I am fortunate to be able to work and practice yoga at two studios. I have been practicing at one studio (which is near where I work) since last October, and just recently became a part-time/weekend front desk associate at a second one (which is closer to where I live; I love the convenience). In practicing at two separate yoga studios, I have noticed how the instructors at each studio guide their students through the 26 postures of the vinyasa flow. As a result, what has become glaringly obvious to me is something that I took for granted at one studio, yet found completely absent at the other, but it’s a crucial element in any effective yoga practice:
The importance of smooth sequences and transitions from one posture to the next.
In moving from one yoga pose/posture to the next, it is important to synchronize the sequence with the breath (inhalations and exhalations) by preparing the students with the proper preparatory transitions. This is why I love vinyasa flow so much; the flow through all 26 postures, when guided properly by a well-trained and experienced yoga instructor, is truly a thing of beauty. Here’s an example to illustrate my point:
From Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) to Samasthiti or Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
To make a smooth transition from downward facing dog to mountain pose, a skilled yoga instructors guides his/her students to:
Inhale/Look up to the top of the mat/Bend your knees…
Exhale/Step/Hop/Float forward to the top of the mat…
Inhale/Half-way lift or Flat black…
Inhale/Rise or Press up with arms lifted…
Exhale/Hands down to your side or to heart.
Notice the synchronization between the movement and breath? Notice the ease of transition? This is the proper sequencing transition from downward facing dog to mountain pose that I had taken for granted at the yoga studio near my place of employment (as well as the fitness center where I initially began my practice outside of my home), because the instructors there always include it in their vinyasa flow, from start to finish. By contrast, at the studio near my home, I’ve practiced under two instructors there, and in both cases the transition from Adha Mukha Svanasana to Tadasana/Samasthiti was:
[From downward facing dog] Step up to the top of your mat…
Exhale/arms down by your side [into Tadasana/Samasthiti].
Notice the lack of any transitional prep or proper sequencing to smoothly float from downward dog to standing?
From Adha Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) to Virabadrasana I (Warrior 1)
Another smooth transition, again, when properly guided by an experienced instructor, is that from downward facing dog to warrior 1. Again, at one studio the instructors have it down to a science:
[From Downward Facing Dog] Inhale/Right or Left leg lifts..
[They might even mix things up by having you coil knee to nose, knee to same/opposite elbow, etc. before, then back to Inhale/Right or Left leg lifts]
Exhale/Step the foot between the hands…
Inhale/Lift arms overhead…
Exhale [Virabadrasana/Warrior 1]
At the other studio, the instructors just takes us from downward facing dog straight to warrior 1 – without any transitional preparation of lifting a leg! I find this latter way of guiding students through a practice much less smooth and “flowing,” and much more disjointed and mechanically choppy.
Since I’ve only been at my new studio for a short time, I’m not sure if it’s in my place to point this out to the instructors and/or studio management at this early juncture. Yet, for someone used to being guided smoothly through a vinyasa flow, the lack of such essential transitional preparatory moves between postures is oftentimes frustrating.
Has this ever happened to you? Please give me your thoughts.
One thought on “Sequences and Transitions: The Key to an Effective Vinyasa Flow Yoga Practice”
“At the other studio, the instructors just takes us from downward facing dog straight to warrior 1 – without any transitional preparation of lifting a leg! I find this latter way of guiding students through a practice much less smooth and “flowing,” and much more disjointed and mechanically choppy.”
First, each teacher is different, each style of yoga is different; and each class even with the same teacher is different, even teaching a set sequence like Bikram or Ashtanga can be different day to day, teacher to teacher. Teaching style, mood, memory, brain farts, training, all play a role in the words that come out of the teacher’s mouth. That’s what you’re seeing, and that’s good as a student – awareness. Many things that you see you will like and will feel good, and many things you won’t like, they won’t feel good and you’ll intuitively know it. Sometimes the same move will feel good on one side of your body, awkward on the other; or one day to the next. That’s yoga my friend!
The above example I quoted from your post is one of those things you’re noticing that can have many explanations. There is seldom a “right” answer in yoga, so you would be well advised to understand this and not get focused on “right or wrong”. I’m going to repeat that: don’t get focused on there being a right or wrong way to sequence or give verbal cues.
For example, one reason for what you are noticing could be just stylistic, that’s how the teacher likes teaching it. Another is that lifting the leg behind oneself first allows newer, weaker students to give momentum to the leg before stepping it between their hands. Advanced students may or may not do this “reach” because they have the leg strength to move their foot directly to the front of the mat; and again, depending on the teacher, or the class (say, level 1 vs. level 3), it may or may not be taught on any particular occasion. Same reasoning applies to the breathing instructions.
In my level 2/3 class, I have to assume the students know the basic form of the pose and modifications, as well as the breathwork; now I can concentrate on advanced sequencing and advanced postures, instead of having to tell someone, “turn your right foot in two inches” or “inhale reach your arms” like I might in my beginner’s class.
You look like a football guy – imagine how you would teach someone to throw a football. Would you expect your next door neighbor to teach it the exact same way? Of course not, but you both could teach it, and teach it well. You might not even teach it the same way next week, as you did yesterday.
I would suggest that rather than trying to “police” other teacher’s classes or bring it up with the studio owner (probably not your job anyway), you discuss with the teachers, as a student, why that teacher makes certain choices, such as those you note in your blog, “I was wondering, why don’t you teach it this way…” or “I’m curious, why did you go from this to this …” I’ll bet they talk your ear off.
Hope this helps – enjoy your journey, and take lots of classes from lots of different teachers!