Do you warm up?

Yoga is no different from other forms of exercise in that you should be sufficiently warm before beginning strenuous postures within a sequence of exercises.

However, with this said, yoga often focuses on different aspects then simply increasing heart rate and breaking a sweat. The breath in yoga is very important and if done with awareness can heat the body from the inside out.

Ujjayi breath is preformed through the nose with the mouth gently closed. The back of the throat is slightly constricted narrowing the passage for the air and bringing an audible sound to your breath.

This sound can be a guide throughout your practice letting you know when you can go deeper or back off in a stretch. Also it is important to practice yoga or any stretching in a warm room. The temperature will help to soften and allow your fascia and tissue to stretch and open.

Keep in mind that most of the heat will come from within and only aided by the external temperature. If you still find that the beginning stretches are too strenuous then do a few minutes of your own exercises that you know will warm you up before you start. Yoga is all about finding what is right and true for you, be honest with yourself and take things one day at a time.

Stretching Hamstrings

A great way to stretch your hamstrings safely and avoid your belly at the same time is in a supine or reclined position. Lay on your back with your left leg stretched out long on the floor and your right leg straight up toward the ceiling.

Place a strap around the ball of you right foot. With your arms straight and your shoulders coming down toward the floor slowly bring your leg toward your chest.

Work your hands up the the strap as your leg gets closer to your torso so that you can keep your arms straight and your shoulders relaxed.

If you find that your belly is inhibiting your ability to bring your leg in close focus on bringing it along the side of your body.

Encourage your lower belly to sink into the floor as your leg comes in to your chest creating a hollow belly and more space to stretch your hamstrings.

Once you have reached your maximum press the sitting bone on your right leg down into the floor to increase the length in the right leg a bit more. Switch sides after several deep breaths.

Teaching the last part of the session

In answer to a question: As far as tips go perhaps you may want to consider the following; or use them to inspire more of your own knowing.

– If the group of you who are teaching the class have a theme or an intention, that will help to give it continuity even though there are different teachers. You also need to be clear on a general overall style (i.e.. hatha – beginner; vinyasa – flow; anusara; etc…) and level of the class.

– With the above considerations you have 20 minutes at the end of the class – an 80 minute class if there are 4 of you teaching. This would mean the students have likely done lots of warm-ups, sun-salutes, standing poses, and hopefully by then at least one peak pose. If the person teaching before you takes them to the peak pose depending on what it is, you could play off of that opening (hips, shoulders, back extensions, etc….) and add another dimension or move right into counter-poses and their cooling down sequence. There are many options to include here depending of course, on what they have done previously.

– You mentioned wanting to do pranayama with them and being perhaps a little nervous about that. One of the simplest and effective ways to teach and do is to incorporate it with movement such as is the case when doing mudra (vinyasa). I would suggest sama vriti – equal breathing, with some deep long holds in forward bends. You could have them end with a small sitting practice of sama vriti (pranayama) to seal it in.Every aspect of a yoga class is important in a different way, however I believe that the beginning and the end have the most lasting impact on students as these elements set the tone and leave them with their lasting impressions. Desikachar is a wonderful teacher and inspiration and many of his vinyasa variations would be a great way to wind down a class. Depending on the style of class, your focus/feeling or bahva and what the person before you is teaching you may want to remain seated for your segment or start standing and then move to the floor and provide a relaxing, cooling portion for the class. Generally I finish with students enjoying some gentle floor work such as a variation of Upavistha Konasana incorporating side bending flowing up and down with the breath. Or other hip openers such as Pigeon, Janu A or Baddha Konasana. Forward folds are also great for closing, however whatever you do will depend greatly on the overall focus of the class.
In terms of Pranayama I find Nadi Shodana or alternate nostril breathing is very calming and a nice way to close before final relaxation. During Savasana there are many beautiful poems or readings you could choose from such as Rumi or excerpts from books like ‘Meditations From the Mat’.