By Michelle Meyer for Yoga Medicine®.
Teaching yoga is a rewarding act of creativity and service. It’s undoubtedly one of the most enriching gifts I’ve ever received. Leading a well orchestrated flow provides a feeling almost impossible to describe.
However, the crucial art of sequencing is often glossed over in teacher training. We’re taught the intricacies of each pose and its alignment, and are given cues to memorize, yet developing an intelligent flow is often expected to come with experience.
Fresh out of my 200-hour teacher training, I was eager and confident and couldn’t wait to start giving classes. There was nothing in the world that I enjoyed more than yoga, and I effortlessly sailed through my theoretical and practical exams.
However, when it came to real-life teaching, I was in for a brutal awakening with my first class. It was a complete failure.
The donation-based class was held in a big studio to raise money for a dog shelter. The studio was wildly popular, and there was a fantastic turnout. Arriving more than an hour early, I checked the sound system obsessively and ensured the playlist was at the perfect volume. I had notes tucked under my yoga mat — just in case. I even recorded the whole class because I was convinced I could proudly pop it on YouTube to market my classes. As people began to stream in, I tingled with excitement. This is what I was born to do, I thought. Finally, I’ve found my thing.
I’d rehearsed my sequence at home at least fifteen times and had the entire playlist memorized. I knew where I needed to be in the sequence timewise, simply based on the music that was playing. I had even choreographed certain poses to match up energetically with the lyrics of particular songs. It started off beautifully.
My warm-up was gentle and smooth. I could feel the bodies in the room slow down and relax into the rhythm. I found myself looking at each person, genuinely feeling where they were at, observing their movements, and adding cues to help adjust slight misalignments, simply with my voice. I, too, was in a well-orchestrated rhythm. A natural flow.
And then, while focusing on the individuals in front of me, I forgot where I was in my sequence and hit a complete blank. I panicked.
Instead of guiding them intuitively to a resting pose to give myself time to gather my thoughts, I apologized and fumbled for the index cards under my mat. Finding my place again, I realized that the sequence was entirely out of sync with the playlist because of the wasted moments. My hands started to shake, and I struggled to find my breath. Words on the index cards blurred.
One of the worst feelings in the world is looking at a room of students and seeing confused expressions, each person struggling to figure out what pose they are supposed to be in. They had lost confidence in me as a teacher. I’d lost confidence in myself.
I stumbled through the rest of the session in much the same way. The sequence unraveled. It was staccato, unhinged, ragged. Anything but yoga. One guy sat in the front and resorted to spending the remaining time in seated meditation with his eyes closed.
We reached the end well before the hour mark because my heightened anxiety caused me to speak and move way too quickly. I guided them into Savasana early and finally settled into my own voice again. Stepping back into my comfort zone of guided meditation, visualization, and relaxation, I found my breath and returned from the white haze of confusion. But it was too late.
As class ended, I apologized for losing my way and expressed gratitude for their patience and generosity to the dog charity. Rolling up my mat with (still shaking) hands, I decided to never teach a live class again. I didn’t cry. Shame was steel around me. I’d never felt smaller.
Yoga Medicine Brought Me Home
Although I had given up on yoga, yoga hadn’t given up on me. My heart and body craved movement and flow, and I knew that there was still a devoted teacher inside of me. I signed up for the Yoga Medicine® Sequencing with Purpose Online Training, knowing this was where my teaching needed the most guidance.
Rachel Land was a mentor that landed on my screen like an angel. Her training changed everything. Within a couple of minutes into the first video, I realized that my lack of planning wasn’t the problem. It was how I planned.
There was also nothing wrong with my memory or level of anxiety (which is entirely normal for a new teacher). My sequencing rationale was simply based on the wrong focus. Sequencing shouldn’t be about clever choreography. Instead, it’s an intuitive understanding of anatomy and how the body moves.
The training was much more detailed and informative than I expected, especially regarding anatomy. All the major muscles and bones were covered, including how they connect to one another and move in unison. This is fundamental when it comes to planning a class.
It suddenly made remembering a sequence that much easier, because if you understand where you ultimately want the body to be, there are endless ways to adapt and modify as you go. It’s not about remembering cues and a long list of poses. It’s understanding biomechanics and how the body works as a whole.
Sequencing is Personal
Theming a class is a beautiful way to connect with your sequence. After getting back into teaching after the online training (yes, it was THAT transformative), I found that the more the theme of the class had personal meaning and relevance to me, the more easily the sequence came together, and the more effortless it was to teach. When you lead from this place of vulnerability and devotion, your students feel it. Authenticity is tangible and meaning resonates.
Apart from increasing my confidence and restoring my love of teaching, Sequencing with Purpose helped me love myself more – from the inside out. Experiencing the detail of each muscle and understanding how I move from pose to pose made me appreciate the wonder of the human body.
It’s a body I’ve starved to look a certain way. I’ve contortioned muscles into positions they were never meant to reach. My bones have strained under weight-bearing they weren’t ready for. And yet, this interconnected miracle has kept supporting me. The body I hated continued to love me, despite my neglect.
Now, as I have come to appreciate fascia, fibers, and form, I’m learning to accept my unique shape and abilities. I look in the mirror and am proud of my body and what it can achieve. Giving this body – and the bodies of my students – the privilege and bliss of moving through an anatomically designed sequence, is my way of loving it right back.