Designing A Yoga Class (Unit 2)

It's dark out when yoga class begins at 6:30am and the streets of downtown TO are tranquil.
It’s dark out when yoga class begins at 6:30am and the streets of downtown TO are tranquil.

Prologue a) Definition

Yoga means union; it is the practice of uniting the body and mind. That is ‘practice’ because as the conscious but rarely fully conscious creatures we humans are, our minds (or egos) are nearly always off someplace else, separated from our bodies: judging, fretting or regretting. In union, there is balance — as demonstrated in the balance of yogic breathing: in and out, unfettered in corpse pose; or fiery intentional breath to excite the body when moving it into challenging poses; and calming, soothing breath, also consciously practiced in challenging poses when the mind is fighting to flee the moment. Everyone wants balance. A father of two beautiful daughters, I know that as well as anyone.

One of proudest days of my life, 2 years ago, when both my daughters came to yoga with me.
One of proudest days of my life, 2 years ago, when both my daughters came to yoga with me.

Prologue b) Caveat Empty or a Lack of a Definition

Anusara yoga suffered an embarrassing setback three years ago when it was revealed that its founder had feet of clay. The story is a classic example of people throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Followers dropped John Friend (great yoga name, that) like a hot coal and disqualified all he had to say because he made a mistake or two (or three or several thousand — what someone does and what they say will always be different). Many instructors stopped calling the instructional style Anasura and would mumble hatha when asked. For the sake of simplicity, I will continue to call what they teach at this studio Anusara because the name, a cosmetic blip, was all that changed.

ADDIE Gets Bendie

Would-be teachers of Anusara yoga must undergo rigourous training. Leading people to do potentially harmful things with their bodies is not to be taken lightly. To qualify, would-be teachers must pass a minimum of 200 hours’ training across seven courses Anatomy and Physiology; Meditation, Philosophy & Practice Intensive; The Art of Teaching, Sequencing & Becoming a Yoga Teacher; Observation; and Personal Practice. So I am pleased and willing to trust the answers of Estelle (not her real name but she would like it). I was fortunate enough to be in the class two years ago, when our scheduled teacher slept in and Estelle unexpectedly had to lead her first class.

“I was terrified and stuck to a strict list of poses.” She does not always do that now. I asked her to take us through the ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation) process as it would relate to designing the class she gave this past Monday, my second of five since returning to Canada. (Herein, I will attend a minimum of three per week.) The interview did not go as I had expected but that is okay and interesting.


Q: What are your goals for the users: Are you trying to INFORM them? (Provide information.) TEACH or INSTRUCT them? PERSUADE them to take a particular action, make a particular decision or to change their minds?

A: Teach and instruct.

Q: What do you know about your intended audience or participants?

A: Some students I know well, including intention for coming to class, what they hope to get out of it, what they’re personally working on, past injuries etc. Often I don’t know many of the students well at all because of the drop-in nature of the class

Q: What steps might you take to assess their needs, prior experiences or knowledge, or attitudes and beliefs, about the topic or focus of your design?

A: For students who return often, I’ll get to know them better before and after class, ask for specific requests. Assessment of needs with regards to physical alignment cues comes from observing students during class and tailoring instructions to meet those needs.

Q: What knowledge, attitudes, previous experiences do you expect the intended audience/participants to have at the outset?

A: Due to the drop-in nature of the class, you can’t expect any of the above. Sometimes we get first-time students to yoga, other students have significant experience or are teachers themselves.


Q: If the design is successful in engaging the participants/learners/audience and meeting the designed goals, how will that success be indicated?

A: Feedback from students afterwards. Students are able to successfully adapt poses to meet their needs, limitations, avoid injury, feel successful (with help from me). Students progress with regards to comfort in the poses, understanding of alignment etc.

NB/SB: It was at this point in my second review of Estelle’s answers when the penny dropped. She said, “Students progress with regards to comfort in the poses, understanding of alignment, etc.” To me, this means we are co-participants in the design of this class, by the degree to which we move into the poses. Each pose is uniquely challenging for every student, so how much a student delves into the given pose’s full expression affects Estelle’s design. We are a group of mirrors. One class is actually as many classes as there are students in attendance. Every student following the same instructions is co-designing a unique class. Note where the interview goes from here.

Q: What steps do you take to design a class?

A: It depends on the day and goal of class. Usually I follow the anusara guidelines for progression of a class.

NB/SB: There is a master design in Anusara, though it is far less rigid than the forms of repetitious yoga discussed in the previous blog entry. It involves themes and groups of poses, with each class usually building towards a zenith asana (pose), which would be challenging for even advanced students. The series of asanas building towards this peak pose warms the body up for the physical toll it will take and warms the psyche up for the risk it must take. (In short, it requires bravery to go upside down.) After the peak pose, the final 10 minutes or so of a class is spent in warm-down mode for both the body and mind. We end in savasana or corpse pose, as we began, still and simply observing the breath. All Anusara classes are designed with this opening and closing; some are carefully designed around sequences and peak poses; all have lots of room for spontaneity. Back to Estelle.

Q: What steps do you take to design a class, Part 2?

A: Step one is usually to choose a theme for the class, the physical sequence comes after based on what would match the theme. Sometimes a sequence is chosen based on adequately warming up for a pinnacle pose near the end of class (eg warming up shoulders and quads before progressing to serious backbends).

NB/SB: The next three sections, DEVELOPMENT, IMPLEMENTATION AND EVALUATION all merited “NA” from Estelle. She felt the questions below were not applicable to the classes she designs. At first I wondered if she was too busy to be bothered but later realized that, as the co-designer of the class, I should be the one to answer them.

DEVELOPMENT — as answered by the blogger not the teacher

Q: Is your Developed design congruent with the results of the Needs Analysis in Phase 1?

A: Yes. At the beginning of the class, Estelle has asked whether any of us is suffering any chronic body issues or recent injuries, which she should watch out for and possibly custom-design around. I mention my terminally sore shoulder and she encourages a gentle, loving approach to the coming sun salutations and downward dogs. “As soon as it hurts, back off,” which I do.

Q: Has the developed design been pilot tested and reviewed by a sample representative of the intended audience, participants or learners?

A: Yes. Though Estelle said this question was not applicable, I know that all the poses she teaches are from the Anusara syllabus and a long tradition before that, tested on many like us, before us.

IMPLEMENTATION — as answered by the blogger not the teacher

Q: Have you planned to have the necessary resources and support systems available so that your developed design can “go live” with its intended audience, users, learners, on time, and with the intended approach.

A: An interesting question. The answer is tied to the question below. So let’s go straight there.

Q: Have you developed contingency plans to address potential risks to implementation?

A: In a follow-up interview with Estelle, we discussed both these questions. She follows the major themes of the Anusara syllabus, planning a lesson or peak pose for almost every class. However within that structure she always leaves room diversion and modifies the plan, usually in real time. (See the second paragraph of this blog entry.) The very raison d’etre of Anusara class design is to allow space for contingency and suddenly try something different within a structure. Intuition is essential to the practice.

“So it’s almost like jazz?” I ask as a comparison. “You know the song, then improvise on it to engage with your audience.” “Yeah, sort of,” she tepidly agrees. Unlike me, Estelle is not a jazz fan, so perhaps the comparison is less relevant. It’s also just 7:35am.

EVALUATION — as answered by the blogger not the teacher

Q: Does the Design achieve its desired outcomes with ALL its intended users?

A: It is impossible to say definitively but safe to say probably yes. These individual classes are not structured to take a regular participant to a specific level with exact criteria but regular attendance will absolutely build a better yogi, one eventually fit and pliable enough to become teachers themselves.

The proof, though, is in the attendance. The lessons have been happening at 6:30am for years and many of the same faces keep attending. ALL of those intended users and, remember, co-participants in the designs of classes, would answer yes.

Q: Does the information collected via the Evaluation process provide useful information that can inform future versions, revisions, or decisions regarding the future of the program/design?

A: Absolutely. I re-quote Estelle: “Some students I know well, including intention for coming to class, what they hope to get out of it, what they’re personally working on, past injuries etc.”

Q: Does the evaluation process actually assess the design in terms of its intended goals/outcomes?

A: It is probably safe to say yes to this question too, again because the participants/co-designers keep attending and co-designing with the teachers at this studio.  If the outcomes were not being properly assessed by the evaluation, the early-morning classes would have disappeared long ago. That they are still extant after 5 years of early mornings is answer enough.

Q: Is the Evaluation process intended to focus only on end-results (Summative) or is it also Formative–gathers feedback along the way which can be used for mid-course adjustments)?

A: Again, I can answer for Estelle and all the teachers at this studio. The process is summative. Actually, let’s allow her to answer for herself and another repeated quotation: “Assessment of needs with regards to physical alignment cues comes from observing students during class and tailoring instructions to meet those needs.”

See you in Unit 3.


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