Linking in flow classes: how to teach smart transitions

 In *from my heart, tips for teachers

Have you been in a class where any of the following have occurred:keep-calm-and-vinyasa-flow-2_large

  • The teacher (maybe it’s us) links 12 million poses on the same side.  Thighs are trembling.  Anger is mounting.
  • The teacher forgets to do one side, or forgets and entire series of poses
  • You have to change your foundation to get to the next pose…and the next
  • You’re not even sure how to get from one pose to another
  • You’re up.  You’re down.  You’re up.  You’re down.  You’re up.  You’re down. You’re seasick.
  • You’re not sure exactly what you’re supposed to be doing in the pose (what pose is it?) because it’s not about alignment, baby, it’s all about the FLOW

Alright.

So before we chat about how to flow SMART, let’s talk about why we flow, period.

Why We Flow

“Flow” yoga has its roots in Ashtanga yoga, where practitioners interpose a vinyasa (Chaturanga-updog-downwdog) between most static poses.  Each pose is held for five breaths, and the breath links the practice from its absolute beginnings until Savasana.  This steady, meditative practice invites a profound connection with the inner body, the breath, and the core.

It’s also a set sequence.

Flowing is a heck of a lot easier when you know where you’re going.

However,  now we have “flow” classes that are not set sequences.  In fact, the pressure is on for teachers to create increasingly wild and creative sequences so that students stay engaged and – dare I say – entertained by the class.  In other words, rather than addressing the crazy fluctuations of their minds through slow one-pointed focus, students are craving classes that bulldoze these fluctuations by replacing them with something so consuming that it is impossible to focus on anything else.   Oh right – and then add music.

Now, despite my cute tone, this is not a bad thing.

After all, meditation is the process of giving the practitioners something to harness their attention to.  If the bells and whistles need to be a little louder in order to break through our insane headspace, then I’m all for it.

But what I’m not a fan of is reckless transitions.

Why our Flow can get gnarly

In our zeal to create a powerful flow sequence, we can get carried away by our own invention.  And we also forget that:

  • our students don’t have the same proprioception that we do
  • our students aren’t as experienced as we are; they don’t know the risk factors of the asana
  • our students generally aren’t as strong or as flexible as we are
  • our students don’t already have the sequence in their heads
  • we are generally teaching multi-level classes with beginners
  • our students have injuries.  And need a I add: knee injuries.

SMART FLOW!  Rule number 1:

Here’s the number one rule of flowing smart:  in transitions, keep the action of the hips the same.

What this means:

  • Link externally rotated poses with externally rotated poses.
  • Link neutral poses with neutral poses.
  • And when you don’t link “like with like”, teach the heck out of the transition

That’s it.  This simple protocol will keep your students knees and lower backs happy.  And hopefully keep them from falling over.

Does this mean never break the rules?  No, of course not.  But be sensible about it.  If you are going to change the action of the hip, you must change the foundation of the pose and you must therefore TEACH the transition.

This means that instead of saying, “Warrior I, okay now takeWarrior II…”, you’d have to say something like:

  • “From Warrior I, tack your outer right hip back so the front knee tracks over the ankle…
  • Keep this as you turn your back toes to be parallel to the back of your mat..
  • Heel-toe your front foot to the left so the front arch bisects the back foot…
  • Now, keep your right hip drawing back and your knee over your ankle as you turn the pelvis towards the left.”

Phew!

Or you could just link Warrior II to similarly externally rotated standing poses such as Side Angle, Triangle, and Half Moon and spare yourself some trouble and verbiage.

If you want to really flow – that is, move fairly quickly through yoga asana in order to create a dynamic movement experience – then it is sensible to link poses smartly and safely so that you can maximize your students’ stability and enjoyment of their practice.  Smart Sequencing will allow them to think about their breath and not about their ouchy knee.

SMART FLOW!  Rule number 2:

Always use a stabilizing cue.

In your transitions, ask yourself, “What is at risk in this transition?”  Then offer a quick cue to stabilize the student against this risk factor as you move them through the action.  For example:

  • Transition: Triangle – Half Moon
    • Risk: Knee
    • Cue: “Hug your standing outer hip back as you…” or “Anchor your knee over the center of your ankle by pressing it towards your pinkie toe as you…”
  • Transition: Chair- Revolved Chair
    • Risk: Low back/ Hips moving
    • Cue: “Hug your knees together/ Firm your outer hips in as you…”
  • Transition: Crescent – Revolved Side Angle
    • Risk: Balance
    • Cue: “Hug your legs to the midline as you…”

Now these are pretty straight-forward, but you can apply the same principle to more complex transitions.

Linking “like with like” and using stabilizing cues in your transitions will keep your students connected and safe while allowing you to create to your heart’s content.

Happy Flowing!

 

 

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Showing 6 comments
  • stephanie

    Brilliant. As brand new to practice, ad having been spoiled by you and two others in Vancouver, I’m learning that back here in Toronto, the few teachers I’ve experienced so far DO NOT take this info into account nor do they prioritize the importance of alignment, proprioception, recruitment and cueing. So, thank you. Thank you thank you!

  • LauraC

    Thanks for this posting! A good reminder for us yoga teachers. Love the thoughts on how to keep flow safe. Thank you!

  • Kerri Koch

    Great read! However, flow yoga is not rooted in Ashtanga yoga; rather it stems from Pattabhi Jois’ gurus teachings and has strayed away from them! You might read “The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga” by Srivatsa Ramaswami ~ a student who trained with Krishnamacharya at about the same time as Jois and BKS Iyengar. His book tells a different story of vinyasa or flow yoga than what has become so popular in the US.

  • Rachel

    Hi Kerri!
    Great suggestion for a read – thanks for sharing!

  • Laura

    I still don’t really know how to hug the hip back. As in the transition from Triangle to half moon. Any help?
    I just found this site. Really good!

  • Rachel

    Hi Laura!
    Good question. Hugging the hip back in the transition is about engaging the external rotators to keep the knee tracking over the centre of the ankle as you transition. I find that most people lose the external rotation of the hip in AC, which changes it more into some kind of Vira III/ Ardha Chandrasana hybrid! Here are some different ways of saying the same thing (let’s assume the right leg is the standing leg):
    – pull the outer right crease deeper into the body…
    – keep wrapping the right buttock under you…
    – track your knee over your ankle…
    – externally rotate your right thigh…
    – pull your right buttock towards your lifted heel…
    – press your right knee towards your right pinkie toe…

    Let me know if that helps!
    R

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