How to Teach Transitions

Transitions in yoga—and life—can be choppy, unstable and erratic. As yoga practitioners this is good news because it gives us something to practice. Since I love the nuances of postures, I admit to getting swept away with the details of Virabhadrasana 2 and Ardha Chandrasana while rarely telling my students the finer points of moving from one to the other. But, after noticing the tumult that occurs in transitional movements, I know that they deserve more TLC than they receive in most of my classes. My guess is that you may feel the same.

Here are some basic concepts to work with and a few transitions to explore.

Basic concepts

  • Slow down

Slowing the movement between postures helps you notice the subtleties involved. In particular, you’ll observe what muscles have to engage in order to maintain your balance as you make your transitions. I encourage you to take an extra 2 or 3 breaths in your transitions on occasion—especially in the more accessible transitions like those between your standing postures.

  • Pick transitions as your theme

Focusing on transitions may change the pace of your class—especially if you mind the advice of slowing things down. A skillful way of doing this is to simply make it the theme of your class on occasion. You can even let your students know that transitions will be your theme and you’d like the to pay particular attention to these movements.

  • Focus on the transfer of your weight

The key to making a skillful transition is to focus on the movement of your weight. This will help you counterbalance your body where its necessary. Essentially, you want to limit the weight of your body from moving too quickly in any one direction. Bringing your attention to your core (specifically, your pelvis and lower belly) is usually the most effective way to tune into your weight as it is transitioning.

  • Exhale

Most—not all—transitions are done on the exhalation. Remember, your muscles are usually contracting more strongly between the postures (when moving slowly) than they are in the postures. It’s hard to take a decent inhalation when your body is more tensile. You can, however, take a nice, long exhalation through the course of most transitions. Exhaling during transitions may also help you settle and focus your attention.

Transitions to explore in your practice & class

  • Warrior 2 to Half Moon Pose—and back

This is such an important set of transitions because it’s common and accessible—and, even more, it lays the foundations for transitions between all of your standing postures. The key point when moving from Warrior 2 to Half Moon is to place your bottom hand on the floor or block and step your back foot much closer to your front foot before taking off. Once you do this, simply lean weight forward so is split between your bottom arm and standing leg. The key to transitioning back to warrior to is to slow your movement down by continuing to lean the weight of your upper-body into your standing leg and arm while you very slowly step your top leg back to the mat.

  • Jumping from Down Dog to Standing Forward Bend

There are two keys to making this transition more graceful and effective. The first is to wait until the exhalation is nearly complete before jumping. The second is to engage your core. In fact, waiting for your exhalation to be nearly over will help you engage your core. This process allows you to control the weight of your pelvis as it shoots forward. To be fair, strong shoulders and flexible hamstrings also make this movement much easier.

  • Malasana to Bakasana

This transition focuses on transitioning your weight from your feet to your hands. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. Students often make the mistake of trying to lift their feet up in the posture, but the real transition here is forward not up. From a deep squat with your hands on the floor, focus on shifting your weight from your feet forward into your hands. Instead of having your students do bakasana only once and stay as long as possible, have them practice moving in and out of the pose 5 or 6 times in a row while focusing on the transitions involved.

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