Last weekend I enjoyed a rigorous workshop taught by Chris Saudek, a senior Iyengar teacher from the Midwest. Since 1980 she has studied with the Iyengars in Pune; now, at the Senior Intermediate III level, she trains teachers in the US and Canada.
The asana sessions were challenging in the classic Iyengar way, with basic poses transforming into intense “experiences.” Sure, poses such as Pincha Mayurasana and Bhekasana are demanding, but who would’ve expected Paschima Namaskarasana to be so memorable (ie, excruciating)? Try holding it for 15 minutes (or what felt like forever), working through the stages of Parsvottanasana!
But I’m writing about a sequencing exercise that we did during the teacher-training session. In small groups, we had to create three different beginner sequences comprising the same set of poses. Teachers often feel compelled to vary their classes with new poses, but Chris wanted to illustrate how teachers can revamp a class simply by changing asana order.
My group (which included two experienced teachers, Eileen and Sarah, and my own mentor, Louie) readily created two basic sequences: one starting with standing poses; the other, with Virasana, a sitting pose. For our third sequence, we tried something iconoclastic: “Let’s start with Savasana,” my teacher suggested. I loved her idea: sly and imaginative, it pushed the envelope but not too far. We followed Savasana with Supta Tadasana, Tadasana, and the other poses, ending with another Savasana.
When I read our sequences to the group, we all laughed at our Savasana-first sequence. They assumed we were joking. Here, I’m not necessarily representing my groupmates, but I’ll make a case for it:
- Centering Classes often start with Sukhasana to center the mind. If students arrive in a frenzy, sitting helps them to settle down and focus within. Can’t Savanasa do the same? One might wonder if Savasana would induce lethargy or drowsiness. But the pose should never induce sleep in the first place. In Savasana, the mind should be still yet awake and alert.
- Comparison By repeating a pose at different points in a sequence, one can compare the effects of intervening poses. Here, would students find Savasana more accessible after doing other asanas?
- Uniqueness It’s good to shake things up. Teachers, students, we’re all creatures of habit and subject to complacency. By doing Savasana first, instead of last, the pose suddenly captures the limelight. It’s not just a quick five minutes of collapse to end the class.
- Experimentation Iyengar yoga is an experimental practice: try this, try that, observe the effects. So, doesn’t it behoove us to try even wacky ideas? Of course, these experiments must have a good rationale and not break a fundamental rule of sequencing, such as following Sirsasana with Sarvangasana. But why write off an idea just because it’s unconventional?
In my training at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, there are short savasanas between the sequences…maybe 2 minutes. that’s the genius of Krishnamacharya.
I’ve started sessions in savasana (as well as standing up, sitting down, kneeling, child’s pose, and on one’s back with knees tucked in) but it’s savasana that peeps seem to really enjoy doing first. Perhaps it’s the novelty of it, perhaps there’s something to just melting into the floor to start with, perhaps it facilitates opening the chest, shoulders, and abdomen, thus making it easier to transition to class… I dunno, but I like it and others seem to enjoy it, too.
And I’ve used it to transition between a vinyasa session and a yin session. Helps calm the mind between the rigors of flow and the subtleness of holding poses.
i start my classes in savasana, or any comfortable position on the back. it is far less stressful on the spine then any other position you could start in and the easiest to warm up from.
I had a hip issue going on for a while that caused sitting (even with props) to be quite painful. So, for a number of weeks while the class started in siddhasana, I would start in savasana or viparita karani. Loved it. I think any pose that grounds and relaxes a person – conventional or not – is a great way to start a class.
As a side note, after years of Ashtanga and more recently Bikrams yoga, I have returned to Iyengar. I’m more appreciative now (than when I was younger), of the attention to detail. Seems that I got rather sloppy along the way. I know that every form of yoga should pay attention to detail, but with the teachers I have had (and the fitness style classes I have had access to) this hasn’t necessarily been the case.
Great Article. I wrote a little piece, a while ago, entitled “thoughts on Yoga” about my at home practice. You might like it: http://johnarcher11.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/thoughts-on-yoga/
Hi Luci, thanks for sharing this.
I have started Iyengar Yoga classes in Shavasana moving to Supta Tadasana and some more supine poses. Interestingly enough, this is fairly common in Brazil (where I first started studying Iyengar Yoga).
I taught a similar sequence here in Vancouver a while ago and people loved it. I guess it is all about the “surprise”, the unexpected.
I like doing it whenever I feel the students are too agitated, talking a lot before the class, moving around, etc. After lying down in Shavasana the energy in the room changes completely. I have also taught it like this on hot Summer days in Brazil.
As for my own practice I like to start with Shavasana whenever I feel tension in my body, or muscle cramp, or any “aches and pains” that would prevent me from centering in Sukhasana or a sitting pose, for instance. Sometimes it is just nice to take some time to “let go” of the tension and relax before moving my body.