Yoga Sequences

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.

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?

See also This Is How the Planes of Movement Can Help You Identify Imbalances in Your Body

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).

Ritual Opening

Child's Pose (Balasana)
Christopher Dougherty

1. CHILD’S POSE (BALASANA)

Hold for 2 minutes.

Yoga practice invites us to move away from the casual and habitual and toward the intentional and self-aware. The Ritual Opening in SmartFLOW signals a sacred shift from the everyday to consciously entering practice—an essential declaration of intent to be fully present. 

See also These Exercises Will Teach You How to Prevent Shoulder Injuries

Inquiry/Intention

Cat Pose to Cow Pose (Marjaryasana to Bitlasana)
Christopher Dougherty

2. CAT POSE (MARJARYASANA)

3. COW POSE (BITILASANA) 

Repeat for 10-12 breaths.

This moment prompts us to consider what is actually happening in this moment in time. With awareness of your current baseline, form a specific inquiry or intention to carry you through this practice. In this case, allow the simple spinal movements of Cat-Cow to loosen and awaken your spine and hips.

See also Top Yoga Teachers Share Their 7 Favorite Morning Stretches

Inquiry/Intention (continued)

Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Christopher Dougherty

4. DOWNWARD FACING DOG POSE  (ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA)

Hold for 2 minutes.

As you move into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose), sense the current state of your hamstrings as they pull your sit bones downward. These cues can help ground you in the focus of this sequence: Can I lengthen the backs of my legs to create deeper hip flexion? And can I activate my backbending muscles to lengthen and open my front body toward extension? Can I find a little backbend in my forward bend?

See also Stand Tall & Steady: 10 Yoga Sequences for the Legs

Global Efforts

MOUNTAIN POSE (TADASANA) TO. UPWARD SALUTE (URDHVA HASTASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

These are the maintenance poses—the must-dos that address the “Oh, this feels creaky, that feels cranky” stuff. These are the poses we try to do most days because we know they make us feel better and behave a little kinder when we do.

5. MOUNTAIN POSE (TADASANA)

6. UPWARD SALUTE (URDHVA HASTASANA)

See also How to Evolve Your Sun Salutation at Every Age

Global Efforts

STANDING FORWARD BEND (UTTANASANA) to ARDHA UTTANASANA (HALF STANDING FORWARD BEND)
Christopher Dougherty

7. STANDING FORWARD BEND (UTTANASANA)

8. ARDHA UTTANASANA (HALF STANDING FORWARD BEND)

See also 10 Yoga Sequences to Strengthen Your Glutes

Global Efforts

PLANK POSE to FOUR-LIMBED STAFF POSE (CHATURANGA DANDASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

9. PLANK POSE 

10. FOUR-LIMBED STAFF POSE (CHATURANGA DANDASANA) 

See also This 10-Minute Video Will Show You Exactly What You Need to Know to Keep Your Wrists Pain-Free

Global Efforts

UPWARD-FACING DOG POSE (URDHVA MUKHA SVANASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

11. UPWARD-FACING DOG POSE (URDHVA MUKHA SVANASANA) 

See also This Sequence Will Help You Tap Into the Power of Your Intuition

Global Efforts

DOWNWARD FACING DOG POSE (ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

12. DOWNWARD FACING DOG POSE (ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA)

Repeat Surya Namaskar A (Sun Salute A), poses 5–12, 3 times.

See also A TCM-Inspired Home Practice to Ease Stress

Global Efforts

CHAIR POSE (UTKATASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

Repeat Surya Namaskar B (Sun Salute B), adding poses 13 and 14 (both right and left side), 3 times, moving with your breath.

13. CHAIR POSE (UTKATASANA)

See also This Yoga Sequence Is Exactly What You Need During the Holidays

Global Efforts

WARRIOR POSE I (VIRABHADRASANA I)
Christopher Dougherty

14. WARRIOR POSE I (VIRABHADRASANA I)

See also This 7-Pose Home Practice Harnesses the Power of Touch

Targeted Efforts

WIDE-LEGGED STANDING FORWARD BEND (PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

This is the dive-in section: you’re present; you’re clear about how you’re doing and what you want to explore; you’re pretty warmed up. Now, you begin to methodically practice poses that challenge both the e ort and return to center as you move into more advanced expressions of your Movement Principle.

15. WIDE-LEGGED STANDING FORWARD BEND (PRASARITA PADOTTANASANA) 

Hold for 5 breaths.

See also Learn Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend

Targeted Efforts

EXTENDED TRIANGLE POSE (UTTHITA TRIKONASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

16. EXTENDED TRIANGLE POSE (UTTHITA TRIKONASANA)

Hold for 8–10 breaths, then switch sides.

ADD MORE MOVEMENT 

As you switch from side to side, feel free to add a vinyasa as you please. 

See also Need a Good Workout? These 10 Core Sequences Will Fire You Up

Targeted Efforts

INTENSE SIDE STRETCH (PARSVOTTANASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

17. INTENSE SIDE STRETCH (PARSVOTTANASANA) 

Hold for 8–10 breaths, then switch sides.

See also 6 Steps to Master Intense Side Stretch (Parsvottanasana)

Targeted Efforts

REVOLVED TRIANGLE POSE (PARIVRTTA TRIKONASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

18. REVOLVED TRIANGLE POSE (PARIVRTTA TRIKONASANA) 

Hold for 8–10 breaths, then switch sides.

See also 6 Steps to Master Parivrtta Trikonasana

Targeted Efforts

HALF BIG TOE POSE (ARDHA PADANGUSTHASANA) TO BIG TOE POSE HOLD (PADANGUSTHASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

19. HALF BIG TOE POSE (ARDHA PADANGUSTHASANA)

20. BIG TOE POSE HOLD (PADANGUSTHASANA) 

Hold Padangustasana for 5 breaths.

See also Slept On Your Neck Funny? These 6 Stretches Will Soothe Your Pain By Noon

Targeted Efforts

HALF HAND UNDER FOOT POSE (ARDHA PADAHASTASANA) TO HAND UNDER FOOT POSE (PADAHASTASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

21. HALF HAND UNDER FOOT POSE (ARDHA PADAHASTASANA) 

22. HAND UNDER FOOT POSE (PADAHASTASANA)

Hold Padahastasana for 5 breaths.

See also 22 Beginner Poses Every Yogi Needs to Know

Targeted Efforts

STAFF POSE (DANDASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

23. STAFF POSE (DANDASANA) 

Hold for 5 breaths.

See also This Sequence Is Going to Make You Want to Practice With Your Mom

Peaking

BOAT POSE (NAVASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

A SmartFLOW sequence will typically have several peaks— think of it as a mountain range, rather than one big peak. This is an endeavor to side-step that desirous ego, and also to keep a spirit of exploration and inquiry alive.

24. BOAT POSE (NAVASANA)

Hold for 5 breaths.

See also 11 Dos And Don’ts of Coping with Soreness After Yoga

Peaking

UPWARD PLANK POSE (PURVOTTANASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

25. UPWARD PLANK POSE (PURVOTTANASANA)

Hold for 5 breaths.

PEAK 1: 24 & 25 

Repeat these poses one after the other 3 times, holding each for 5 breaths. Think of it like a mini-vinyasa.

See also 10 Sequences For Tight Neck and Shoulders

Peaking

BIG TOE POSE PREP (UBHAYA PADANGUSTHASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

26. BIG TOE POSE PREP (UBHAYA PADANGUSTHASANA)

Move into this posture on an inhalation.

See also 4 Ways to Prep for Ubhaya Padangusthasana

Peaking

BIG TOE POSE (UBHAYA PADANGUSTHASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

27. BIG TOE POSE (UBHAYA PADANGUSTHASANA)

Hold for 5 breaths.

PEAK 2: 26 & 27 

Repeat these poses one after the other 3 times, like a mini-vinyasa. On an inhalation, roll back to the prep pose; at the bottom of the exhalation, roll up to balance and hold there for 5 breaths.

See also Challenge Pose: Ubhaya Padangusthasana

Peaking

UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH, VARIATION PREP (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

28. UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH, VARIATION (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA PREP)

Move into this posture on an inhalation.

See also 3 Ways to Improve Spine and Rib-Cage Mobility

Peaking

UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

29. UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA)

Hold for 5 breaths.

See also The Pistol Squat, Deconstructed: How to Build the Strength, Flexibility, and Mobility You Need for This Pose

Peaking

UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH II, VARIATION (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA II PREP)
Christopher Dougherty

30. UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH II, VARIATION (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA II PREP) 

Move into this posture on an inhalation.

See also These 3 Exercises Will Strengthen Your Core—Quickly

Peaking

UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH II (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA II)
Christopher Dougherty

31. UPWARD-FACING INTENSE STRETCH II (URDHVA MUKHA PASCHIMOTTANASANA II)

Hold for 5–10 breaths.

PEAK 4: 30 & 31 

On an inhalation, raise your arms above your head; at the bottom of an exhalation, fold your straight legs in toward your front body, balancing on your upper back. Hold for 5 breaths.

See also 10 Yoga Sequences for Strong Arms You Can Do At Home

Targeted Returns

BOUND ANGLE POSE (BADDHA KONASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

In this all-important section we shift emphasis from e orting to its opposite—the return to center. Here, we dial down the e ort with specifi city, releasing the body from the e orts required to move into peaking. This is not a random cooldown; it’s specific to the e ort that you just made. Here, the backbend is the return to center because of all the forward bending you’ve done.

32. BOUND ANGLE POSE (BADDHA KONASANA)

Hold for 8–10 breaths.

See also 10 Top Teachers Share Their Go-To Yoga Mantras

Targeted Returns

BRIDGE POSE (SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

33. BRIDGE POSE (SETU BANDHA SARVANGASANA)

Lift up on each inhalation; lower down on each exhalation. Then hold for 8-10 breaths.

See also These 30 Yoga Sequences for Beginners Will Help You Kick-Start a Consistent Practice

Global Returns

LEGS-UP-THE-WALL POSE, VARIATION (VIPARITA KARANI)
Christopher Dougherty

Here, we continue to unwind from the peaking, sliding mindfully toward final Corpse Pose. In these poses, our specific efforts have been released and the focus now is on how we can invite the ordinary, pedestrian ways we tend to grip and overwork to soften and let go.

34. LEGS-UP-THE-WALL POSE, VARIATION (VIPARITA KARANI)

Hold for 3–5 minutes.

See also This Sequence Will Help You Practice Inversions Safely

Global Returns

EASY TWIST
Christopher Dougherty

35. EASY TWIST 

Stay here for 2–3 minutes on each side.

See also 10 Surprising Ways to Use a Wall When Twisting

Ritual Closing

RECLINING BOUND ANGLE POSE (SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA)
Christopher Dougherty

Most sequences end with a good amount of time for releasing in Corpse Pose. In this sequence, a restorative Bound Angle Pose feels wonderful—and invites you to allow a feeling of gratitude to bubble up into awareness.

36. RECLINING BOUND ANGLE POSE (SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA)

Stay here 10–15 minutes.

See also Still a Little Hesitant to Go Upside Down? This Home Practice Will Help

About the Author

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