Sequencing great yoga classes is a skill of its own.
Putting together a sequence that flows well, prepares your students for the peak pose, and leaves your students feeling good takes practice.
We’ve all taught a class or took a class where something just didn’t work. Figuring out what went wrong helps you make better choices in the future.
The 9 Most Common Sequencing Mistakes Yoga Teachers Make
There are nine common sequencing mistakes to learn from and tips to help you write and teach safe, effective, and fun sequences every time!
Diving Right in Without Establishing Breath.
Take time to settle in. Whatever pose you begin your class with - whether it’s Savasana or Sukhasana - take a moment to get your students breathing and feeling.
This is the time to introduce intention, which ideally ties in with your sequence.
The way I teach and train my students to teach is quite specific. First, I start them in a seated or supine resting pose, like Sukhasana or Savasana, then immediately get them breathing by instructing a few deep breaths or asking them to observe their natural breath.
Next, I allow a few breaths of silence so they can connect with their own breath and energy.
Then, I introduce the intent. For example if I’m teaching a backbending class, I’ll likely choose something heart-centered, like “Communicate loving kindness to yourself through your breath”, or “Make the brave choice”, or “Find strength in vulnerability.”
Finally, I cue them to breathe in a way that explores that intent. This is typically either their natural breath pattern or pranayama.
For example, if the intent was to “Make the brave choice” I might introduce breath holds and ask them to be brave enough to hold for one extra second.
Or if the intent was to “Find strength in vulnerability” I might lead them through Kapalabhati and encourage them to keep their shoulders and chest relaxed while their belly muscles pump.
Staying in Static Poses Too Long Too Soon
Static stretches right at the beginning of class make sense to an extent. One or two static holds of gentle poses can be a great way to get your students grounded, breathing, and relaxed. But too many held for too long can promote sleepy energy. This is fantastic for a Yin or Restorative class, but not ideal for a handstand peak class.
This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I start every class with core work. After 2-3 gentle stretches, I dive right into Forrest Yoga style core work.
All standing yoga poses require core engagement, so why not wake up their cores right away? Consider your peak and choose core work that will support that peak pose. When I teach a backbend themed class, one of the core exercises I add in is called Abs with a Roll.
This move is done with a block or rolled up yoga mat or blanket between the thighs. Engaging the inner thigh muscles is important for backbends so this teaches them to use the inner leg lines right away.
Cat and Cow is another good addition to the beginning of class because it gets the spine mobilized and gets your students moving.
Not Building Intensity & Complexity
Jumping right into a complex pose without first teaching students poses with the key actions of that pose not only makes the pose more difficult for your students, it also makes your job as a teacher more difficult.
Take Bird of Paradise for example. There’s a lot going on in this pose. It’s a standing balance. It takes a big hamstring stretch, hip flexion, shoulder internal rotation, core engagement, and also requires a bind.
By choosing poses that teach each of those key actions before diving straight into Bird of Paradise, you set your students up for success and you as the teacher are able to teach how to do each of those key actions in previous poses so that once they get to Bird of Paradise you’re just refreshing their memories rather than starting from scratch.
You can teach the standing balance portion in a simpler pose like Tree Pose, teach the shoulder internal rotation in Cow Face Pose, and the bind in Bound Extended Side Angle. This allows them to start developing muscle memory for each key action before attempting a pose with multiple layers of action.
Not Properly Preparing Students for Peak Poses
This ties into not building intensity and complexity but also requires understanding what key actions are present in your peak pose.
In order to really prepare your students for their peak pose, you’ll need to consider the components of your peak.
For example, if your peak is Wheel Pose, you might spend a lot of time in backbends like Upward Facing Dog to prepare them for the peak. But you’ll also need to stretch the quads and hip flexors enough to get them ready for this big backbend.
Another component of this pose that’s often missed is the shoulders. You can strengthen shoulders in Plank Pose and Chaturanga - but that doesn’t mimic the way the shoulders will need to engage in Wheel.
In Wheel, the shoulders are in flexion, externally rotated, and the shoulder blades are laterally rotated - plus they’re supporting the weight of your body. It’s more similar to a Handstand than it is to Plank Pose.
Poses like Dolphin and Locust with the arms extended straight holding a block out in front of you can help teach this.
You’ll also need to teach students to engage their adductors in order to keep the knees from splaying apart, as well as engage the glutes and hamstrings to help extend the hips.
Not Sequencing Intentionally
Every pose in your sequence should have purpose and be intentionally placed. Flow for the sake of flow makes for a fun sequence sometimes, but can leave your students’ bodies feeling wonky.
Rather than randomly choosing poses because the transition is fun, do your best to stay on course by planning a sequence that will feel good with transitions that make sense biomechanically and aren’t too complicated.
Choosing an intention for your sequence is an important part of this. If your intent was to “Find strength through vulnerability”, what poses serve that intent?
And how can you cue in a way that speaks to that intent? Wild Thing requires strength and can also feel like a vulnerable position since the heart is exposed and they’re upside-down.
Choosing cues that motivate them to tap into their strength and allow them to be soft and vulnerable are a great way to stay intentional in your classes.
Breaking the Rules Without Understanding Them First
Learn the rules so that you can intelligently break them. Every style of yoga and yoga teacher training has their own rules to follow - some of which contradict each other.
This doesn’t mean you have to throw out the rule book entirely, it just means you’ll need to practice viveka or discernment in order to effectively break the rules.
The more you learn about anatomy and biomechanics, the better you’ll be at discerning which rules you should really stick to and which ones you can masterfully break.
Not Using Counter Poses
Counter poses are necessary!
We put stress on the body in order to build strength and that is a good thing. But too much stress on one body part without countering it can create strain. Use counter poses as a reset and during your cooldown to avoid putting too much stress on any body part.
Wrists and shoulders commonly get overly stressed during yoga. By doing multiple poses that bear weight in the wrists in a row, you can place too much strain on them.
Add in some standing, supine, or seated poses in between to alleviate the stress put on the wrists in between weight bearing poses like Downward Facing Dog, Plank, Side Plank, Handstand, and Cat Cow.
Forward Folds are commonly used as counter poses for backbends, but this really isn’t the best choice. Instead, try doing core work or twists to neutralize the spine.
Running Out of Time
Speeding through the end of your sequence or cutting out parts last minute because you’ve run out of time can be stressful.
Practice your sequence first. Not only will this help you work out any kinks or wonky transitions or discover you really need another pose, but this will also help you stay on time.
When you practice your sequence, time it out and assume it will take you about 15 minutes more when teaching it out loud. It takes me 45 minutes to get through my 60 minute classes when I practice them on my own.
Not Building Up to Savasana or Rushing Through Savasana
Savasana is the most important pose of your yoga class.
Even more important than your peak. Build up to Savasana by including counter poses and relaxing poses before you get to Savasana.
Ideally, during these cooldown poses you can start to dim the lights and play slower, more relaxing music. Stay on time and leave at least one minute of Savasana for every ten minutes of practice (6 minutes for a 60 minute class).
Guide your students through a short body scan or meditation. Then allow time for silence. This may be the only truly quiet time your students get all day. Honor that and give them the space to let go and marinate in their practice.