Whenever a yoga teacher asks about class sequencing, the discussion usually starts off, “well, it depends.”
What it depends on are common-sense things like:
- What time of day is it?
- (Morning? Start with a warm-the-joints flow. Evening? Start more vigorous and bring it down to calm the nervous system.)
- Is it cold outside?
- (Yes? Do a warming flow.)
- Are students tired and grumpy?
- (Do a gentle, flowing movement followed by restorative.)
- Or are they happy and frisky?
- (Do just about anything…and slow things down at the end with a sweet savasana.)
- Are they beginners?
- (Keep it simple and repeat the main poses; use props liberally.)
There are endless other examples but beyond those kinds of general considerations, you’ll need to keep a few other things in mind as well.
Here’s a step-by-step recipe for putting together class plans that make sense.
1. Start with an objective or intention.
Ask yourself, “What one thing can I convey to my students today that would be useful in their lives right now?”
For example: Grounding
This is a perfect objective for your classes when it feels like students are more scattered or frazzled than usual. It can include physical and psycho-emotional components, such as working on the feet and hands as the foundation that grounds the poses; which in turn helps students feel more emotionally centered and stable in life.
2. From this, your class theme will flow.
“Grounding Amid the Flurry of Life,” or
“Finding Your Roots from which to Stabilize, Nurture and Thrive.”
I find that if I pick a theme that excites me personally, it tends to work out better. That way I’ll have lots of good inspiration and ideas. Don’t pick a theme just because it sounds good.
3. Choose poses to achieve your objective.
This is where most of the work of your sequencing is. Although there aren’t many hard-and-fast rules to sequencing (which is why it can seem so complicated), here are some things to keep in mind:
- Include poses from all the movement categories (i.e., backbends, forward folds, balancing, etc.) even though you might want to emphasize a particular category over another for certain classes (e.g., a class centered around backbends would also include forward bends and side arches).
- Move the spine in all directions.
- Choose poses to balance the energy (think: do students need rajasic, tamasic or sattvic movements? Ayurveda teaches that opposites balance each other).
- Work with each of the pancha prana vayus to generate (prana), ground (apana), expand (vyana), consolidate and purify (samana) and move the energy upwards (udana).
- Allow time for integration between poses.
- Follow the bell curve of heart rate (i.e., build some heat at the beginning, sustain the effort during the middle, bring the heart rate down at the end before savasana).
- Bring external energy inward (use asana and pranayama to move towards pratyahara, dharana and dhyana).
- Move from
- simple to complex (e.g., easy versions of a pose before layering on the more advanced versions).
- dynamic (e.g., light, quick sun salutations) to static (e.g., long, deep forward folds)
- external to internal (e.g., establish alignment then attend to sensation, breath, thoughts).
- gross to subtle (e.g., explain where the feet are place; then explain what are the feet doing—engaging, lifting or relaxing—and finally, in what direction does the energy flow through them).
- Sequence poses in a way that either intensifies the effect of your sequence (e.g., easy to more-challenging backbends) or relieves the effects of previous actions (sometimes called neutralizing, balancing or counter poses).
- Repetition is good; students learn best when they can experience a target pose several times.
- Meet students where they are (e.g., restless? do active sequences; sedentary? start with slow, simple movements, then take the energy level up).
- Move the energy up the chakra ladder, from root to crown (at least until you get more proficient in your understanding of chakras and energy, at which point you can be more creative with where you’re directing the flow of energy).
Please don’t think you need to do ALL of the above!!! These are just things to keep in mind as you go about putting your class together.
In our example class above with the objective of “grounding,” you might pick tree pose, a long series of standing poses, a few belly-down poses and a long savasana as the main highlights of your class.
You could start with a long child’s pose (to ground the energy, drain the busy thoughts into the earth, curl into yourself), then move to the six movements of the spine, and then directly into downdog (grounding both hands and feet); and then some sun salutations (meet students where they are—active, rajasic energy). From there do a standing sequence that keeps the heart rate elevated and requires students to focus on refining their stabilizing muscles. Tree pose would be perfect at the end of that series (quiets and focuses the mind after all the activity).
Then down to the ground for some belly down work which plugs the third chakra into the earth, both reducing frenetic energy and increasing true pranic power.
I might also include some seated forward folds here to start to bring the energy inward (pratyahara) and calm the nervous system.
Inversion work is always important, in my opinion, for bringing energy up and also soothing the nervous system (something we all need these days).
And then a long savasana…yay!!!
4. Choose a reading, poem, quote or imagery that demonstrates your theme.
This is one of the five important elements of teaching an awesome class as outlined in my ebook, Transform Your Yoga Teaching. Who DOESN’T like to be inspired in class? If all you talk about are specific alignment points and forget to nurture the expansive spirit of yoga, you’re missing a great opportunity!
It’s nice to have two separate synergistic (and short!) readings for the beginning and end of class. If you’re unable to find two, then one is plenty. Read it at the beginning and then maybe repeat one small part of it at the end of class as well.
If poetry’s not your thing, there are lots of great ways to add a touch of inspiration to your classes. I’ve seen teachers add essential oils, guitar playing, a flower on students’ mats when they come up from savasana, gongs or tingshas, beautiful visualizations and a whole lot more. Just make sure it synergizes with your class and doesn’t just become a distraction from the intention of your class.
5. Layer in the complexity.
Choose auxiliary practices (mantra, pranayama, affirmations, etc.) to augment the asana practice. If you have new material or deeper poses, add those in after you’ve established a solid practice foundation.
Example: Using “grounding” as the theme, add bhu mudra during the beginning centering or ending meditation (check out this sweet video of Krystal Thompson leading a bhu mudra meditation).
6. Review your sequence for kramas—especially for peak sequences.
One meaning of the word krama is “steps done in a certain way.” As I’m using the word here, kramas are different layers or levels or steps of a pose for different ability levels.
Do you know how to offer kramas of the poses you’re using, for various levels of students? Think through your flow and plan those ahead of time.
Be sure to also give students permission to modify poses themselves, or go back to the krama that suits them if they find themselves in struggle. It’s hard to believe that students still need that encouragement, but they do. Don’t assume that they’ll know it’s okay to change things up; make it an explicit statement in each and every class.
Include props as needed. Suggest these ahead of time (i.e., “You’ll need a block and a strap before we get started.”) Don’t wait for students figure it out on their own.
7. Try it out yourself.
Go all the way through your sequence yourself to make sure there are no harsh or extreme movements stacked together (for example, a deep hanumanasana followed by a quick exit into….well, ANY other pose—haha).
If you have specific questions about sequencing that I might’ve overlooked here, please leave them below. I’m happy to answer them!
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