Something for (Almost) Everyone

How can a power/vinyasa trained yoga instructor offer a more accessible class?

My 200-hour yoga teacher training is in power vinyasa yoga, but I teach in a variety of settings where it’s essential to make classes accessible to a broader range of experience levels that usually appear in a yoga studio class. This includes yoga service settings (How to Set Up Your Own Yoga Service Class) where people may be new to yoga or have physical constraints that aren’t very common in power vinyasa yoga studio setting (knees so sensitive that it is rarely helpful to have them on the ground as a modification; a lot of difficulty getting up and down off the ground) – but also even corporate classes or classes in residential buildings where participants have all variety of experience levels. Of course there are many styles of yoga, restorative and yin to name a few slower paced ones, that may suit participants well too, not just variations of power vinyasa yoga! But this post details how I’ve modified a more power vinyasa focused sequence with the many other power or vinyasa trained teachers in mind.
 
 
It’s worth noting that a trauma informed approach (How Is Trauma Sensitive Yoga Different Than Traditional Yoga) also very much influences my own teaching style, and this includes giving lots of options, including the option to rest or not do poses. This post is focused on very specific and literal pose modifications, but language can also play a pivotal role in creating a friendly environment where people feel comfortable doing what they need to do to take care of their bodies.
 
Power yoga practice: From downward facing dog – lift your right leg – step your right foot between your hands.
Something for everyone: No down dog. Starting from forward fold or halfway lift, step your left foot back, perhaps with blocks underneath your hands. If lowering down towards the ground and coming back up is too much, this could also be done from tadasana – just step your left foot back.
 
Power yoga practice: Flow one breath per movement between poses – inhale warrior one – exhale warrior two – inhale reverse warrior – exhale chaturanga
Something for everyone: Vinyasa with the arms moving one breath per movement, but the legs stable, rather than pose to pose. Inhale warrior two – exhale gather your hands at your heart, inhale warrior 2 – exhale hands to heart.
 
Power yoga practice: Long holds of some poses.
Something for everyone: Slow enough to set up. Give a cue and wait for people (some! perhaps not all) to do it, then give another, but no super-long holds either.  The intention is not to bring uber importance to alignment, but to give people a chance to actually implement the cues given. Also use invitational language such as, “We’ll be here another four breaths, or you can finish when you feel done.” Sometimes me talking in between poses or sections of the class is an opportunity for participants to reconnect with the breath, pause and observe.
 
Power yoga practice: Offer a pose and then offer the modification. Inhale crescent lunge/high lunge – exhale revolved crescent lunge. Option to bring your back knee down to the ground for more stability.
Something for everyone: Start with the modification, then offer the advancement – in words but perhaps without a demo. From table top pose, step your right foot forward. Inhale kneeling warrior – exhale twist. If you’re stable here you can tuck your back toes under and lift your back knee up.
 
Power yoga practice: Offer to bring a block or strap if anyone needs one.
Something for everyone: Suggest everyone take two blocks at the start of class and speak to them as options more often than not (again as I’m very influenced by a trauma informed approach, I don’t often use straps outside of studios but if you are in a setting where you do everyone could be encouraged to take one whether they use it or not).
 
 There are a few poses from the “skeleton” sequence I learned in teacher training that I regularly omit from my community classes, generally because there are safety concerns related to correct alignment and because in my experience many students (including regular practitioners in studios) do not practice safe alignment even when it’s offered: dancer pose, floor bow, half pigeon. I offer other balancing/spinal strengthening/hip opening postures instead.
 
In many of my studio classes, students who practice power yoga regularly also struggle to practice safe alignment in chaturanga and upward facing dog and yet do not practice modifications when offered, so I almost always omit this sequence from my community classes. If weight bearing on the arms for plank is a possibility, you can add holds of plank or forearm plank, or other core strengthening movements (tapping the shoulders, tapping the toes). In most community class settings I do not use plank holds.
 
To be fair, these examples are not truly something for everyone. People who want weight bearing on the arms, inversions, and generally a vigorous practice would probably not find this practice engaging. These people (and I include myself in this group as a student) are equally deserving of a suitable practice, but generally are well served by studio classes, including low cost community classes at studios.
 
I also think the idea that a single class can suit everyone well is not realistic for teachers or for students. Because of this, it makes sense to describe the class well in any promotional materials. For instance, “Participants should be comfortable sitting on the ground and coming up to standing; chairs are available for those who prefer to sit on a chair or rest on a chair, but this is not a chair yoga class.” And then mostly stick to that.
 
“One size fits all” may be promoted in some settings with the business goal of drawing as many people in as possible. As instructors, of course we can and should do our best to accommodate all students, but it need not be personal if what we offer doesn’t make everyone happy provided we’ve made an effort to offer safe alternatives and options to rest or skip.  Please feel free to share any tips or practices you have found to make a power vinyasa style of yoga more accessible!
 
 

Kate Rice fell in love with vinyasa yoga at her gym in Washington, DC about 8 years ago. She returned to her Chicago roots after teaching English in eastern Europe and completed yoga teacher training in 2014.  Passionate about making yoga more accessible, Kate has completed trauma informed yoga trainings (Street Yoga, Prison Yoga and others) as well as 40 hours of sexual violence crisis intervention training in order to teach yoga to survivors served by the YWCA counseling center. Read more from Kate on her blog. In addition to public classes yoga at Cook County Jail through Yoga for Recovery. Follow her work at shareyourpractice.org (which now also offers a directory of trauma informed yoga trainings throughout the US).