Monthly Archives: September 2012

Designing a Series Class–Response to a Student Question

I look forward to answering your questions in this blog.  Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail your questions to

Alicia asks: I’m designing my first four-week yoga series, and I am feeling stuck. I’m confident in sequencing an individual class, but unsure about how to build a series. How much of the series should change week to week, and how much should be consistent? How do you make a series flow as a whole?

Series are fun to teach and can be much more powerful than drop-in classes. With a consistent set of students and a defined goal, a series teacher can build on the learnings of each class, and students often notice dramatic progress. But series classes have an added level of complexity. As you’ve noticed, the whole series must be sequenced, not just each individual class. I have a few thoughts that may help.

“Begin with the end in mind.”

The above quote, from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, sums up my first recommendation best. Ask yourself, “What do I want students to take away from the series?” Then build that intention pose by pose, week by week. Students need to do a pose several times before they understand it. Which poses will most effectively achieve the goals of your series? Those are the ones you should repeat most frequently.

One goal of my Yoga for Healthy Backs series, for example, is to gently strengthen and stretch the low back. So Bhujangasana (Cobra) and Cakravakasana (Cat) are core poses that repeat each week. Students in my recent Energize and Strengthen series, on the other hand, wanted to learn Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand). I spent the first two weeks building up to it, and then I repeated it in the last three classes. Only through repetition could students improve their form and confidence.

Remember the days between classes.

Do you plan to give your students home practices as part of your series? If so, every pose in the home practice should be repeated throughout the series. I recommend teaching a pose at least twice before asking a student to do it at home. Make sure the student can do the pose comfortably and with reasonable form, even when you’re not present to guide them.

If a pose is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

In an asana-focused class, pay close attention to your students’ form each week. If a pose seems appropriate for their bodies but their form is compromised, teach it several times with a focus on correct form. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) is appropriate for most people, and it is an important pose in this lineage. It is also difficult to learn. Teach Uttanasana in every class until students can do it correctly.

Don’t repeat your mistakes.

If you discover a pose is too strong for your students, don’t teach it again. For example, even though Pascimatanasana (Seated Forward Bend) is simple, many people are too restricted in their hips, backs, and hamstrings to do it safely and effectively. I might plan to teach it in a series for fit beginners. But I’d throw it out in a heartbeat if students didn’t have the strength and flexibility to do it safely.

Be willing to toss your plans in the trash.

Sometimes your best work isn’t appropriate for your students, so try not to get attached. You may need to change your design significantly after you see how students respond to the first class or two. When I develop a new series, I start with an overall goal and a weekly outline of sub-goals. But I only design the first class. Each subsequence class is developed after I teach the class preceding it. What seems like a good idea in theory is sometimes a disaster in practice. I almost always simplify my original plans.

I hope that helps, at least as a starting point!



More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site:  Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.

Music to Soothe the Stressed-out Yogi

Don’t let the cover art fool you.  This series of CDs is my favorite tool for deep relaxation—whether it be for my dog, my meditation practice, or my students’ Savasana.  For those of you who don’t know, one of my passions (besides yoga) is anything related to dogs, especially if it might help my reactive girl Tasha.  So a few years ago, I flew to Ohio and attended a dog training seminar on tools to help anxious and reactive dogs.

One tool they mentioned was music, specifically the CDs in the photo above. I was skeptical at first, but the trainer used a video to prove her point. It showed a dog literally climbing off the walls, as its exhausted owner tried not to cry.  When the trainer popped the CD in the stereo, the transformation in the animal was nothing short of astounding.  It stopped jumping, barking, and running in circles to lie on the floor and listen.   Proof enough for me.

I had my chance to try it a few days later. My girl was in major freak-out mode over the mailman who, according to Tasha, is an ax-murdering psychopath just waiting for an opportunity to break into her house.  I turned on the music and waited. Tasha stopped barking, walked up to the stereo speaker, lay down and sighed.

Intrigued, I did some research.  I won’t bore you with all of the details, but if you’re interested, you can read about it here. Turns out, canines and humans have something in common. We’re both soothed by music that is:

  • Classical (as opposed to pop or heavy metal)
  • Simple in arrangement
  • Played by a single instrument (in this case piano)
  • Slow in tempo (50 – 60 beats per minute)

I wondered if my yoga students would love it as much as Tasha did, so I snuck it into the studio’s CD collection.  After they got done snickering about the dog on the cover, my students started asking me where they could buy it.  I now carry it at the studio, and it outsells even the yoga mats.

There are several CD’s in this series, so you can experiment to find the one you like best.  My personal favorite is Volume 1.  Not surprisingly, it’s also the volume the researchers found to be the most profoundly relaxing for their canine test subjects.

I hope you try one of these CD’s and you find it as deeply peace-invoking as Tasha and I do.  Let me know what you think!


Tracy Weber

Yoga in the Peace Corps: Khotso and Namaste

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Barbara Meyer. Barbara is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She  can be contacted at

For thirty years, I’ve wanted to be a Peace Corps volunteer. One year ago, my dream came true—my husband and I received our invitations to serve as Peace Corps volunteers. After several months of preparations and clearing 30 years of accumulated possessions out of our home, we departed for Philadelphia to meet our fellow volunteers. Three days later, we were in southern Africa’s Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Khotso is a common greeting here, meaning peace in Sesotho. Our host families greeted us with wild ululation, song and dancing and dozens of people pressed against usas we walked to our home for training—a traditional thatched roof rondavel with no electricity or running water. Among the items that made the final cut into my two suitcases were my yoga chimes, a golden silk shawl from India and a travel yoga mat.

During three months of training,I was able to use yoga for stress reduction when things got rough. Since moving to my work site (for two years), I’ve been practicing yoga three to four days per week. We live in a studio (half of a duplex) set in a garden with an amazing view of the mountains. Despite the cramped space, my husband agreed that we needed to preserve the space by the window for yoga.

The Peace Corps ads say it’s “The hardest job you’ll ever love.” One of the hard parts is daily uncertainty about so many aspects of life. Aside from creating my own job on a daily basis, I’m learning a new language (Sesotho), a new culture (Basotho), meeting many new people and trying to figure out how pretty much everything works.

Yoga has become more precious to me since becoming a Peace Corps volunteer. The challenge of cross cultural living in a poor country brings some strain. Children often knock on our door in groups of three or four and say, “I am asking for bread.” Or they may ask for candy, money or a job. When walking through the village, similar requests are made by children and adults alike. The struggle is that we have the means to help some but not all. How do we decide when to respond and when to pass by? In contrast, at our work site, a hospital, many Basotho are extremely well educated with good professional jobs. Life in a developing country is complex. The HIV rate is 23% among adults and many children have lost one or both parents to HIV. Unemployment is nearly 50%. There is so much to think about! And have I mentioned that we live on $250 per month in a town with no restaurant? In fact, no store where you can buy cheese or chocolate! For this reluctant cook, starting from scratch (e.g. make own tortillas and injera) on a daily basis has been a test of my self discipline.

This is where yoga comes in. Three or four mornings a week, my first activity of the day is to clear my yoga space and lay out the mat and clean towels on the floor. I face the river valley with mountains beyond and lengthen my breath. As I proceed through the asana practice, I feel the slowing down and calming that yoga movement brings. Through pranayama breath practices, I have to let other thoughts go as I focus on the counting or the technique for the day. That brings me to meditation. I have chosen three qualities that I want to enhance in myself, qualities that I need on a daily basis here and sometimes find in short supply. I like to end with a short chant that we used to close each class during yoga teacher training. Chanting helps me to visualize the support of the community of people I have met through Whole Life Yoga. It is easy to feel alone in the Peace Corps! Because of my practice, I carry these friendships with me through my day. I end my practice with three chimes. Folding up my travel mat (thanks for the tip, Suzanne Stephens!), I feel calm, peaceful and happy. I am ready to face the uncertainties of the day with some equanimity.

One year into my Peace Corps service, things have become easier. We are building relationships with people here and our work is starting to show results. Maintaining a sense of non-attachment is so useful. Things have a way of moving forward then backward often at a very, very slow pace. One project that I abandoned as a lost cause resurrected itself months later. Someone came up and asked me to get a replacement for a stamp that had been designed for the outpatient department months earlier. I didn’t even realize that they had started to use it again!

Another gift I received from one of my teacher training colleagues was a really useful quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

In my Peace Corps service, regular yoga practice is as necessary as food. The emotional grounding that comes from yoga practice has helped me immensely to meet the challenges I face. Thank you so much, Tracy and the Whole Life Community for all of your support.

If you are interested in reading more about our adventures in Lesotho, our blog is



More information about Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program can be found at our web site:  Yoga Teacher Training at Whole Life Yoga.





The Gift of Depression

I wrote this post in early June, but decided to wait until now to share it publicly.  I hope you benefit from these sutra teachings and my personal learnings.

I’ve been fighting a case of the blues for the last several weeks—the kind that makes me want to sleep twelve hours  a day and cry about  every sad story I hear on the news.  Friends cite lots of reasons why I might be depressed:  a pet that recently died, another that is sick without a defined cause, the difficulties of running a business in our current economy, Seattle’s gray June weather, even that dreaded life transition that happens to women of a certain age.

But internally, I know none of those reasons fully explain my lethargic mood.  This sadness has roots deep in my heart. I would feel it even if I were independently wealthy, still in my 20’s, and basking on a sunny beach. The Yoga Sutras call my mental state Daurmanasya, or depression and negative thinking.  They go on to say that Daurmanasya is simply a symptom of something deeper: an obstacle on my path to personal growth.  Sutra 1.31 lists four symptoms that indicate the presence of an inner obstacle.

  • Duhkha: Psycho-emotional suffering
  • Daurmanasya: Depression or negative thinking
  • Angamejayatva:  Instability of any kind, including body, work, and relationships
  • Svasaprasvasa: Disturbance in the breath, including  uncontrolled crying, laughing, or bursting out.

According to the yoga teachings, those symptoms are simply a subconscious warning sign.  When you feel them, you’re up against an inner obstacle, whether you’re not aware of it or not.

Sutra 1.30 lists nine specific obstacles:

  • Vyadhi: Sickness or disease
  • Styana: Fixation or being “stuck in a rut”
  • Samsaya: Doubt
  • Pramada: Carelessness and  impulsive knee-jerk reactions
  • Alasya:  Lethargy, burnout, and lack of passion
  • Avirati:   Inability to withstand the temptation of the  senses
  • Bhrantidarsana: Distorted self esteem ranging from low self esteem to arrogance
  • Alabdhabhumikatva: Not achieving the level you expected of yourself and losing heart
  • Anavasthitatvani: Achieving a level but not being able to sustain it.

Even as I type this list, I have to smile and shake my head.  Doubt and burnout practically leap off the page. I’ve been down this road before.  In fact, these two old friends seem to be recurrent themes in my life.  I don’t yet know what their return means, but that’s the beauty of yoga: I don’t have to.  Sutras 1.32 – 1.39 outline a list of practices I can do to help, regardless of the cause. Historically, I’ve found meditation and reflection to be the most useful.  So it’s back to the mat for me.

And here’s the gift.  As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The teachings say that each time I overcome an obstacle, I grow.  I become more resilient and more able to withstand similar issues in the future.  When I come out of this darker period, I know I will be changed. I don’t know exactly how, yet, but I’m sure I will be stronger.  I will have greater clarity about who I am and the role I am meant to play in this world.  And that is truly a gift.

So the next time you find yourself sad or suffering for no clear reason, know that yoga offers tools to help. Try not to run away or bury those feelings.  Instead, give yourself the gift of time, reflection, guidance, and practice.  Like a caterpillar painfully struggling in its dark cocoon, you may emerge brighter, more alive and more vibrant that you ever imagined!



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!