Before I begin, I want to include a brief preface to state that there are plenty of ways to sequence a class. Some people plan out a very detailed sequence based on a Queen/King pose, others plan out a class to touch as much of the body as possible in different ways, some teachers don’t plan at all and just “wing it” once they see which students arrived that day, and there is a whole world in between those options as well. I don’t necessarily consider any of them wrong or right, but there are definitely skillful ways to sequence a class and unskillful ways to sequence a class. I know plenty of teachers that “wing it” in class, and still teach a great class with no planning what so ever. I’ve also seen teachers stick too rigidly to what seemed like a perfect plan, and end up offering a terrible class because they didn’t adapt things to the particular students that showed up for class that day.
How to sequence a postural yoga class is a rabbit hole that can go very deep. We’ll be going further into the various ways to sequence a class in my upcoming webinar later this year! (Be sure to sign up for my Newsletter to get the latest info on upcoming workshops, webinars, and online trainings)
All that being said, I think the Four Steps below can offer some help no matter how one chooses to plan and teach a class. Whether the make-up of the class is planned before or done on the fly, these simple steps can help anyone weave a more skillful sequence. It is by no means an exhaustive list of steps, but these four steps can likely be weaved into any method with which you create your classes.
Think Shapes, Instead of Poses
Whenever I am teaching sequencing to a group of students in a yoga teacher training, an area where people get stuck often is being able to call up postures and their names. They try to think about what postures they know of and how to create sequences from that. But if you were to set aside the names of any pose, or even a deep knowledge of postures, what we are all very capable of is recognizing shapes. What sorts of shapes does the human form take?
Let’s say you are wanting to sequence a back bending class. Well, a back bend is a very particular shape. How else can you mirror that shape in other ways? How can I mirror a back bending shape with both legs involved? With one leg involved? What postures create that shape while working against gravity? While working with gravity?
Once we start to see the postures as human shapes, then we don’t have to worry about what postures we know or what their names are, we can start to create sequences based on those basic human shapes by altering and tweaking the shapes slightly. This may or may not lead to a posture with a fancy sanskrit name, but what it will do is set you students up for anatomical success.
Now that you have a bunch of similar shapes in mind, what next? Well, that leads us to the next point.
Build things from Simple to Complex
Now that you have your shapes in mind, it’s helpful to start to deconstruct what shapes/postures are more physically challenging, what shapes/postures have greater demands on strength and/or range of motion. For example: a low lounge with a knee down is a less complex and challenging shape then a high lounge with the back knee off the floor. Bow pose (dhanurasana) is a more accessible shape to find for most then, let’s say, wheel pose (chakrasana), and generally will have less demands on a body to get into the shape.
Part of the process of skillful sequencing is learning how to weave the various shapes within the postures together in such a way that your sequencing warms up the body and prepares it for more complex and challenging shapes as you go along. You are literally training the body in new skill sets in a very progressive and intelligent way.
See the two sets of images below for examples of a shape moving from a more simple and less demanding shape to greater complexity and higher demands on the body.
Bring in the support!
As shapes progress into greater complexity, you’ll want additional support for that complexity. Taking the above images as an example, by the time we get to the final shape on the right column (dancers pose, aka natarajasana), not only do we want the back to be more prepared and warmed up, but we’ll also want to make sure that the hamstrings are open (for the standing leg) and the hips and core warm so they can help stabilize the body in the pose. While a stable hip and plenty of range in the hamstrings might not be the focus of your sequence, some attention will be needed for both if your sequence is taking on shapes that require that in particular poses. A back bend class isn’t going to be all back bends, you’ll need supporting postures to help build the skill set of the variations of the shape.
Weave in Counter Poses
Which leads us, as well, to the counter pose! Sticking with the back bending class, you won’t want a class emphasizing back bends to ONLY have back bends and the supportive postures. You’ll also want some counter postures. In the case of our back bending class, we’d want to include some forward folding postures. You can also mirror opposite shapes here. So if you are doing a lot of back bends with a single leg involved, then you can do lots of single leg folding postures as your counter. If both legs/hips are involved in your extension (eg: dhanurasana, bow pose), then perhaps mirror it with a posture that has both hips in flexion (eg:paschimottanasana, seated forward fold).
In summary, remember that there are plenty of ways to skillfully sequence a yoga class. I encourage you to put as much time and thought into your process as possible, so you can develop and grow as a teacher, no matter what type of class you choose to offer.