This blog post is all about when to stick by the sequence you had previously written for your yoga class and when to ditch it all together. This post was inspired by a new yoga teacher, who was once my yoga trainee, who recently wrote the following on a private yoga forum:
"Although I had been taught to keep my sequence and modify it to fit her needs, I felt that I could not ask her to do multiple asana that I know she simply cannot do. I have done this when I have a pregnant woman and a student with an ostomy bag. It's not that I can't or don't modify. However, if I was planning a twist class and my ostomy student came, I would teach a hip class instead. I feel like asking the student to modify a few times is fine, but asking them to modify for the majority of the class can be discouraging. Am I the only one? Is this an issue? And if so, how can I overcome this?" ~Concerned Yoga Teacher
The question I want to address is whether one should modify poses in their sequence or choose a totally different sequence.
So why would you decide to keep your sequence and modify the poses to fit the students as best you can? First you have to look at the asanas as more than just their subcategory (i.e. hip openers) and more than just the purpose as listed in your Asana packet in your training manual. Instead, read over the list of benefits under each posture. In any given hip opener there is more than just the hip being opened. And when you teach a hip opener you are teaching more than just the alignment of the hips, you are teaching the alignment of the whole body. Why? Because the whole body is receiving the asana, not just the hips.
It is easy to fear that a student will not feel the benefits of the postures because of modifications or limitations, but trust in the ancient science of yoga! Even with the student who has an ostomy bag, allow that student to receive the benefits of a thoracic twist rather than omitting all twists from their practice. There are far more benefits to these poses than we can imagine! Even poses beyond one's ability where modifications are necessary can gift benefits of acceptance which may lead to peace of mind and happiness. Trust in yoga; don't assume you know more about yoga than yoga.
Another reason to keep your sequence and modify the poses as best you can is because of your preparation and experience as a teacher. It can take many years of teaching experience before someone can teach an impromptu class that is well sequenced and genuinely solid. I admittedly still cannot deliver the same quality class if I wing it versus plan it, even after teaching 2,500 hours of classes! If you've been advised to just keep your sequence and modify as best you can, the reason is classes usually get sloppy when you're trying to wing it - but the sloppiness is way more noticeable in a Vinyasa class versus a Restorative class due to pacing.
So when is it appropriate to ditch a planned sequence? When you have another prepared sequence ready to slide in it's place. Whether you have a series of classes written in a journal, or to brag on Leana, written on note cards and filed in a note card box, bring these additional sequences to class. This is what it means to be prepared! When a student walks in and you feel they will be excluded by the sequence you have selected for the day, choose another well written sequence from your journal or note card box! I actually encourage this option for newer teachers as knowing the best pose modification to fit a certain limitation is more difficult than swapping out the sequence all together.
In conclusion and to be perfectly clear, there isn't a rule to keep your sequence versus choose a new sequence. The only rule is provide the best class possible. Most of the students in the areas we teach wouldn't know the difference between a well sequenced class and a mediocre class. Don't get swept up by the "thank you's" and "great class" - stay honest with yourself. The caliber of your teaching and the quality of the class you deliver is totally driven by your own integrity and ethics. Connect with why you decided to become a yoga teacher and then choose the level of dedication you want to provide your students. Let that fuel your preparation for classes! Then you will be sure of your decision to modify a sequence versus use another well written sequence.
"At the center of your being you have the answer:
you know who you are and you know what you want"