Home

Free Resources – Sequencing Fundamentals

Please Note: This is part of a series of related topics. Use the quick menu above to navigate within this section.

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we introduce the factors involved in sequencing poses.

Objective

Lay the foundation for sequencing poses to safely and effectively meet class objectives.

Description

Describe general categories of class objectives. Name aspects of an asana that are utilized in effective sequencing. Describe a basic principle of sequencing related to complexity of poses and describe how to guide students’ attention in a way that is consistent with this sequencing principle. Explain the Desikachar approach to sequencing dynamic and static poses. Describe priorities when moving through the arc of a class. Show how sequencing takes into account the relationship between poses. Speak to the caution around artistic sequencing.


Overview

There are few “hard and fast” rules in yoga teaching. Different lineages have different approaches. And even within a single lineage, the response to most questions is, “That depends upon the student, situation and intention.”

Still, particularly as a new yoga teacher, it’s helpful to have some guidelines from which to begin. So we have gathered guiding principles culled from multiple expert sources for mindful sequencing. Here you’ll find the most fundamental principles. Members can go deeper by delving into the huge Plan & Sequence section. (See below for more information.)

Different Types of Sequencing

There are different types of sequencing:  1) sequencing movements within a pose, 2) sequencing from one pose to another within a family, and 3) sequencing from one family of poses to another.   All of these variables make asana sequencing a truly complex topic. – Brad Priddy  link

Judith Lasater on Sequencing

All yoga poses are done in relationship with all others. Therefore, the effect of each pose can be measured, in part, by the pose that came before it and the one that comes after it. For example, if you are focusing on forward bends, then you should practice basic forward bends first and gradually move toward more challenging ones, as your body accommodates the movements necessary to bend forward… Another principle of sequencing is to practice the poses that encourage systemic effects and involve the large muscles first… Finally, an effective sequence of poses never juxtaposes an extreme movement with its opposite extreme movement. – Judith Lasater, 30 Essential Yoga Poses 2003 p 196  link


Have a Clear Objective

Preparatory Questions

The most fundamental aspect of sequencing is setting a clear objective. Your objective will guide your choice of asana, breathing practices, thematic elements and other tools. The objective also helps in deciding against options, thereby narrowing the focus and increasing effectiveness. Questions that will help lead you to your objective include:

    • Who are my students?
    • What do I want them to learn?
    • What do I want them to be able to accomplish by the end of class?
    • What do I hope they will take away after practice?

Some types of objectives include preparing for teaching a peak pose, repeating a pose as a way to guide students to new aspects or a deeper expression of the pose, responding to a particular condition or energetic state, or teaching an anatomy-related principle. For more thoughts on setting an objective, see Inviting Inspiration.

Your objective should be specific and clear. Consider also, the value in clearly communicating the learning objective to students.

Be Specific

Before you show up, make sure you know exactly what you want to teach that day. Be specific: is it a pose? Is it a movement that happens in the body during the pose? Is it a region of the body? Is it an energetic or philosophical theme? Ask yourself: if my students could walk away learning ONE thing from my class today, what will it be? And let your sequence communicate for you. – Adrienne Kimberley, Seattle Yoga News, 5 Tips to Create Awesome Yoga Sequences  link

Avoid “Everything But the Kitchen Sink”

In any yoga practice one element is always dominant. If you want to make it asana, that’s fine, then breath can support it along with meditation and other things. If you want to make the breath a dominant element… then the asana and other things play a supportive role. Otherwise the practice can become an example of “everything but the kitchen sink”. You can organize your yoga practice around an idea, or meditation, or chanting, or ritual, or mudra – whatever you think will help you manifest the intention that you have for the class, as long as it’s one main thing. – Olga Kabel, SequenceWiz, How to Organize a Practice Around Yoga Breathing  link

Introduce the Learning Objective

A teacher may hope to help their students find balance in Tree Pose… If that teacher starts class introducing foot anatomy and weight placement in balance poses, they are setting their students up for success when it is time to practice Tree Pose. Starting class with a personal anecdote or discovery, a yoga philosophy lesson, thought-provoking question, etc. are also great ways to develop and introduce a class aim. – Ling Beisecker, DoYouYoga, 5 Tips to Help You Plan a Great Yoga Class  link

Categories of Class Objectives

A class objective may be set around such topics as responding to individual conditions, the natural world or larger society. Or it may be related to asana or anatomy. Another type of objective (which may be related to responding to a condition or teaching a particular asana) is encouraging an energetic or feeling state such as grounding or patience.

1. Individual Conditions

    • You may wish to help seniors regain or maintain balance, help athletes bring physical balance or support new mothers in experiencing relaxation and restoration.
    • Or perhaps you are volunteering and find the group has exhibited low self-esteem so your objective becomes to inspire self-confidence.
    • See also: Safety & Adaptations

2. The Natural World & Society

    • You may use the season as inspiration and intend to bring balance to the active nature of summer or the more sedentary-focus of winter.
    • Moon phases, eclipses, and the Wheel of the Year are additional events that can serve as inspiration for setting a class objective.
    • A holiday or observance may inspire you to set an intention that supports the themes of the holiday, such as gratitude, independence, surrender or other.
    • See also: Seasons, Moons, Holidays

3. Asana

Prepare to teach a peak pose.
    • Choose a pose that would be particularly beneficial to your students.
    • Identify the key actions of the peak pose (e.g. open chest and shoulders; lengthen lumbar and hamstrings).
    • Create a class sequence to include simpler, preparatory asana that have the same key actions.
Focus on a category of poses.
    • Consider such a focus as standing poses, backbends or twists.
    • Support asana with other tools and thematic language as appropriate.
    • For example, perhaps at a homeless shelter, you find that students seem to lack strength and stability, both physically and emotionally. You might choose to emphasize standing poses and balance work within a well-rounded sequence.
    • Additional ways to support the intention include defining and speaking to the concept of grounding, explaining in each pose where and how to find grounding physically and mentally.
    • Consider using an affirmation utilizing root chakra teachings such as “I am here, now, in my body” or “Right now, I am here and safe.”
    • See also: Asana Categories, Chakras, Affirmations, Themes & Readings, Themed Sequences & Class Planning
Repeat poses.
    • Another consideration is repeating some poses more than once, focusing on such aspects as grounding and engaging legs in one round and spinal lengthening or arm placement in another.
    • Or repeat poses with the specific intention of allowing students more time, heat, and/or awareness to feel a deepening in the posture with each successive repetition.
    • Another angle on this tactic is to specifically show how, say, releasing tension in the feet with a ball impacts the depth of a forward bend.
    • Our Asana Digests provide dozens of cues and inspiring quotes to support you in devising specific and varying intentions for aligning and deepening asana.
    • See also: Sequencing: Choosing & Arranging Poses

4. Anatomy

    • Examples include teaching all movements of the spine, stretching all around the hip joint, focusing on lengthening hip flexors to support backbending, or other.
    • See also: Anatomy & Physiology

5. Energetic or Feeling State

More Inspiration

You may also wish to use the Sequence Finder to review intentions associated with our expert-derived sequences.


Move from Simple to Complex

  • The crux of this principle is to begin with the simplest poses first, moving from easy to difficult and simple to complex.
  • Similarly, teachers may wish to limit their verbal instruction and in-depth alignment teachings at the beginning of class.
  • If the class will include a complex, “peak” pose, the earlier, simpler poses are chosen specifically to prepare for it.
  • It is recommended that teachers guide students’ attention to gross movements and external effects prior to moving to the more subtle and internal ones.
  • The most difficult or complex pose(s) occur at the “peak” of class and then students are returned to a balanced state.
  • The Desikachar lineage advocates moving in and out of a pose with the breath before holding the pose. Such dynamic movement allows the body to open more gently and gives the student more time to assimilate the movement. In addition, it sets the tone of working intimately with the breath so that even when a pose is held, the student is prepared to make subtle movements with the breath.

Build Mindfully & Gradually

  • This key principle of sequencing states that in moving through the arc of class, from simple to complex and back down again, the steps you take are safe, mindful and gradual.
  • In this 2-minute video, Eddie Modestini speaks to the importance of building mindfully and gradually.
Build Gradually

It’s a rare human body that is so resilient that all the asanas come easily and safely, even if appropriately warmed. Take Wheel Pose as an example. Yes, there’s a small fraction of intermediate level students who can easily and safely explore it after some simple warming. But open the hip flexors and thighs, create space and ease along the spine by warming and stretching the spinal erectors, multifidi, and abdominals, and do a variety of shoulder openers… and I assure you all yoga students will find the this asana more accessible, intelligible, and sustainable, and the integrating sequence that follows will take it all a lot deeper. I want teachers to make the practice more accessible to all, to always assume they don’t precisely know the conditions of their students, and to make it altogether less likely that they’ll be featured in William J. Broad’s next New York Times installment on how yoga can wreck your body. – Mark Stephens, Yoga Teacher Magazine, This Amazing Evolution  link

See much more: Choosing & Arranging Poses


Be Cautious

Sequencing is one of the fundamental ways that teachers serve their students, and keep them safe. All teachers are advised to be cautious that creativity does not ever overshadow purpose and intelligence in sequencing.

Logic & Purpose

Does this sequence of postures unfold harmoniously and smoothly? How does each pose affect the posture that came before it AND the one that follows it? Am I being creative for creativity’s sake or can I back up every posture in this sequence with logic and purpose? – Gina Caputo, Yoga Journal, How to Sequence with Purpose & Power  link

Understand the Rules Before Making Changes

Nowadays, most 200-hour teacher trainings give aspiring asana teachers a class outline of some sort, providing a basic sense of when to do what. In general, it’s a good idea to follow those rules—and to really understand them—before you decide to change it up and do something different. In other words, don’t do anything randomly, and don’t sacrifice safe sequencing for creative choreography. Basically, if you’re going to deviate from the sequencing guidelines you’ve been taught, have a legitimate, anatomically sound reason for doing so. Don’t set aside the safety and integrity of your class for the sake of throwing in something neat you saw on YouTube. – Kathryn Heagberg, Yoga International, 5 Common Sequencing Errors  link

Safety Over Artistry

Leslie Kaminoff brings up an excellent point in his video: yoga sequencing is not the same as choreography. In choreography, the goal is artistic expression and choices are dictated by elegance and aesthetic appeal. Of course, it’s nice when a yoga class flows gracefully, but that is not the main goal. We do not practice yoga to look pretty while we are at it, but to get some benefit, whether it’s physical, physiological of psycho-emotional. The way we arrange poses and other elements in a yoga practice is determined by what we want to accomplish and how we can get there effectively with minimum risk to the body. – Olga Kabel, SequenceWiz, How to Sequence a Class for Shoulderstand  link


Much More!

We hope you found this excerpt from our Member site useful and inspiring. The Plan & Sequence section on the Member site is extensive and includes such tools and resources as:

    • Getting Started with Sequencing
    • Inviting Inspiration
    • Sequencing Fundamentals
    • Sequencing to Balance Energy
    • Choosing & Arranging Poses
    • Segmenting Your Class
    • Sequence Finder
    • Themed Classes
    • Planning Calendars
    • Studio & Class Logistics
    • Strategic Planning
    • Vision & Goal Setting
    • Series and Workshop Planning

More About Us

CONNECT WITH US

© 2021 Yoga Teacher Central • All rights reserved • Terms of service • Privacy policy