Teaching, Beginning, Being One Piece

Yesterday I taught a workshop for Internet Week NY. I’d randomly decided their schedule of events needed “yoga and teatime” in addition to the lectures and cocktail parties. I set up an RSVP form, so I could gauge interest and experience levels, and had 40 people “interested”, and 14 people RSVP. Nearly all marked their experience level as “010 classes”; none marked “over 100″. So I got to thinking about what I wanted to teach in a true beginners’ class the last time I taught beginners, I was still teaching the Atmananda Sequence verbatim.

I knew that Sun Salutations were a good place to start; they supposedly contain every essential alignment, and since students are forced to do them all the time in classes, they would be valuable topics to cover.

I was also thinking about the specific audience: Internet Week participants, i.e. people who sit in Computer Pose 40 hours a week. So I thought some wrist, shoulder, neck, and back movements might be good: Table Top, Locust, Rabbit, Seated Crescent, Spinal Twist, Bow. Also some stretches for the hip flexors, which sit in 90 forward bends all day: Lunges, Hero, Camel.

And I was chewing on something Leslie said last week: “the PRINCIPLE of Chaturanga is learning to hold the body all in one piece.” (Quote is approximate.) It was so interesting to think about a single lesson we can learn in each pose. And then I thought, well, this is a good thing to work on in ALL poses: finding the unity and integration of the body. On a practical level, it teaches us to avoid injury by using our whole body to lift boxes, get out of bed, stand on our heads, etc. On a mental/emotional level, it reduces the hierarchical war of head, heart, gut, and hips; we want them ALL to be happy and acknowledged. And it’s a good metaphor for the Internet: bringing vast and varied communities together in one piece. It’s kind of the whole point of yoga: union, coming together.

Finally, I was feeling like challenging Down Dog. Ever since my shoulder injury, I have been realizing how complex this pose actually is. There are a thousand ways you can arrange the shoulders in this pose, and a thousand points of emphasis. It’s a subtle balancing act of how much to widen the shoulders (or not), externally rotate the upper arms, internally rotate the forearms, straighten the arms (or not), send the sitbones or the tail to the sky, lengthen the spine or relax the neck… and that’s not even getting into the unique upper body strength one must build. (Practicing Half Down Dog standing at the wall is a great start, but still we need something to fill the vinyasa.) So, all I needed was another relevant aside from Leslie (“Down Dog, for all its ubiquity, is not really a beginner’s pose…”) to have the validation I needed to try something new. (Leslie, here’s a prime cut of someone taking your ideas and bastardizing them straight into yoga class ;) Child’s Pose is the usual substitution, but I didn’t want to lose the upper body strengthening entirely, so I played around with Dolphin, the forearm stand version of Down Dog, where I could focus on the shoulders and upper arms more clearly. So this is a full-fledged Vinyasa class with absolutely no Down Dogs.

And then I took some of my favorite poses and glued everything together in an order that flowed. Here it is. It went well enough that I got a round of applause at the end of the class :) :) :) For those of you that attended the class, I hope you enjoyed it and find a way to make it your own!


The Principle of Chaturanga: Being One Piece
a beginners’ workshop for Internet Week


Seated

Breath Scan your own MRI, if you notice any pain or unusual sensation, that’s your focus for today (listening, not “fixing”)… otherwise focus on being all in one piece


Standing

Leading the Witness lead with head, heart, lower back, hips to bend forward and come up; notice the difference

Mountain find relaxation downward, balance upward

Arm Spirals inhale and rotate palms out, exhale and rotate palms in… keep expanding motion until arms, spine and head are included (thanks to Leslie for this one too)

Raised Arms circle up and down from Mountain a few times

Prayer bring the hands together, down the center line of the body


Sun Salutations
(inhale/exhale each movement)

Raised Arms

Forward Bend hands through center, lead with the heart to come down

Low Lunge first foot back

Plank find the body all in one piece! heels to head

Knees Down find one line from the knees to the crown, elbows stay by sides

All Down drop heart in front of fingers, forehead down (eventually Plank > Knees Down > All Down is all on one exhale, we did a few rounds to get to this)

Baby Cobra find arch in UPPER back, shoulders relax, navel stays in

Child’s Pose lift navel and hips back to rest on heels, reboot

Dolphin elbows stay down, tuck toes, straighten spine more than legs

Table Top knees down, straighten arms

Low Lunge first foot forward

Forward Bend second foot forward and relax

Repeat other side, repeat the whole cycle a few times


Standing Parallel

High Lunge from Low Lunge, drop back knee, inhale arms up, maybe lift back knee

Revolved Lunge twist across front thigh, feel spiral in UPPER back

Airplane drop hands, maybe forearms to floor inside front foot… drop back knee if desired

Splits Prep “runner’s stretch”, flex front foot and sent hips back to sit on heel

Standing Split point front foot, walk hands forward onto blocks, torso rests on front leg til back leg is light and lifts up

Forward Bend release top leg down, relax everything to ground

Repeat other side


Arm Balance

Crow find one line from middle finger to elbow to shoulder… lift from center to find balance


Standing Rotated

Extended Side Angle from Low Lunge, turn back heel down at 45… maybe take same hand to hip and rotate hips to side wall… maybe take front elbow to knee and lift torso… maybe take top arm to sky, find one line from front foot to top fingers

Warrior II lift torso to vertical, arms stretch front and back (move from ESA to WII a few times)

Extended Side Angle II top arm reaches to top corner of room, find one line from back foot to top fingers

Side Plank top arm drops inside front foot, back foot rotates 180 to rest on ouside edge, front foot moves to middle of mat for support, other arm reaches up to sky… find one line through core

Repeat other side


Standing Short + Balancing

Triangle from Low Lunge, turn back heel down at 45… maybe take same hand to hip and rotate hips to side wall… take front hand to block in front of calf… hop back foot in to make equilateral triangle with legs… work to straighten front leg

Forward Angle take top hand down to another block, square hips forward, extend heart to horizon

Revolved Triangle keep second hand down on block, lift first hand up to sky and feel rotation in upper back

Warrior III both hands to blocks, move them 12″ in front of front foot and lift back leg and torso PARALLEL with ground, find strength in back body from heel to head

Half Moon take the hand of the leg that is lifted, place on hip, rotate hips to side wall, feel change in hips

Warrior III rotate hips back to parallel, feel the difference

Knee Hug stay on one leg, bend back knee into chest and stand up

Tree place sole of lifted foot onto inside of leg, find equanimity up and down

Shake out legs and repeat other side


Back Bending

Standing Backbend from Mountain, place hands on hips and lift collarbones to lengthen front of body

Camel kneel, tuck toes, find same lift and length from collarbones, maybe grab one heel then other

Hero from kneeling, bring knees to touch, feet wide… sit on block between feet, maybe floor, maybe lean back

Plank lower down through Chaturanga! to count of five, to floor

Locust point toes, interlace fingers behind back, lift upper back off floor

Bow bend knees, maybe clasp ankles and stretch legs to open shoulders (I forgot to include this one in class)

Child’s Pose draw navel in to come back


Forward Bending

Rabbit from Rock, clasp heels and roll head down to floor, forehead touching knees… stretch hips to sky

Dangling sit up, cross one ankle over other, plant fingertips by thighs, lift pelvic floor and navel up

Staff bring legs straight out in front, sit on front of sitbones, press palms next to hips, lift heart and flex feet

Seated Forward Bend same energy as Staff, inching heart (not head) towards toes

Wide-Legged Seated Forward Bend legs very comfortably wide, feel pelvis tip forward over femurs, keep feet perpendicular to floor

Seated Crescent bring feet about 3′ apart, turn towards one side, plant palm behind hips, lift hips, swing top arm to back of room and arch whole body up (repeat other side)


Hip Opening

Cobbler bring soles of feet together, yogi toe lock on toes, tip pelvis forward to send heart down, relax head

Seated Spinal Twist bring first foot across other thigh to floor, find both sitbones grounded, find straight spine, twist across leg, plant back palm behind hips so elbow can help straighten lower back

Pigeon keep top leg at 90, swing bottom leg around to back of room, prop hips, flex front foot, fold forward

Ankle to Knee roll up, swing back leg around, flex both feet, rest top ankle to bottom knee, tip pelvis forward

Repeat other side


Closing

Half Bridge from sitting, draw knees to chest, find parallel / slightly turned in feet hip width apart, roll spine down… lift heart to arch up, chest towards chin, interlace fingers under back and roll shoulders out… maybe grab ankles or rest hips in heels of hands

Neck Stretch roll down, extend legs, interlance hands behind head, look at toes, turn head right to left

Corpse relaxing each and every part of body, as if you’re a pool of water melting, a paraplegic with no ability to move at all, feeling breath like ripples on ocean, sink down to cool still waters beneath

Fetal Pose from Corpse, wiggle fingers and toes, stretch arms above head, roll onto right side and scan body again

Seated Meditation comfortable cross-legged position on block, feeling sensation of breath across nostrils, imagining you’re transparent, breathing in and out through every pore… as if we’re all water droplets in the same big cloud in the air


Repeat every day :)

2 thoughts on “Teaching, Beginning, Being One Piece”

  1. Great article, loved hearing about your process for putting the workshop together. Picked up a few interesting things I want to use in my classes. Love too how you brought it all together thematically.

    How long was the workshop? That list of postures seems really full-on for a beginner’s class, so I’m guessing you had a decent amount of time to explore each one?

    I’m always hesitant to teach crow to beginners as I find it really difficult to monitor twenty teetering people all in one class, giving each the support, encouragement and alignment feedback they need to explore the posture. To a degree, I feel the same way about half moon and even Warrior III/Aeroplane…

    Yet I guess for students, these are the postures that feel really good. There is that sense of achievement in flying…

    Thanks heaps for a wonderfully informative read.

    KL

  2. Thanks KL! Yeah, when I wrote it all out like this I was like, “did we really do all that???” 60 poses in 75 minutes?? For beginners? Someone’s gonna yell at me…

    A lot of the “poses” listed above were more like transitions between other poses. We moved moderately, but never really stopped, and didn’t hold anything more than about five breaths. It was more about similarities between poses, than holding separate poses.

    With beginners, they are so visual that I just demo and let them follow what they can, with a TON of alignment instructions nonstop. That’s how I learned vinyasa. I used to feel guilty about demoing too much, but it works. They follow right along mirror neurons, go! whereas when I stand and explain poses they just stare at me. I did adjustments in Sun Salutes after the first round, and in later poses where they were holding steady.

    I plotted out a moderate flow that I knew would feel good, and then planned a lot of blocks and hand-to-hip variations. It was a young and healthy crowd, so luckily that was enough!

    Crow was just to explain the arrangement of the hands, and give a brief taste of arm balancing. I tell them it’s better to do one part of the pose correctly, than the whole pose incorrectly. So we just set up the hands and feet, and kind of lifted the hips and bandhas a little.

    Warrior III was not pretty, just about trying to feel the hips square and parallel. Picture Parsvottanasana with hands to blocks and flat back; then we took the blocks 12″ forward, and lifted the back leg towards the back wall while keeping the hips PARALLEL to the ground.

    Then we took one hand to the hip and rotated the hips to the side wall; that was Half Moon, just feeling the contrast to Warrior III hips.

    Airplane was actually the prep, Parsvottanasana IV, not the full pose. More like Low Lunge, just a rest from the High Lunges.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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