The basic framework for a well-rounded yoga sequence
Just throw together a few yoga poses and a few minutes of Savasana at the end and you’ve created a yoga sequence for your yoga class? Hmm, not quite, right? Okay, so what needs to be considered? How to create a harmonious yoga sequence? Read my tips & secrets here.
There are some basic rules for a balanced yoga sequence. Of course, these are not mandatory. However, in my experience, it helps to stick to a kind of red thread when it comes to sequencing.
These basic rules form the framework of a yoga class, so to speak. There is a beginning, which usually includes grounding and a warm-up, a middle with balanced poses in standing/sitting/lying and an end with a cool down phase, before we come to rest in Savasana.
How to prepare your yoga class
The first thing to consider is the time of your yoga class. Do you want to teach a more active or gentle class? Shall it be energizing or calming? Is your yoga class happening in the morning or evening? In morning classes, you probably want to incorporate more standing poses, to energize your students and get them ready for the day that’s lying ahead.
If the yoga class takes place in the evening, your students may need more rest and relaxation after a stressful day. In that case, more seated and supine poses are a good choice, as well as child’s pose of course. All in all, it should be balanced.
Choose a Theme or Peak Pose
In addition to the points mentioned above, you can also give your yoga class a theme or a special focus. Do you want to focus on the hips, open up the shoulders, or rather strengthen the core? Do you want it to be a dynamic flow class that really gets your students sweating?
Or do you want your students to surrender and get closer to themselves in each pose? Anything can be chosen as a theme. Choosing a theme (or not choosing one at all) is totally up to you.
For example, how about love, self-awareness, gratitude, or mindfulness? If you choose a theme for the class, make sure that the poses you choose for it reflect or bring out the theme or the feeling of the theme.
This is because yoga poses do not only have an effect on the body, but also on our emotions.
Throughout the class, you can keep reminding your students of this theme (gently, and not too much!), and this way cultivating it more strongly, so that they really can anchor into it.
It is recommended to choose and incorporate a so-called “peak pose” for your yoga sequence. A peak pose is a “special” pose or the peak of the whole practice. This does not have to be headstand or wheel every time, especially in a beginner’s class!
It could also be Pigeon Pose, which is a really deep hip opener or a balancing pose like Revolved Half Moon, as well as any kind of arm balancing pose, like Crow Pose for example.
However, in practice, it is often a more complex pose, like the camel pose for example. (Yes, despite of what you’re seeing on Instagram, Camel pose is a quite deep back bend and needs some gentler heart openers as a preparation). Camel pose may look simple, but it is a powerful and deep heart opener.
Therefore, we need to prepare and warm-up our students with other, gentler back bends for this pose first. For example with Baby Cobra, Sphinx pose, Puppy pose, and Locust. Then we can slowly lead them into the peak pose.
The thing about Peak Poses is that the entire yoga sequence is built around this pose, working towards it piece by piece, so to speak. The Peak Pose then comes into play towards the middle of the sequence or in the last third of the yoga class. As at that time, the body is ready for that pose, since we have prepared it well for it. After the peak pose, we slowly start transitioning into cool down phase.
Here is the rough basic framework for building a yoga sequence:
First main part of a yoga sequence
- Arriving and settling down. 2 to 5 minutes. Looking inward. Optional: Dharma Talk. Here, if you like, you can talk for one to two minutes about a particular topic. This topic can be gratitude, love, or friendship. You could also read a paragraph from a (yoga philosophy) book or a short poem. Give your students time to arrive on the mat, and time to leave their stress behind and let their breathing become calmer. If you have chosen a theme such as love or gratitude for your yoga class, you can incorporate that theme into your Dharma Talk and say a few words about it.
- A pranayama exercise (optional). Approx. 5 minutes. In the morning, Kapalabati and Bastrika are very good choices, in the evening Nadi Shonanda (alternate breathing) is more suitable. In general, I am a big fan of simply counting the length of the inhalation and exhalation. For example, inhaling to a count of five and exhaling to a count of five, because I think this is especially good for beginners and helps to make the breath calmer and deeper and to bring awareness into the body and the here and now. For many beginners, Kapalabati may be too “complicated” if they have never done it before or if the teacher does not give enough time to try and practice it a few times.
- Warm-up: 10-20 minutes. Classically, Sun Salutations are THE warm-up exercise par excellence. However, if it is a class for beginners or you do not (yet) know the level of yoga experience of your students, it is highly recommended to add some more warm-up or mobilization and joint exercises before you get to Sun Salutations, such as Cat & Cow and gentle stretching.
Second main part of a yoga sequence
- Main part, including peak pose. Depending on the length of your yoga class, whether it is a 60 or 90 minute class, this part may be around 20 – 40 minutes long. This part obviously includes the peak pose as well as all the great poses that you may wish to include into your yoga sequence.
Third main part of a yoga sequence
- Cool Down. 10 – 15 minutes. The cool down phase usually takes place while lying down or already sitting, e.g. by bending forward. Bridge pose is one of the poses that allow for cool down, as well as supine twists (like Supta Matsyendrasana).
- Savasana. The golden rule is: let you students rest in Savasana for at least 5 minutes! No matter how long or short your yoga class is. Give your students time to relax their bodies after class and absorb what they have just practiced. If your class is longer than 60 minutes, feel free to schedule 10 minutes or even 15 minutes for Savasana.
- Closing the class. Personally, I really like to stay for a few moments after coming out of Savasana and sit cross-legged with my eyes closed. The mind is so nicely quiet after a yoga class and this place right after class is a perfect place to enjoy the silence and the relaxed feeling for a little while longer. Tip: 2 to 5 minutes. You can also add a suitable pranayama exercise here, like Nadi Shodana. This is particularly suitable in the evenings.
YOUR BASIC YOGA SEQUENCE IS READY!
In the main part of the sequence, you can live out your creativity fully. Of course, this also applies to the warm-up exercises, the cool-down phase and the general theme of the yoga sequence!
But the main part is where your input is most needed. What poses do you want to use and what is the order of each pose? And what’s the best way to transition from one pose to the next? Take time to think about this when creating your sequence!
Here are a few more things to consider when creating a yoga sequence:
- Pay attention to balancing both sides of the body. Roughly speaking and especially for a beginner’s yoga classes, no more than 2 to 3 poses per side should follow each other. I.e.: From Warrior II into Triangle and then into Half Moon on the left side should be enough effort for your students. Then have them come back to the starting position, perhaps Tadasana or Downward Facing Dog, and only then repeat the same sequence on the right side. More advanced yogis can usually handle a little more than 2-3 poses per side.
- Give your students plenty opportunities to catch their breath and rest, if they need to. Some of your students may not have been to yoga in a while, or maybe it’s their first time in a yoga class ever! Some of your students may be tired and exhausted because they had a long day and do not have enough strength to practice the entire sequence. Make it clear that they can ALWAYS chose an easier variation or even a different pose (like child’s pose), if they feel like it!
- Don’t overdo it with the number of poses. Especially if your a new yoga teacher, you may want to squeeze all the great poses into your yoga sequence. Yes, I like to do that too. But less is more!
- Practice your sequence yourself beforehand and time it to make sure you are within the correct length of your upcoming yoga class (e.g. 60 minutes). If not, cut some poses out!
- Make sure the transitions are smooth. How do you get your students from standing to the next seated position and from camel to a supine pose? Think about it and practice the transitions yourself, to find out whether or not they are working and adjust, if needed.
- Therefore, practice your own sequence to make sure everything is well-rounded. Also, pay attention to how you feel afterwards. Based on this, you can then make adjustments to your yoga sequence if necessary.
- Optional: Create a matching playlist that highlights the overall theme or feeling of sequence.
Helpful books and resources on creating a yoga sequence:One of the major classics is the book Yoga Sequencing by Mark Stephens.
Read more in my book recommendations.
P.S.: If you own or teach in a yoga studio, I recommend this SEO agency for yoga studios.