Learning how to sequence a yoga class isn’t easy.
In yoga teacher training, you probably learned the basics: Progress from warming the muscles in basic poses to more intense postures, and start with simple shapes and movements before you ask students to combine them in more complex poses.
If you teach vinyasa, you probably also learned the standard trajectory from warm-up to intensity to cool-down. Maybe you were instructed on how to break down the class into sections—including mat stretches, standing postures, balances poses, core work, and cool-down—and approximately how much time to dedicate to each during a one-hour class.
Yet there is so much more to learn about developing a sequence of poses for a yoga class. Sequencing requires planning, practice, making adjustments, and more practice. It demands an understanding of anatomy and of transitions that are intelligent and, if you desire, creative. And it requires thoughtful consideration of what will help your students find strength, release, and awareness in their bodies—all while being mindful of keeping them safe.
The art of sequencing a yoga class isn’t something you learn from a manual. It’s something that you learn, in part, by taking classes with other teachers and observing what feels right—or wrong—in your body. The rest you learn by doing. This means getting on your mat and moving through each posture and transition by yourself, before you teach it, to understand what feels right—or wrong—in your body as you progress throughout the practice and what helps you feel balanced at the end, as if all the pieces of the puzzle finally fit.
But that leaves a tremendous amount of variability in terms of how to put together all the potential parts of a sequence, and to do so in a way that keeps in mind all of the above and has a logical organizing principle to guide you. It’s not unlike putting together that puzzle—except there is no single right way to do it.
There are four common approaches that teachers take when it comes to how sequence a yoga class that you can turn to as a starting point. Let them guide your decision-making process.
4 ways to sequence a yoga class
1. Build to a peak or challenge pose
This technique structures class around properly preparing students’ bodies to come into a particular pose. Class progresses from simple to more complex poses, with careful consideration given to warming the muscles that will come into play later in the peak pose. For students who have less experience with yoga, a peak pose might be Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana) or Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana). For other students, a peak pose might be a backbend like Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana) or an arm balance like Firefly Pose (Tittibhasana).
However, a challenge pose approach involves more than simply warming the muscles. It also asks that you practice the same shapes required by the challenge posture but in less demanding scenarios. This familiarizes students with the basics of the posture before asking them to coordinate different shapes in a single pose. This might include taking students into Low Lunge before High Lunge so they start to work hip flexion and extension close to the mat before you ask then to add strength and balance.
If you were sequencing a peak pose of Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose) you would want to ask students to first practice stretches for the hamstrings and, separately, twists in the upper body. You might include Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and perhaps Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose). Separately, you would take students into twists with the upper body in which the arms are outstretched, perhaps while reclining on the mat early in class with knees to one side, and then again later in Low Lunge and High Lunge.
Sequencing with a particular pose as your destination can also involve practicing poses that demand the same muscular engagement as needed in the peak pose but in completely different shapes. For example, if you were coming into Firefly Pose, you might first teach Lizard Pose and emphasize drawing the thigh into the upper arm, which is essential in that arm balance.
2. Body part
Hips. Core. Twists. Backbends. Shoulders. Lower back. Any part of the body can be the inspiration for a sequence. Include poses that emphasize that part of the anatomy and sequence poses in a way that gradually increase the intensity, engagement, or stretch in that part of the body throughout class.
It can be easy to overdo a good thing and include an excessive number of poses for a single body part. Pace yourself and your students throughout class. Don’t focus exclusively on that body part or sequence an excessive number of poses target the same area in a row, even if the transitions are beautiful. Also, don’t forget to counterbalance with poses that stretch muscles that were engaged, both throughout class as well as at the end during your cool down.
A theme can be almost anything that provides a concept for you and your students to focus on throughout class, including:
- An aspect of personal growth (such as surrendering, confidence, patience, heart-opening, freedom, etc.)
- Yoga philosophy (such as one of the yamas or niyamas)
- Seasonal (including equinox, solstice, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day)
- A poem or quote
This approach requires a basic understanding of the energetics of yoga poses. Start by exploring the poses that you feel most drawn to practice. Study them. When you teach what you know, you teach from a place of authenticity and, usually, confidence.
Once you choose a theme for your class, take some time to contemplate it. How would you summarize it in one sentence or two? What poses embody the meaning of the topic? What phrases or words relate to the theme? Are there everyday aspects of it, in both yoga and life, that you can offer as examples? How will you incorporate it into your warm-up, cool down, transitions, and moments of stillness?
You might want to create a yoga sequence that emphasizes satya, or truth, by challenging students to honestly ask what version of a pose is best for them that day.
Or if you choose to sequence a class around the concept of tapas, which relates to self-discipline and heat, you might start the class by asking students to lean in and deepen their practice when it gets tough. Poses could include Chair Pose (Utkasana), Forearm Plank, and Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana). You might encourage students to feel a sense of appreciation for themselves during the cool down. You could ask students to contemplate how they can take that sense of self-discipline into life.
Sequencing class around a specific chakra includes guiding your students through poses that embody the energy of a particular chakra. Again, this requires a studied approach to the poses and their potential effect on the subtle body. Some examples include:
- Root chakra (Muladhara): Grounding poses such as Warrior Poses and seated twists and stretches
- Solar plexus chakra (Manipura): Activating poses that engage the area of the body, such as Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), and empowering poses like Revolved Low Lunge (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana)
Other sequencing considerations
Even when you feel confident in a sequence, your work isn’t done. The real learning begins when you try to teach it to others. When it comes down to it, one of the greatest skills a yoga teacher can have is not how many hours you put into creating the perfect sequence, but in developing the flexibility to change the plan based on the students who are in front of you.
Do carefully observe your students. You’ll learn to understand when you need to change your verbal cues to make a transition easier to comprehend or when a transition simply isn’t intuitive or accessible for most of the bodies in front of you, no matter what verbal cues you use.
Don’t become so carried away with the challenging portion of class that you shortchange students at the end. Always include proper counterbalancing poses throughout your sequence and allow time for students to cool down in mat stretches prior to Savasana (Corpse Pose).
Do adapt as needed. You may have spent hours developing an incredible sequence for tight hips but the students in your class ask for help with tight shoulders. You intend to focus on the heart chakra but you hear from students that what they actually need is grounding. The best thing you can do for your students is give them what they need to the best of your ability, even if that’s different from what you had in mind.
About our contributor
Abbie is a writer and yoga teacher based in Denver. She’s been practicing yoga for more than a decade and teaching since 2017. She is especially passionate about guiding beginners to feel comfortable in class and helping runners stay injury-free and performing at their best. You can find her at abbiemood.com and on Instagram @abbiemood.