Dear Yoga Teacher, Please Teach a Class that Feels Good in My Body

Sequencing refers to the order in which you teach or practice your yoga asanas, or postures.

There are few things that get on my nerves more than taking another teacher’s class and wondering why in the world we are in camel pose in the first ten minutes, not having done any preparatory postures, or why we have just done three or four poses that open up the right hamstrings, only to find ourselves in hanumanasana, or the splits, on the left leg!?

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 you practice deep postures without first warming up, you might feel bad. If you practice intense postures but cool down appropriately afterwards, or practice the right counter-poses, you will feel good.

There are five main ways to sequence your classes.

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, and gently introduce standing postures and inversions. On the other hand, if you want to create an energetic or playful 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.

To address a pose or type of posture.

If you want to address, say, hip openers, arm balances, or backbends, in particular, you would create a sequence that progressively warms up the required body parts, and that addresses the actions students will need to approach the intended postures with ease.

For example, a back bending class may start with standing postures that emphasize stability in the legs and pelvis, shoulder opening, and hip flexor release before moving into gentle and gradually more challenging backbends. Do not forget to practice appropriate counter-poses, such as a forward bend or abdominal strengthening exercise after back bending. Even if the sequencing intention is to address a pose or type of posture, you should always teach a balanced practice.

To build toward a “peak pose.”

A peak pose is typically a “hard” pose that some students may intimidated by, 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.

To address a theme Your theme may be postural or philosophical. An example of a postural theme might be “back bending 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.

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 fun 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, especially if it does not make sense in the body in terms of which poses you have already taught. 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 hip joints, or for the nervous system, which may feel out of balance or stressed.

It is a teacher’s responsibility to structure classes so that they achieve a desired result.

Most beginning teachers plan or write out a sequence before teaching it. Some experienced teachers also do this, but with experience comes the wisdom and confidence to “wing it.” Teachers should be prepared ahead of time, but also willing to improvise the class based on the experience level and energy of the students present that day.

Note that you may be teaching classes that combine or integrate one or more of the above sequencing styles. Have fun with it, honor your students, and be yourself!