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Alicia asks: I’m designing my first four-week yoga series, and I am feeling stuck. I’m confident in sequencing an individual class, but unsure about how to build a series. How much of the series should change week to week, and how much should be consistent? How do you make a series flow as a whole?
Series are fun to teach and can be much more powerful than drop-in classes. With a consistent set of students and a defined goal, a series teacher can build on the learnings of each class, and students often notice dramatic progress. But series classes have an added level of complexity. As you’ve noticed, the whole series must be sequenced, not just each individual class. I have a few thoughts that may help.
“Begin with the end in mind.”
The above quote, from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sums up my first recommendation best. Ask yourself, “What do I want students to take away from the series?” Then build that intention pose by pose, week by week. Students need to do a pose several times before they understand it. Which poses will most effectively achieve the goals of your series? Those are the ones you should repeat most frequently.
One goal of my Yoga for Healthy Backs series, for example, is to gently strengthen and stretch the low back. So Bhujangasana (Cobra) and Cakravakasana (Cat) are core poses that repeat each week. Students in my recent Energize and Strengthen series, on the other hand, wanted to learn Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). I spent the first two weeks building up to it, and then I repeated it in the last three classes. Only through repetition could students improve their form and confidence.
Remember the days between classes.
Do you plan to give your students home practices as part of your series? If so, every pose in the home practice should be repeated throughout the series. I recommend teaching a pose at least twice before asking a student to do it at home. Make sure the student can do the pose comfortably and with reasonable form, even when you’re not present to guide them.
If a pose is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.
In an asana-focused class, pay close attention to your students’ form each week. If a pose seems appropriate for their bodies but their form is compromised, teach it several times with a focus on correct form. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) is appropriate for most people, and it is an important pose in this lineage. It is also difficult to learn. Teach Uttanasana in every class until students can do it correctly.
Don’t repeat your mistakes.
If you discover a pose is too strong for your students, don’t teach it again. For example, even though Pascimatanasana (Seated Forward Bend) is simple, many people are too restricted in their hips, backs, and hamstrings to do it safely and effectively. I might plan to teach it in a series for fit beginners. But I’d throw it out in a heartbeat if students didn’t have the strength and flexibility to do it safely.
Be willing to toss your plans in the trash.
Sometimes your best work isn’t appropriate for your students, so try not to get attached. You may need to change your design significantly after you see how students respond to the first class or two. When I develop a new series, I start with an overall goal and a weekly outline of sub-goals. But I only design the first class. Each subsequence class is developed after I teach the class preceding it. What seems like a good idea in theory is sometimes a disaster in practice. I almost always simplify my original plans.
I hope that helps, at least as a starting point!
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