How to sequence a yoga class

Unless you are teaching a style of yoga with a set sequence of postures such as Bikram or Ashtanga, you will need to choose the order of the postures you teach, otherwise known as “sequencing.” Put simply, sequencing matters. It matters in terms of how your students will feel in the postures – whether they will feel warmed up enough or ready for the postures you are teaching. And it matters in terms of how they will feel at the end of class and later on. Yoga postures work on the physical, emotional, and energetic bodies, and have a subtle but strong affect on our nervous systems. If we practice deep postures without first warming up, we may feel bad. If we practice active or intense postures but cool down appropriately afterwards, and practice the right counter-poses, we may feel good. It is your job as a teacher to structure your classes so that they achieve the desired results. Most beginning teachers plan and write out a sequence before teaching. Some experienced teachers also do this, but with experience comes the wisdom as well as the confidence to “wing it.” In the beginning, I do not suggest winging it. Be prepared, but also willing to change and adapt the class based on the experience level and energy of the students present that day.

There are five main ways to sequence your classes.

  1. To create a balanced practice

A balanced practice will consist of a fairly equal number of standing postures, seated postures, forward bends, backward bends, twists, and inversions. Typically standing postures will precede seated postures and inversions, although this may vary depending on the tone you intend to set. For example, if you want the practice to feel very nurturing and calming, you may start out with supine postures to relax the nervous system, then gently introduce standing postures and inversions. If you want to create a fun and vibrant atmosphere, you might start with Sun Salutations, standing poses, and even inversions such as Handstand, before moving to the floor. The idea is for students to feel good and balanced when they get up to leave.

  1. To address a pose or type of posture

If you want to address, say, hip openers or backbends, in particular, you would create a sequence that progressively warms up the required body parts, and teaches or emphasizes the types of actions students will need to approach the intended posture with ease. For example, a backbending class may start with standing postures that emphasize stability in the legs and pelvis, shoulder opening, and hip flexor/psoas release before moving into first gentle, and gradually more challenging backbends. Do not forget to practice appropriate counter-poses, such as a forward bend or abdominal strengthening exercise after backbending. Even if the sequencing intention is to address a pose or type of posture, you should always teach a balanced practice.

  1. To build toward a “peak pose”

A peak pose is typically a “hard” pose that some students may be wary of, afraid of, unsure how to do, or maybe they have never even seen before. The structure of the class, then, will introduce poses that help the students master some of the smaller actions contained in the harder posture, building on them until the peak pose reveals itself toward the end of practice. As with #3, make sure to teach an appropriate counter-pose or cool-down if necessary.

  1. To address a theme

Your theme may be postural or philosophical. An example of a postural theme might be “backbending to open the heart,” while a philosophical theme might be “balancing santosha (contentment) with tapas (discipline) in our practice.” You will introduce your theme, then connect it to the postures you teach in that class, so that it threads its way through the practice.

  1. To be creative

In a flow or vinyasa yoga setting, the sequencing is often intended to be creative, offering new and different ways of grouping postures, linking them together creatively. This can be both fun and transformative for students, as well as amusing and challenging for teachers. While we often want to be creative in our sequencing, though, there are a few pitfalls to avoid. First, do not get so creative that you forget what you have taught on one side by the time you get to the other side. Also, do not link poses together “just because you can” if it does not make sense in the body, and in terms of what poses you have already taught to prepare and warm up. Finally, do not link so many poses together on one side that the front or standing leg is exhausted. This is not healthy for the joints, or for the nervous system, which may feel out of balance or stressed. Remember, no matter what type of sequencing you are doing, you need to create a balanced practice.

Note that you may be teaching classes that combine or integrate one or more of the above sequencing styles. Have fun with it!


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