Most commonly, teachers talk about yoga philosophy right when class starts. But recently, I had a teacher who weaved in the non-physical aspects of yoga differently from what I’m used to, and it worked for me. I’ve been taking classes from Estella at Melt Yoga Studio in Ladera Ranch, California for a few months now. She has become one of my favorite flow teachers. This opening sequence, which includes integration of theme/philosophy, is inspired by her teaching.
Start with a simple shift in mindset
I find it effective to start with simple mindset shift exercises instead of talking about more complex philosophy when the class starts. This opening sequence allows for movement (so students aren’t just sitting looking at the teacher) while effectively calming the mind.
While in a seated pose, open up your arms wide, puffing up the chest with the head back: “Inhale love”. Round the back keeping the hands straight and letting the hands touch: “exhale anger”. Repeat 3x. Adding positive words to inhale and those that don’t serve us with an exhale.
Tip for seated pose: start in thunderbolt or vajrasana or sitting on your heels. To get into thunderbolt, keep the heels and knees touching as you go on your knees and sit back on your heels. You can also modify by placing a block between your feet so you can sit on the block. Sit tall. This can also work in any comfortable sitting position.
Adding the next level philosophy or theme during simple stretches with a hold
Next, go on table top position, gently placing weight on the wrist, moving forward and back freely. Flip the wrist, with the fingers pointing towards you and the inside of the elbow facing front and hold for 3 breaths. This is where you can start adding more specific themes for the class if you have one planned. This can be concepts such as a yoga sutra.
What I love about this strategy is that it allows you to stretch out the wrists in all different directions gently while introducing the class to the theme.
Additional Cues: Have the fingers face each other, move from left to right. Bend the elbows and straighten them. Repeat 3x. Place the back of the hands on the mat, fingers facing you and if possible, gently move your weight around with enough pressure to give you a comfortable stretch. Hold for 3 breaths.
Comfort in Familiarity
Estella sticks to the same opening and closing sequence. I find the familiarity comforting. I know that yoga teachers sometimes make an effort to change up their entire sequence. This is especially true when they have regulars attending class. And I appreciate the variety and experimentation. For sure, this is important, to keep improving. However, Estella made me realize that you don’t have to change the entire sequence. Sticking to an opening and closing sequence especially if you have one that you find effective can be powerful and motivating for students.
Estella is one of those teachers that constantly gives the same level of energy and freshness every time I take her class. She actually sings for us during Savasana. Her classes are special and magical.