I still remember the first time I experienced a mandala flow in yoga class. It was relatively early in my practice, and until that sequence, my practice had been very linear. Teachers typically cued us into postures that faced the front and maybe the long side of the mat, starting with our right leg forward. Then we would repeat those poses on our left side.
That day, I was led through poses that were sequenced in a way I’d never experienced. As my body flowed in different directions—all the way from the front to the side to the back of the mat—what kept going through my mind was just how many possibilities there are to transition through yoga postures.
I had become so accustomed to practicing in a prescribed way, I was starting to feel that my practice was plateauing, like there was nothing more to do but repeat the same postures and sequences time and again. When I moved through that mandala sequence, I was able to experience my body so much more intimately and intuitively in those creative transitions.
I was hooked.
What is a Mandala Flow?
“Mandala” is a Sanskrit word that means “complete” or “circle.” A spiritual symbol in many cultures, a mandala is a representation of the universe and is often used for meditation. It is believed that once you enter the mandala and journey toward its center, you’re guided through a process of transformation that ultimately leads to enlightenment.
When practicing a mandala flow, you make your way halfway or completely around your yoga mat in a circular manner. Often, it is practiced repeatedly. Transitioning from one pose to another in this manner allows you or your students to experience a form of moving meditation. The repetitive nature of the sequence and the seamless transitions create a rhythm that can seem to lull you into another dimension.
After my first experience with moving through that mandala flow, I vowed that a similar sort of creative movement would be my signature teaching style.
How to Create a Mandala Flow
There are two different approaches to creating a mandala flow. The more common approach is a half mandala flow. Instead of moving entirely around the mat, you make a semi-circle by moving from the front of the mat to face the long side and then you transition to the back of the mat before reversing that movement. This is what I experienced that day and it’s what I teach in the video below.
The other approach is to move around the mat in full 360-degree fashion. This means you make your way entirely around the mat, starting at the front and transitioning to face one long side of the mat and then the back of the mat. Then you retrace your steps by continuing to face the other long side and, eventually, you end up facing the front again.
In my experience, full mandala flows are considerably more difficult to create and to teach. Navigating your students’ poses through all four sides of the mat in a single sequence makes it harder to remember your left from your right. And, if you lead with the same side of the body during the second half of the circle and simply repeat the sequence, it can fatigue that side of your students’ body.
The beauty of a mandala flow is that it’s not as complicated to create as it looks. The following steps offer you a basic structure for stringing together poses in a half- or full-mandala sequence. As with any sequence, the progression of poses and transitions in between them will come to you more easily and will feel more natural when you actually move on your mat rather than thinking about moving on your mat.
As you plan poses and transitions that move students from the front of the mat to the back, keep in mind the intention behind your class. Whether it’s a theme or a particular pose that you are building up to later in class, that should always be your priority and your underlying reason for including each pose.
Begin Your Mandala Flow
1. Select at least two standing poses that face the front of the mat. Think transitioning from Downward-Facing Dog into Warrior 2 Pose followed by Side Angle Pose, as in the video below. Or Down Dog to High Lunge to Warrior 3 Pose. Start the sequence on your right side.
2. Select one or two postures that face the left long side of the mat. Consider Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend and/or Skandasana (Side Lunge). Rely on postures that are beneficial in their own right and contribute to the intention of your class that can also function to transition students to the back of the mat.
3. Finally, add one or two postures that take place facing the back of the mat. These could be postures that have a lower center of gravity such as Low Lunge or Lizard, or even poses that take you into a seated or reclining posture, such as Janu Sirsasana or Bridge Pose.
Half Mandala Flow
4. From the back of the mat, add a vinyasa that will take you back to Down Dog (or whatever your starting posture.) Then repeat the sequence on your left side. You will end up at the front of the mat.
Full Mandala Flow
5. You have a couple options in how you sequence the second half of the circle.
From the back of the mat, repeat your first posture of the sequence, starting again with your right leg. Continue with that same sequence of poses, which will take you back to the front of the mat.
Or, start again with your right leg and continue to take students through a new sequence of poses using the same principles that take them to face the long side of the mat and back to the front.
How to bring creative flair to your mandala flow
If you want to add more creativity to the flow, you can do any of the following. The video below includes examples of each of these.
1. Think transitions
Now that you have your structure, think more about the transitions between them. Can you more fluidly link each posture to the next? As you think creatively, it’s also essential to keep in mind the intention of the class and the abilities of the students.
2. Include movement in poses
Consider adding more stretching and strengthening movement to your flow by including options for movement within postures. For example, if you’re teaching a backbending flow, you could include High Lunge and suggest students take cactus arms. If you’re leading a hip-opening class, shifting from side to side in Skandasana (Side Lunge) can work well.
3. Repeat and add-on
A great way to advance any mandala flow is to repeat the sequence multiple times while adding increasingly challenging options each time. Since this is the second and third times students are practicing these postures, their bodies will be open and you can progress each posture. For example, the first Extended Side Angle Pose could be practiced with your hand on a block or your elbow on your thigh. In the next round, your hand may make it to the floor. For the final round, you might feel comfortable reaching for a half or full bind.
The only way to truly get a sense of how a mandala flow works is to experience it. Below you will find a 40-minute half mandala practice that builds toward Eka Pada Rajakapotasana (King Pigeon Pose). By moving through the flow, you will better understand how it works—and how it leaves you feeling during and afterward.
About our contributor
Sarah White is a continuing-education provider based in Dubai. Her creative sequencing style is born from her own curiosity and exploration of the human body and many other movement disciplines. Learn more about Sarah and her Creative Sequencing Teacher Training here or follow her on instagram @Sar_white for more creative inspiration.