The 5 Basic Principles of Yoga Sequencing

Headstand Preparation

You know when you’ve been to a really great class. You were moved seamlessly through warm up poses, into active invigorating poses, into a really deep peak pose and then smoothly cooled down to the final Śavāsana. You ache the next day in a satisfying, you’ve-worked-in-all-the-right-places kind of way.

If you’re a yoga teacher, or trainee yoga teacher, it’s what you’re aiming to achieve, but there are so many challenges to putting together your own sequences for your classes. The problem with creating your own sequences is that it isn’t an exact science, and different styles of yoga have different approaches.

However, there are a few principles of sequencing that hold true, whatever your yogic approach.

See Also: Help! Which Yoga Style to Practice?

1. Tailor It for the Class

The first thing to consider is the class you’re going to teach. What level are your students? Are they total total beginners, experienced but a little creaky, or advanced and adventurous?

For beginners, it’s wise to keep the class moving, focussing on essential alignment of simple asanas, whereas more advanced students can hold the poses for longer and get deeper into the detail.

Consider the location. Is it a fully equipped yoga studio, or is it a basic village hall with a few chairs and tables stacked in the corner? If it’s an all-singing, all-dancing studio there’s no limits to the variations you can plan, whereas a no-frills hall needs to be pared down to the equipment you’ve invested in or the use of the wall.

Consider the day, time and season of the class. If it’s a morning class they’ll have more energy, but could be a little stiff. If it’s an evening class they could be stretchy but tired. If it’s a hot summer’s day, their muscles will be more flexible but they could be dehydrated, and so on. By taking into account all the variations of each class before you step in front of them, you won’t be caught unprepared.

2. Have a Focus

The focus of your yoga sequence can range from straightforward and general to honing in on the tiny details that fine-tune a yoga class.

By choosing a theme or focus for the class, you can take your sequencing to the next level. Some examples can be aiming for a particular peak pose, or focusing on an adjustment of the body, for example spreading and broadening the back. It could be the breath, the mudras, or even a quality, such as steadiness or peace. Avoid trying to do everything all at once, though, for fear of overwhelming your students.

Pay special attention to how you will open and close the class, which is when you can have the most impact on your students, and do ensure that you stick to the theme throughout the entire class.

3. Be Consistent

When you’re a newly qualified yoga teacher it’s tempting to get creative and go off-piste with your lesson plans. However, B.K.S. Iyengar has this seasoned piece of advice:

“Understanding the significance of sequencing takes time. Grasp the subtleties and movements of each asana and its impact on your body, before attempting to formulate an order that suits your personal needs.”
~ B. K. S. Iyengar Yoga, The Path to Holistic Health

It’s great to be creative and experimental once you’ve gotten into your stride as a teacher, especially once you know the students and their capabilities, but the truth is that most students prefer a certain amount of routine with just enough variations to keep things fresh.

This will also encourage students to be loyal to you as a teacher. If they get a different style or pace of class every time they go it will put them off.

 4. Do Your Homework

“In a well-planned sequence, each pose makes the next pose easier and more accessible, because it creates the opening necessary to move deeply into that pose.”
~ Donald Moyer, director of The Yoga Room in Berkeley, California

Commit a certain amount of time each week to planning your lessons, rather than grabbing ten minutes just before you head out the door. Both you and your students will benefit from quality time spent on preparation.

Use the wisdom of more experienced teachers and jot down the sequences of poses in classes that you get a lot out of, and spend some time reading up on the subject. Invest in some books on the topic to support your own experience.

Finally, make sure you test your sequences out on your own body before using your students as guinea pigs. By going through the poses yourself you’ll come across any blips that need ironing out.

5. Be Flexible

However much work you’ve put into putting together the perfect sequence you can get to the class and any number of things can crop up. You could have decided to challenge your students by giving them a really tough workout and they could be puffing and panting, muscles quivering like jelly from ten minutes in.

As yoga teacher Mark Stephens says, “avoid jumping ahead to a previous plan at the expense of sthira and sukham (steadiness and ease). If this is the case they’re not going to last through to the titthibasana you’ve planned for the apex pose. Adapt to the class in front of you.”

 A new student joining the class could mean that you’ll have to spend more time then planned walking through the basics, which means less time to power through the poses, or if one of your students has a new injury you’ll also have to take that into account.

Adapt to the students in front of you, and they will end up teaching you just as much as you teach them.

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