At its core, an asana sequence is a general yoga prescription designed for many people (as opposed to the traditional prescriptions that are tailored for each individual). Instead of making something perfect for each unique person's fitness level and goals, a general sequence makes each person adjust to it.
A sequence takes into account the general health of the individuals that are likely to come to class. For the most part, nothing taught is too complicated or dangerous in a general class. That means it will be beneficial for the majority of people who take the class.
Western cultures have gotten around the issues that this causes by using modifications when necessary in asana classes. For example: Someone who cannot balance can hold onto the wall while attempting a posture. Also, advanced students may "up-level" a posture to bring it to their level of ability. In this way, each student can approximate a personalized practice while doing the same practice as the rest of class.
There are pros and cons to the Western approach of sequenced yoga classes.
1. There's no consultation or one-on-one time required. Any prospective yogi can come in and take class with no preparation.
2. A brand new teacher can get through a class without needing to identify and address individual issues.
3. If the sequence is set already, a teacher doesn't need to come up with what they are teaching.
4. This approach can potentially provide a communal feel, as everyone is taking part in the same actions.
1. Students cannot progress at the same rate they would with individual attention. They are most likely not pushed as much as they could be in some areas, and are pushed too hard in others.
2. Teachers may be able to get by without continuing to develop their own education since they can "get through a class." This often leads to teacher burnout as well.
3. Without knowing a student's physical condition, a teacher may instruct something that is potentially dangerous for the student.
4. Large parts of the population are underserved. Old, injured, kids, etc. don't often come to class, because they need special attention and the classroom environment doesn't provide that.
Just as yoga in the West evolved from its prescriptive tradition, it will continue to change based on cultural values and the systems in place.
Scott & Ida are Yoga Acharyas (Masters of Yoga). They are the head teachers of Ghosh Yoga. This blog is about their experience with yoga practice, study and teaching.
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- The Oxygenation Myth