To create a well rounded, safe, and intelligently sequenced yogasana class, it is essential to follow the philosophical foundations of vinyasa yoga. These include parinamavada, vinyasa krama, and pratikriyasana.
The concept of parinamavada can be defined as being where you are. Change is a constant thing. Who we were yesterday is not the same as who we are today, nor who we will be tomorrow. As the energetics of our body change regularly based on the foods eaten, the time of day, seasons of the year, seasons of life, environmental factors, and life experiences, adopting the philosophical foundation of parinamavada as a base from which to teach can create unique and custom experiences based on what is truly right in front of us.
This requires a degree of ability of empathetic listening that extends beyond just hearing and presence as a teacher. These things can truly only be experienced and learned through meditation and dedicated yogasana practice where the teacher themself has created space between the distortion of who one thinks they should be and who one really is. In creating classes based on the actual skill level and mental & emotional maturity of the students, there is a delicate balance between education, instruction, and nurturing. While it is not a teacher's responsibility to break down the egoist tendencies of a student, it is their responsibility to not encourage habitual patterns of movement or emotions, especially if they are clearly proving to be causing pain.
The easiest way to create true self assessment of current state within a yogasana class is through detailed educational opportunities about range of motion, philosophical concepts, and muscular engagement. For this reason, carefully constructed classes and utilizing a dharma talk can be extremely beneficial. I often see students who believe themselves to be intermediate or advanced practitioners who would actually be considered beginning students based on their range of motion and mental and emotional maturity. For example, often hypermobile students can do many postures by bypassing the use of muscles and letting their very mobile skeleton do all the work. A significant component of asana is creating a balance between flexibility and strength. It is quite often that you may see a student who is acting out of their ego in performing asanas. You can notice this by an inability to maintain proper form that indeed balances strength and flexibility.
To apply parinamavada, teach to the students in the room. At times this may require breaking down postures and range of motion and using technical anatomical terms with appropriate definition, like if you notice that safety is being sacrificed to “perform” the asanas. Emphasizing alignment (sustainable relationship of parts) is highly advisable. Applying parinamavada may also involve doing away with intricate alignment emphasis and offering a class for pleasure’s sake. The needs and desires of your students should be balanced appropriate with the needs and desires of you as a teacher.
Vinyasa Krama is about teaching yoga poses in stages and building towards the peak of an experience. This means that each class has a very specific goal and everything leading up to the manifestation of a specific pose, technique, or idea will be integrated into the peak action. Krama is the step. Vinyasa Krama tells us that it is not enough just to take a step, but that step needs to take us in the right direction and be made in the right way. If we break this down, the first step would be to evaluate where we actually are and the second step would be to determine where one wants to go.
Vinyasa Krama is applied philosophically when we begin a yoga practice in establishing an end goal. The inherent goal of yoga is to connect to the divine. How do we know if our actions are the right actions to be taking? How much yoga should I do? How long should I meditate? What foods should I eat? How much food should I eat? Who should I take as my partner? All of these questions cannot be answered unless there is a specific goal. If there is a goal and the goal is specific enough, all of these questions can be easily answered.
This is when yogic concept of viveka or discernment comes alive in the practitioner. Even applied to the practices that we engage in and the way that we live our life we can ask, is my yoga practice changing me? Is it bringing me closer to my goal? Our practices in general does not return us to the space place that we started. Our daily practice, to be most effective, should change us, ideally leading us in the direction of our goals. If not, then the practice must change. In the same way, how do we know what asanas to link together for our vinyasa class?
We have to have a goal. That goal is usually the peak of a practice and while it can be explored with meditation, breath, or ideas, it is most often emphasizing a physical posture. If a meditation or relaxation technique or integration of a philosophical concept is the “goal” of a class, it is best to connect that to a physical posture so that there is a platform for which to teach, especially since we are weaving philosophy into the tradition of Hatha Yoga which is concerned primarily with the body.
A good way to create a class is to choose a theme and then determine what specific actions, types of movements, techniques, or class of postures can relate to that theme the best. From there, choose a specific asana that emphasizes that movement, technique, or action and balance that with the supposed level of the class. Make note that even if you create a class before hand, unanticipated limitations of your students may cause you to forget the carefully crafted sequence you have created and create a spontaneous sequence from scratch. After selecting the peak posture, determine what muscle groups need to be open and what muscle groups need to be stable and craft a sequence based on opening and stabilizing. It is important to move from simple and easy movements to more complex movements.
When we arrive in a posture, note if you are experiencing steadiness and ease. Are you breathing well? Is there straining or discomfort? Strain and constriction in the body and breath are signs that integration of the previous krama has not yet occurred. A good way to prepare the body for a specific posture is to create the basic shapes of the posture as many times as possible in different ways. For example, if a peak posture is Halasana or plow pose, then throughout the practice there should be postures and variations of postures that open the pectorals, open the back of the body, create core strength and appropriate pelvic mobility, and engage the back muscles of the body. Good examples include set bandha sarvangasana, prasarita padottonasana b, and uttanasna.
Pratikryasana can be translated most efficiently as counterpose or neutralizing action. This is the simplest asana that receives the tension created by the previous posture and is an art the assists in creating healthy integration. Not only is this concept about how we cool down after our peak postures, but how we complete an action itself and transition into the next action. How we do these things are the determining factor in whether or not we will receive the benefits of our prior action. In general, the counter pose or series of poses that we practice after the peak pose should move the spine in the opposite direction of the peak pose and should be more simple than the main asana. For example, if your asana practice was extremely backbend heavy, the appropriate counter poses would be gentle reclined twists and gentle forward folds. Alternatively, if the practice was forward fold heavy, the appropriate counterpose series would involve multiple yet simple backbends. Although we want to include a good amount of counterposes in the closing and cool down portion of our practice, it is advisable that counterposes be placed sporadically within the sequence itself, especially as a way to create creative sequences.