I’ve always loved the egalitarian nature of standing poses. While death-defying arm-balances and showpiece backbends can devolve into a class of 3 people doing the poses and 23 people watching the poses, standing postures put everyone on the same page. It’s not that standing poses are always easy—far from it. The secret of standing poses’ democratic quality is that they’re easy to adapt for the vast majority of your students. You can support your students with blocks, the wall or a chair, or you can help your more advanced students find greater depth, nuance, and refinement.
Since everyone can access standing poses—and they’re ubiquitously present in contemporary classes—it’s essential that teachers have a strategy for teaching them. While the technique of each standing pose varies, here are 5 common threads to focus on when you’re teaching your students these essential postures.
1) Help your student find their stride
Your students’ poses need to fit their body. If the space between their feet is too short, the pose won’t activate or stretch their hips and legs. If their stride is too big, it will be unstable and awkward.
Finding the right stride for your students is easy if you use Warrior 2 as your guide. Once your students find the right stride in Warrior 2, they can apply the same distance in the vast majority of standing poses with the occasional minor tailoring.
Finding your students’ stride in Warrior 2 – To begin, have your students take their hands to their hips, step their feet wide-apart and turn their right foot out. Turn their back foot slightly inward and align your heels with each other (front heel with back arch is also okay for more flexible, stable students).
Have your students bend their front knee and align it so that is directly above their ankle—their front shin will be vertical. Ask them to feel the degree of stretch in their inner legs and outer hips. If they want more intensity, have them step their back foot back while keeping the front shin vertical. If they want less, have them shorten their stride by stepping their back foot in. The key is keeping the shin vertical and changing the back foot till the sensation is just right—they should feel a sustainable challenge without inducing strain.
2) Teach your students how to move and align their pelvis
Pelvic alignment is essential to stable, healthy standing poses. By teaching your students the 4 movements of their pelvis (forward tilt, backward tilt, lateral tilt and rotation) you will educate them about their body and help bring awareness to their center. Use Warrior 1 to teach them how to lift their hip-points and descend the tailbone. Use revolved standing poses like revolved triangle pose to teach them how to rotate their pelvis. Teach triangle pose and side-angle pose to demonstrate lateral tilt of their pelvis. And, include forward bends to teach your students how to tilt their pelvis forward.
3) Teach your students to lift their pelvic floor
The pelvic floor is at the base of your central axis. Teaching your students to lift this region in standing poses will help stabilize their hips, elongate their spine, and provide an upward energetic movement in their body body. Lifting the perineum also draws their attention into their core. A good way to help students focus on this region is to have them place a block between their inner legs in tadasana and cue them to gently squeeze and lift it. The block won’t actually lift, but the action of trying to lift it will activate the pelvic floor.
4) Teach your student’s to tune into their torso and spine
Standing poses don’t stop with your students’ feet, legs and hips. In fact, the work of their feet, legs, and hips brings action and energy to their torso and spine. The work of the lower-body in standing poses is like a turbine that generates an updraft of energy through your entire body. Don’t forget to observe the alignment of your students’ torso and spine, and be sure to give students cues that will teach them to lift and lengthen their trunk.
5) Incorporate your student’s upper-body into your instructions
Since the lower-body receives the majority of activity and sensation in standing poses, the shoulders, arms, neck and head can easily be forgotten. When teaching standing poses, remember to give your students reminders about the alignment and activity of their upper-body. Remember, we’re helping our students feel the unified experience of their entire body, not just stretching various parts in isolation.
Jason Crandell was recently named one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future by Yoga Journal for his skillful, unique approach to vinyasa yoga. Jason’s steady pace, creative sequencing, and attention to detail encourage students to move slowly, deeply, and mindfully into their bodies. Jason credits his primary teacher, Rodney Yee, teachers in the Iyengar Yoga tradition such as Ramanand Patel, and ongoing studies in Eastern and Western philosophy for inspiring to him bring greater alignment and mindfulness to Vinyasa Yoga.
Jason is a contributing editor for Yoga Journal and has written over 13 articles for the magazine and website – many of which have been translated internationally (including Japan, China, Italy and Brazil). His integrative and accessible teachings support students of every background and lineage, helping them to find greater depth, awareness, and well-being in their practice – and in their lives. Follow Jason on Facebook and Twitter.