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Sequencing Principles for Energizing and Relaxing

Remarkably enough, changing the order in which you teach the same set of poses will completely change its effect on your students. Learning how to facilitate relaxation or energy during your classes begins with understanding these energetic effects.

By Jamie Lindsay

The order in which you sequence postures can have dramatic effects on the energy of your students. This article looks at some elementary energetic effects of yoga postures and ways sequencing can be used to help modify energy levels. This can be particularly helpful when working with students who suffer from either depression or stress and anxiety.

To understand sequencing, it is helpful to view postures as part of larger categories. For the purposes of this short article, we will use the categories most commonly employed in the Iyengar tradition: Standing Poses, Forward Bends, Backbends, Inversions, Arm Balances, and Twists. Of course, some of the poses fit into more than one category: Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) is both an inversion and an arm balance; Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose) is both a standing pose and a forward bend. Most postures, though, neatly fit into one category, with some aspects of the others: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose) is a standing pose, but in it the shoulder girdle and cervical spine contains elements of a backbend. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)--a deservedly important posture in most yoga schools--is quite special in preparing the body beautifully for almost every type of pose; it contains elements of every grouping except twists.

The effects of these types of postures on the energy of the practitioner can also be categorized. There are finer and more detailed ways of understanding the energetic effects of yoga postures--David Frawley gives an ayurveda">Ayurvedic approach in Yoga for Your Type, for example, and the Viniyoga writings of T.K.V. Desikachar and Gary Kraftsow give another complementary scheme--but for our purposes, categorizing the poses as stimulating, relaxing, or balancing should be sufficient.

Poses that extend the spine--move it toward backbending--are generally stimulating, as are inversions, standing poses, and arm balances. Poses that flex the hips and perhaps flex the spine--moving towards forward bending--are generally relaxing. Twists are generally balancing. The energetic effects of those few poses that are truly only one sort of pose are therefore easy to understand: Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) is a stimulating backbend; Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) is a relaxing forward bend.

Few poses are this easy to categorize. Of the vast assortment of yoga poses we can practice, most combine aspects of various types of poses. Particularly, it will become obvious that many poses that aren't truly forward bends actually contain elements of them. In the arm balances in particular, there are few that are only arm balancing postures (Adho Mukha Vrksasana and Mayurasana [Peacock Pose] for example); most contain a strong element of forward bending. For example, Tittibhasana (Firefly Pose) and Bakasana (Crane Pose), which are similar to raised variations of Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) and Malasana (Garland Pose) respectively, combine the relaxing effects of those poses with the stimulating effects of arm balancing.

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Reader Comments

Helen Leichauer

Thanks for this great article! I'm teaching a workshop tomorrow called 'Endless Energy' and it is all about stimulating mind and body whilst also paying attention to balance, to avoid burning out - vital in the studio, but even more so in the 'real world'! Thanks for backing up my ideas and providing even more inspiration :) namaste x

Julia Thorley

I teach some classes at a health spa, where I never know who will be there or how they will be feeling. They might be in the middle of a detox, and so groggy and lethargic, or they might be at the end of a fitness week, and so full of vim. I try to pick up on their energy levels (not least by asking them how they feel) and structure the lesson accordingly.

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