How to Open and Close a Yoga Class
with Heather Agnew, ERYT-500, Lead Trainer
Watch a 40-minute clip of a yoga coaching discussion on practical strategies for opening and closing your yoga classes. Follow the video, or read a few notes below.
Opening and Closing Your Yoga Class
Last week we had a great question in our group coaching session that I wanted to expand on for this week’s discussion – how to open and close your yoga classes.
This week we talk about:
- how to ground and center yourself so that you can assist students in making the transition from a busy life into the focus and calm of their yoga class.
- how routine and ritual can help you and your students transition into and out of their practice.
- time management and maintaining a student-focused class.
- and, we will talk about a variety of practical strategies for opening and closing a class – including salutations, chants, themes, and more.
Tips for opening and closing your yoga classes
In the midst of yoga teacher training, we have so many areas of study: philosophy, anatomy, history, ethics, and of course our technical studies. We spend a lot of time learning to create a great sequence, preparing our cuing, offering of regressions, progressions, and versions, coordinating props and tools – all the technical elements that go into our class and our teaching strategies. What we can sometimes forget to do is practice how to open and close a class, which might sound simple, but requires some preparation and lots of time management.
Especially if you are, like me, a bit socially awkward, this can be the most challenging time in your class – transitioning from welcomes and checking students in and doing class admin, to teaching your class.
What has helped me is to establish a routine. This is useful for my own grounding, but also for those students who also find it a challenge to make the transition from work/traffic/parking/public transport/class admin, into the relaxation and focus of their yoga class.
The Power of Routine
My most important tip for opening and closing a yoga class is to create a routine or ritual. This will help you to ground and drop in and gives your students a reliable and centering practice to make that transition in mind and body.
What your routine includes will be unique to you, but might include things like:
- Practice guidelines: how to practice, listen to your body, accommodate for injuries, aches and pains, energy management etc.
- Safety & risk man: will the door be locked, where to safely store their gear, where are the toilets, permission to adapt their practice to how their bodies/minds are showing up today.
- Settling in: this might be sitting comfortably, lying in Savasana, doing a few stretches. Give your students a practice for the period between their arrival and the start of the class.
- Tools: introducing what tools you’ll be using, including props, bells, bowls, and consent cards
- Theming, reading, opening practice: you might be speaking about a class theme or sharing a reading to inspire your class, you might have a breath or body awareness practice you like to begin your class with
Be aware of:
- Time management: you can lose a lot of time in this part of your class. One of the benefits of having a routine is that it helps you become more time efficient with practice, and with your student’s exposure to the opening ritual.
- Student-focus: you might play with a lot of ideas as you develop your opening ritual, be observant about what is working for your students and what is not. If in doubt, ask.
Closing your class
- Guiding out of relaxation into wakefulness. Have a process – bring the mind back to the breath, back to the body, turn to the side, rise up to sitting.
- Closing theme or reading – seal in your class theme by repeating the theme and perhaps offering some ideas on how they can take that out into their day.
- Gratitude: you might place the hands together and say namaste, you might guide a closing chant, you might say ‘thank you very much for sharing this time and space with me’.
- Questions, concerns: depending on your environment and timing, you might offer a few minutes after class for questions or concerns. Put a time limit on this period – I will be here for another 5 minutes or so if anyone has any questions or wants to check in.
Be aware of:
- Part of a good closing is in time management throughout your class so that you have some time and space for a good rest in Savasana, and an easeful transition out of relaxation and into readiness to leave the class.
- Ensure your theming and suggestions for home practice are invitational – ‘you might like to’, ‘if you’d like to take this idea out into your day’.
- If you offer a chant, remind students they can take part out loud, silently, or just reflect on the meaning of the chant if that is more comfortable.
- End on time – even if you have an amazing idea for a closing reading or chant – if you have run out of time, leave it until next class. Part of our commitment to our students is that class will end on time. They may have an important commitment after class, picking up the kids, returning to work, catching the train, and will not appreciate your closing if they are being kept from their commitments.
I think it’s helpful to consider your timing from the end of the class first – you want 10-20% of your class to be dedicated to relaxation, so in a 60-min class that’s 6-12 minutes. You’ll need 3-5 minutes to return from relaxation and close the class – already that’s 10-15 minutes or 1 quarter of your class. How much time can you give to opening?
When you are planning your opening and closing, it’s useful to consider a few timing guidelines. The guidelines below are for a general all-levels Vinyasa Flow Class:
- Warmups – at least 5 min
- Sun Salutations – at least 10 minutes
- Sitting down in Dandasana at the halfway point – so in a 60-minute class that’s at the 30-minute mark
- Savasana – 10-20% of your class – so in a 60-minute class that’s 6-12 minutes
- Closing – 3-5 minutes
Themes to Open and Close a Class
Themes should always be offered as an invitation or suggestion rather than an imposition. An overly insistent theme (too often repeated during the class, overly long discussion in opening or closing) can feel to students like an annoyance. Also beware of creating discomfort by offering themes or readings that people feel compromises their beliefs, particularly religious beliefs. Do your best to bring philosophy into a modern, non-religious context so that all of your students can explore and relate.
Beware of insisting on students have feelings, aims, goals, or even a particular relationship to yoga. If you aren’t sure what kind of themes or intentions your students have for their practice, you can ask. Use aims cards, offer a few theme suggestions and let them choose, or just hold a space for students to sit with their own aims.
When we talk about theming, sharing readings, etc., what might you share:
- Philosophy theme (e.g., Yoga Sutras, Yama, Niyama, 4 virtues, 5 Kleshas etc)
- Poetry or Reading theme (e.g., poetry, insight, song lyric, quote)
- Student-specific theme (do you have a group of athletes, co-workers, artists etc.)
- Anatomy theme (e.g., focusing on a certain muscle group, joint action, or interesting body part)
- Peak Pose theme (working up to a stronger or more complex pose)
- Seasonal theme (e.g., moon phase, season, weather etc.)
- Element theme (e.g., working with what elements are present, what elements we need)
- Energetic anatomy theme (e.g., bodies, sheaths, chakras, nadis etc.)
Our discussion ranged through a variety of topics, including how your opening and closing can assist both you and your students in making the into and out of the practice, the importance of time management in developing your opening and closing strategies, and the many benefits of creating a routine and ritual for how we move into and out of practice to create a state of awareness and get the most from our yoga practice.
I look forward to continuing to explore this and other yoga teaching strategies with you.
Thank you for joining me on the journey.
If you are not a current or graduate student with Yoga Trinity and are interested in learning more, you can explore our Yoga Teacher Training and Postgraduate Training programs, or the Sequencing & Theming online education program.