaching a more yang class with the intention of raising the student’s energy you will want faster paced and more active music. In more yang classes music with words is often chosen but not necessary, the key is to match the energy of the music with the energy of the class whether instrumental or with words.
If you are creating a relaxing or yin class with meditation and restorative postures, you will want peaceful, quieter music with a slower beat… beats to match the heartrate is ideal for relaxation. Instrumental music with a slow rhythm is often a great choice, however there are many music selections with words and a slow paced rhythm.
It is suggested to use music with words and messages that also match the intention of the yoga class. Positive and inspiring messages are always recommended… music with negative, heavy or dark messages and energy is not recommended. With your music choices bring energy and messages of peace, balance, inspiration, alignment, unity, wellness, relaxation, comfort even celebration.
The temperature of a yoga room will vary depending on the style of yoga and intention of the class. More active or fitness yoga classes will want to have the room temperature a bit lower to keep the students comfortable during more rigorous postures. Yin, meditation and restorative yoga classes will want to create a warmer room temperature for a comfortable environment for students to relax. When in meditation or restore practices the body’s core temperature can drop, therefore a warmer space will facilitate the relaxation and students will not be distracted by the discomfort of a chilly body.
During meditations, savasana, nidra, samadhi or relaxation practice it is especially important to keep students warm. Therefore, you may want to suggest in your class description for students to bring a blanket, sweater, socks or whatever they may need to take care of themselves during the relaxation practice.
Hot yoga is an exception as all the hot yoga classes whether yin or yang are done in a heated room.
It is important to practice integrity by beginning and ending your yoga classes on time. This respects your students time and the schedule of the studio.
Beginning a yoga class
Sometimes one or two students are just not quite ready or there may be a late comer or two that straggles in after the starting time for your class, you are in total integrity to begin your class on time anyhow. Begin the class with an introduction and simple opening practices like centering through intention, body scans and/or a short meditation or pranayama. This opening time provides the students who are late and still settling in time to be ready when the asana/postures part of the practice begins.
Ending a yoga class
It is important to end your yoga class at the time advertised. This is important for many reasons, first and foremost it creates honesty, integrity, and respect. You are honoring rather than disrespecting or stealing other’s time and you are doing what you said you would do. This builds trust between student and teacher. Also, most of your students will have other appointments… children to pick up at school, medical appointments, or the need to get to work in the morning or after a lunch break yoga class. If your class goes over it can affect the remainder of their day and possibly make them late to their next appointment.
Even if you have not completed everything you wanted in the yoga class you created, if time is short, skip some asana poses so that you can end on time. It is more important to your students and the studio to be in integrity with time than to stuff in a lot of content and poses in your class.
Savasana is very important to integrate the benefits of the yoga class through deep relaxation. If you are running late with the choreography you created for your class, it is better to skip some of the poses and make sure you have at least 5 minutes in relaxation at the very end of the class.
Ways to lead a yoga class
Example; This is similar to a follow the leader style and the most popular form of teaching. With this form you will be cuing the postures while you are also going into the posture. For example for warrior I, “Bring your feet to a wide stance, bend the front knee so it is directly over the front ankle…” This is while you yourself are bringing your feet to a wide stance and bending your front knee to align over the front ankle.
The one important thing you need to remember while leading by example is to not get absorbed in your own practice, yet rather be there for your students. Keep an eye on your students throughout the practice and make sure they are all following along and feel supported.
Cuing only; This is when you do not get into the postures yourself, but only cue the students verbally through the postures and breath practices. This is not optimal because students usually appreciate the instructor modelling the postures for them, however cuing alone can work very well and allow the yoga instructor to be more observant of the students.
Combination of example and cuing; This may be the optimal way to teach, you can prompt students through the postures by example, yet also get out of the pose and walk around the room while continuing to cue. This is especially helpful when you are cuing ways to deepen the postures and if you want to adjust students during the practice. We will get into adjustments in more depth in analytics.
In Ecstatic Yoga we suggest for 60-90 minute classes to include the following:
Centering Opening- Usually seated, also supine or standing; body scan, meditation, intention, simple breathwork.
Warm Ups- gentle movements of the spine, neck, sun salutations
Asana- Standing, balancing, inversions, twists, seated, supine and prone postures
Releases- Releasing tension in the spine, preparing for relaxation
Relaxation Closing- Savasana, meditation, nidra, samadhi
Timing Suggestions for 60/90 minute classes
60 minutes/90 minutes
Centering Opening- 5 minutes/5 minutes
Warm Ups- 10 minutes/15 minutes
Asana- 30 minutes/45 minutes
Releases- 5 minutes/10 minutes
Relaxation Closing- 10 minutes/15 minutes
Centering Opening Practice
Presence, Inner focus, Intention, Mindfulness, Breath
It is optimal to begin the class with an opening practice to help students center inside and connect to their inner being. The opening practice is to assist students to transition from their busy world and life circumstances to the presence and peace of the yoga practice.
Guide students to the present moment by inviting them to scan their body, notice sensations inside their bodies, to feel their body connected to the earth. Inviting students to bring their attention inward, noticing the inner energy, emotions, and inner sensations. It is important to guide your students to feel the inner energies and emotions of the body rather than intellectually label the emotions or sensation.
Invite students to create an intention for the yoga practice, a personal intention for their life… it could be for the class itself, the day, week, year or a lifetime intention. Invite your yoga students to create their intention in the positive… for example rather than “I am no longer at this job I dislike” use a positive statement like “I have the career of my dreams, I love my job” Also intentions are most powerful in the present tense rather than future tense because the mind take things literally. “I will be at my ideal weight by the end of this year” instead state in the present “I am at my ideal weight, I love my body and the way I feel in my body”
It is often a beautiful opener to the class to invite students to rest in breath awareness for a few moments or include simple centering pranayama like breath awareness, belly breathing, 3 part yogic breath.
Breath, simple movements, range of motion, warming joints, spinal movements
Beginning the yoga practice with gentle movements to allow the body to warm up and become ready for more effort-based and active postures. Creating movements with breath and simple spinal movements are wonderful for warm ups. Simple movements like pelvic grinds, neck rolls, side stretches are some examples of gentle movements to open, awaken and warm the body up. Also, sun salutations are a great way to warm the body up by providing a variety of gentle types of spinal movements, in the sun salutation you invert in forward fold and down dog, you strengthen the back in cobra and updog, you flex and extend the spine.
Strength, spinal movements, flexibility, balance, flow, repetition, counter poses
You will spend the longest time segment in the asana portion of your practice, assuming this is an asana practice and not a meditation or pranayama practice. Postures are chosen depending on the intention of your practice and can include standing, balancing, inversions, twists, backbends and seated postures. Asana practices often include a variety of the above types of postures for a well-rounded class, however specialty classes like a class on twists or balancing poses are popular and helpful as well. Yet, even when specializing we will want to add a few other types of poses and counter poses into the practice.
In teaching a yoga class it is good to create the class ahead of time, especially specialty classes so you can allow for easy transitions from one posture to the next. Creating flowing transitions allows the students to maintain a flowing space for the mind, body and spirit. It is often best to group the poses, for example all your standing poses together, then transition to balancing postures or seated postures. If a student is in a standing pose then guided to a floor pose and back to standing unless they are flowing together like updog and downdog shifting from the floor and back to standing doesn’t often flow. It is better to lead the class into a sequence of standing poses and then transition to a sequence of balancing or floor poses.
When moving into the transition from floor to standing or standing to floor it helps to bring in transition postures like forward fold, wide legged forward fold, chair, downdog. For example, from star pose you can guide your students into wide leg forward fold, your legs are already wide with star, all you need to do is guide your students to bring their hands to their waist and hinge forward from the hips, this creates a flowing transition to the floor and then you can guide your students onto their hands and knees and move into cat/cow posture.
In creating your sequencing it is important to create counter poses especially for backbends and twists. A counter pose for bridge is to bring the knees to the chest to release and relax the lower back after a deep back bend. A counter pose for a deep twist to the right is a gently twist to the left before you go into a deeper twist to the left. After a long inversion you will want to bring the head upright in a relaxed mountain or easy seated pose.
Repetition is often a great way to create tapas or heat in the body and build strength and endurance for your students. Whether repeating the sun salutation a few times, a warrior flow or seated flow a few times, repetitive flows can be a graceful and enjoyable way to bring strength and flexibility to the mind, body and spirit.
It is often recommended to end your asana portion of the practice with a few simpler easier poses to begin the warm down process. Some examples are Supine spinal twist, happy baby, child’s pose.
Balance the spine, release tension in the spine and lower back, slow the breath and ease the student into relaxation.
There are many ways to release the spine and lower back, we teach the following releases to ease into the savasana portion of the practice. We will go into the mechanics and analytics of the releases in analytics class.
Double knee down twist
Single Knee drop
Releases are done slower than the asana poses… they are done slowly and mindfully to prepare for relaxation. Breath is natural yet deep and slow. The theme of releases is to slow down and create a deep state of body awareness and mindfulness. Slow the body down, release any tension, quiet the mind and flow gracefully into a deep integrative savasana or whatever style of relaxation.
Relaxation or Savasana
Stillness, letting go, sinking into the Self, integrating the practice, restorative
Relaxation or Savasana is as important to the yoga practice as the asanas and postures because this is when the entire yoga practice is integrated into the mind, body and spirit of the student. This is when you bring the benefits of the yoga class and integrate them deeply into the being. This is the time the physical body melts into deep relaxation and merges with the deeper Self or Soul Presence. The origins of yoga 5,000 years ago included only meditation and relaxation, no poses were practiced. A few thousand years after yoga was born the yoga masters developed poses as a means to the end of finding deep relaxation so the mind could enter into stillness, deep meditation and ultimately a merging with the Soul, Atman, or Higher Self. Therefore be sure to include savasana in every yoga practice and if time is short skip a few asanas to be sure you can include savasana.
There are a few forms of relaxation… savasana, yoga nidra, samadhi.
We have classes on each one of these for more details, however the important part of relaxation is to allow the entire yoga practice to integrate in a space of deep stillness and relaxation. As a yoga instructor you may wish to guide the students to tense and release the body from the toes to the head or the head to the toes. You may guide them through a visualization of them on a beach and/or with light pouring through their body that melts all tension and allows for deep relaxation. You may guide them to relax all the systems of the body. There are many ways to guide students into relaxation, however after a few moments of guidance in creating deeper relaxation it is important to create a few minutes of silence for deeper integration.
If the room has lights on, turn them off or down, you may even want to close the blinds. If music is playing turn it off all music for this deepening into the inner silence… outer silence assists inner silence. Once the silent stillness is over this is a good time to chant, drum or rattle for a few short moments if that is something you enjoy doing for your students.
After a few minutes of silence and optional chanting, drumming or rattle, it is best to gently guide students back with a soft, quiet and comforting voice. Slowly guiding them back by inviting them to first sense their bodies, then invite simple body movements like wiggling the fingers and toes. Then invite them to engage in more movement by stretching the body out, rolling to one side and then sitting in easy pose. You may add a balancing pranayama like Nodi Shodana or Samavritti if there is time.
This is a good time to invite them to revisit the intention they set at the beginning of the practice and scan their body one final time, noticing any differences from the body scan at the beginning of practice. If you have a drum or guitar and want to play a short closing piece or chant this is a great addition to a class. Yoga classes traditionally conclude with an Om or Namaste or both with option to bring the hands in prayer position or any other hand mudra you wish to include.
Thank you for joining me today for Leading a Yoga Class, hopefully you can confidently use these suggestions to create a welcoming space and powerful practice that leads your students to a healthier body, mind and deeper connection to Self, Soul, Universe.
Wishing you a beautiful and blessed day, Namaste