An Annie Carpenter Sequence, Deconstructed

Wish you could jump inside the mind of a master teacher as she designs a sequence? Here, this teacher’s teacher gives us a look at how she created a SmartFLOW sequence to help you keep your hips free and your spine healthy—both on and off the mat.
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This Annie Carpenter sequence will teach you what you need to know to put together a thoughtful, safe yoga sequence—whether you're a yoga teacher or a student looking for a good home practice.

This Annie Carpenter sequence will teach you what you need to know to put together a thoughtful, safe yoga sequence—whether you're a yoga teacher or a student looking for a good home practice.

The sequencing of yoga asana is both a science and an art. It is much more than linking together a series of poses to build toward a physical goal; it involves an openness to exploration and inquiry, and a commitment to living in the now. Because of this, we don’t teach poses in SmartFLOW; we teach Movement Principles that ask us to seek balance in various shapes and sensations. Each Movement Principle describes a continuum of motion that has an extreme expression at one end (the effort) and an intelligent means for backing out of that effort (the return to center).

Each pose can be seen as an exploration of a specific effort and its return, and the arc of each sequence in its entirety also explores that same concept of effort and return. In this sequence, we explore hip flexion as our effort and spinal extension as its return. My belief is that the main reason we do yoga asana is to take care of our spines. The spine houses the central nervous system and is where the sushumna nadi runs—where prana (vital subtle energy) flows. Every pose we practice is designed to throw the body off, so that we learn how to stabilize the spine and, in turn, enhance the flow of prana. In this case, increasing hip flexion demands that we find active spinal extension to keep the spine in its natural, optimal shape. In other words: Can you find a little backbend in your forward fold?

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In the first few poses, hip flexion is explored in relationship to the spine. And while some of the peak poses may not be accessible to all, the progression toward true hip flexion is essential work everyone can do. Any SmartFLOW sequence will also include a few beloved and well-known movements and poses. Toward the beginning of a sequence, these poses work to warm your entire body and help you drop into a state of receptivity and wonder. Toward the end of a sequence, we include slower movements and hold poses for longer periods of time to shift us from activation to relaxation—from effort to a return to center—so that we may feel fully ready for a deep Savasana (Corpse Pose).

About the Author

Annie Carpenter is the San Francisco–based creator of the SmartFLOW yoga method. Learn more at anniecarpenter.com