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?