Building a Home Practice: Class Structure
Yoga teacher trainings are often advertised as “opportunities to deepen your practice.” In my experience, this is very true. In a teacher training, you learn the ABC’s of yoga – all the little tips and tricks you need to practice without a guide. Yoga has rules just like spelling; “I before E except after C.” Learn the rules, and you become your own teacher.
Here is a basic rule of class structure, the class arc, you can use to build a home practice. Think of the class arc as a plot line in middle school English class. It has all the same elements.
1. The Exposition: Centering Your Energy
Take a few moments to center yourself, become aware of where you are, and focus on your breath. This is an excellent time for an opening meditation or to set an intention.
2. The Rising Action: Warming Up
Your warm up can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes* depending on your energy level, the time of day, and how long you’d like to practice for. In this portion of your practice, stretch your major muscle groups such as your back and legs. This is a great time for a hamstring stretch or a forward bend. Begin to generate heat by focusing on your core. Sufi rolls or abdominal work such as plank pose is excellent in the warm up.
3. The Inciting Incident: Salutations
This is where the action starts to build. Your salutations can be in any structure, from classical to totally made up. The goal is to build to one breath per movement, become dynamic in your stretching, and build energy in your body. This can last anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes depending on your energy level and the intensity of your practice.
4. The Turning Point: Peak Heat
At this point, you are sweating, feeling energy in your body, and feeling very warm. This is the time to bring your body to it’s strongest heat of the practice. It is an excellent opportunity to hold a strong standing pose, perform a balancing pose, and focus on the warrior stances. While you move away from the fast pace of salutations, you are still working hard to maintain strength in your postures.
5. The Climax: Deepening or Peak Pose
All told, your salutations, peak heat and peak pose can last up to an hour. However long this section of your practice lasts, try to devote one-third of the time to each of these sections. The final third is spent on a peak pose. This is an excellent time to practice inversions or deep back bends.
The Falling Action: Counter Poses
6. The Resolution: Counterposes
Counter your peak pose with a deep stretch. For example, if you are back bending, counter with a hip opener or a twist. If you are inverting, counter with a deep forward bend. If you are uncertain of the best way to counter, ask a guide or research the best counter pose to the peak pose you are practicing. At the beginning of your peak pose, your energy is high. By the end of your counter pose, you should ground that intense energy down. This portion of your practice can last from 15 to 30 minutes.
7. The Denouement: Savasana
Ahhh … the end of a great story. Your savasana can last from two minutes to two hours, but you should always make time to take one. In savasana, as the breath returns to normal, search for one-pointed awareness and remember your intention. Savasana should be meditative, restorative and ultimately blissful.
Now that you know the ABC’s of structuring your practice, pay attention to how your favorite teacher structures based on this plot line. Once you get a feel for it, try a home class! Stay tuned for more tips and tricks to build a home practice.
*Timing based on a one to one-and-one-half-hour class.