YJ LIVE! presenter Rolf Gates walks us through the nuances of designing a seven-part yoga sequence that touches on each of the seven chakras.
Yoga Journal LIVE! presenter Rolf Gates originally based his sequencing on opening the five lines of the body in order (as presented in Tom Myer’s Anatomy Trains), organizing his classes into seven chapters: (1) centering, (2) warm-ups, (3) standing poses, (4) balancing poses, (5) backbends and inversions, (6) finishing poses, (7) Savasana.
As time passed and Gates’ 200-hour teacher trainings grew, he began to make the connections between the seven chapters in his sequencing and the seven chakras — realizing that the fascia lines of the body correlate to the meridians, which correlate to the nadis and chakras.
“The reality is that almost every class that works is flowing along the chakras,” explains Gates, who’s been teaching sequencing according to the chakras for the last 10 years. “I didn’t have to know anything about the chakras to arrive at a skillful class. I had to have the intention of skillful class, and holding that intention I arrived at the chakras.”
Now he thinks of sequencing in terms of opening the lines of connective tissue (the physiological component) as well as facilitating the chakras (the energetic and emotional component), organized in the same seven chapters as before. Examining the chakras and breaking down what they represent, Gates then uses language, postures, and cues to address the chakras and give students a fuller experience.
“In the heart moment of class, you open your heart to the truth (fourth chakra). In the backbend sequence, you surrender to it (fifth chakra). In the finishing poses, you reflect on the truth (sixth chakra,) and then in Savasana you become the truth (seventh chakra),” Gates explains.
Rolf Gates’s Chakra Sequencing Tips
Does all of that seem simple enough? Here’s the catch: Once a chakra has been expressed in a chapter of the sequence, Gates says that chakra’s qualities should be incorporated into the rest of class. In other words, you keep bringing these themes and qualities along. Take the first chakra for example: there needs to be grounding at the beginning of class as well as throughout the entire sequence. Gates purposefully uses Down Dog and Mountain Pose as re-grounding moments.
Therefore, in a 90-minutes class you’re incorporating earth for the entire 90 minutes, water for 85 minutes, fire for 60 minutes, heart for 45 minutes, throat for 30 minutes, reflection for 15 minutes, and realization for 5 to 10 minutes. “To be successful in a backbends you bring earth, you bring water, you bring fire, and you bring heart,” Gates says. “To be successful in Savasana you need the whole package.”
Word of Advice (Chakra sequencing isn’t for newbies.)
“I think the final piece to this is tremendous patience. You could take what I’ve given you and then you could spend three years, teaching five days a week to kind of figure it out for yourself. If you put pressure on yourself to try to enact it the following week, it’s going to cause a lot of pain and suffering,” attests Gates.
For newer teachers, he recommends starting by picking one thing, be it sequencing, alignment, or a group of poses (any aspect of class), and then spend six months becoming really good at teaching that one thing. Then work on the next thing and over the course of a few years you will become pretty good at teaching the physical aspects of class. Then you go deeper. The connections between the chakras and the sequencing of a skillful class will become more obvious over time.