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How to Put Together the Ideal Practice for Your Yoga Class

Sequencing a great yoga class takes skill! It’s something I teach in yoga teacher trainings and by far takes the most time to learn for new teachers.

The concept is simple, but not necessarily easy!

If you’ve ever left a class feeling refreshed, energized, and like you walked away with fresh knowledge or understanding, then you know what a great class feels like.

On the flip side, if you’ve ever left a yoga class feeling unbalanced, annoyed, or exhausted—then you know why sequencing is so important!

Sequencing for a small class, a big class, a festival, and even a workshop follows essentially the same energy arch.

We begin with grounding, take some time to warm up, build heat, move to a peak, and then wind down.

But skillfully putting this together is another story!

Below is a format you can use to build the perfect energy arch—and tips to make every class you teach feel AMAZING!

Putting Together the Ideal Practice 

Step One: Choose Your Theme 

Most yoga classes fall into a few different themes.

These are:

  • Twists
  •  Arm Balances
  • Inversions
  • Backbends
  • Hips
  • Forward Folds
  • Or a combination of 2+ of these themes

Step Two: Choose Your Peak 

Whether you’re teaching a workshop, small class, or larger class, you’ll want to build up to a peak.

Sometimes these peaks are intense poses like Hanumansana (Splits), or Handstand. But depending on the level of class you’re teaching, it could be something less intense such as Vrksasana (Tree Pose).

Poses should build in both intensity and complexity.

For example, Warrior I may be intense for some students, but it’s easy to see that Splits would be more intense.

Complexity refers to adding more components to a pose, for example Bound Side Angle is less complex than Extended Side Angle even though you may have students who feel that both poses are not too intense.

Poses should build in intensity and also build from simple to more complex.

Your peak pose should be the most intense and complex pose of your sequence.

Step Three: Determine the Key Actions of Your Peak Pose

Every pose has several key actions.

For example, Splits has several key actions or things that you need to introduce to your students earlier in the sequence in order to set them up for success in the pose.

The key actions in Splits are:

  • Hamstring Stretching
  • Hip Flexor Stretching
  • Neutral Pelvis
  • elescoped Ribs

More key actions to look for in your poses are:

  • Neutral Pelvis
  • Externally Rotated Pelvis
  • Telescoped Ribs - this refers to each of the ribs lifting away from the one below it as in backbending. This also decompresses the spine.
  • Shoulder Engagement
  • Inner Leg Line Engagement
  • Active Hands & Feet
  • Bandhas
  • What muscles are stretching
  • What muscles are working or strengthened

Once you understand the key actions of your peak pose, you’re ready to choose poses that will effectively prepare your students for their peak.

Step Four: Choose Poses That Are Necessary For Your Peak 

We’ll stick with the example of Splits. What poses prepare your students for each of the key actions necessary to get into Splits?

Here are the key actions:

  • Hamstring Stretching
  • Hip Flexor Stretching
  • Neutral Pelvis
  • Telescoped Ribs

Before you write your sequence, or while you’re creating it, it’s helpful to list out some poses that will prep your students for each of the key actions of Splits.

Here are some examples, but this list is non-exhaustive - use your imagination!

  • Hamstring Stretching
  1.   Janu Sirsasana or Head to Knee Pose
  2. Ardha Hanumanasana or Half Splits
  3.  Parsvottanasana or Pyramid Pose
  • Hip Flexor Stretching
  1. Ardha Bhekasana or Half Frog Pose
  2. Anjaneyasana or Low Lunge
  3.  Setubandhasana or Bridge Pose
  • Neutral Pelvis
  1. Warrior I
  2.  Anjaneyasana or High Crescent Lunge
  3. Utthan Pristhasana or Lizard Pose
  • Telescoped Ribs
  1. Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose
  2. Ustrasana or Camel Pose
  3. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or Upward Facing Dog

Step Five: Create an Intent 

Intent is one of the things that sets yoga apart from other movement practices.

Not all teachers set an intent for their classes, and that’s perfectly fine.

But choosing an intent for your class will help to inform your cues & give you something beyond the physical to teach during class.

Some examples of intents are teaching the Yama and Niyama, choosing a Chakra to talk about during class, or some type of lesson.

A few examples of intents could be:

  • Slow down.
  • Find ease.
  • Root to rise.
  • Let go.
  • Stalk your fear. (This could be through handstands or backbending poses that typically bring out fear in people.)
  • Communicate loving kindness to yourself through breath and movement.
  • Be kind to yourself. (Ahimsa)
  • Invigorate your senses by opening the Sacral Chakra.
  • Lead with love by tapping into Anahata, the heart chakra.

Once you’ve chosen an intent that corresponds to your theme and peak pose, this will inform the types of cues you give your students.

It’s helpful to write a few down in case you’re not the kind of person who thinks of impactful cues on the spot.

This also helps you find the right quote or thing to say in Savasana as your students are winding down.

With the example of Splits as a peak pose, an intent like “Let go” could inform you to give cues in challenging poses like “Let go of the need to push yourself”, or “Relax your face and neck”, or “Find ease in this pose”, or “Accept where you are and let go of the need to perform in your practice.”

You might choose to use a quote or a poem about letting go in Savasana as your students are settling in.

These are some examples:

  • “The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” ― Steve Maraboli
  • “Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure.” ― Stephen King
  •  “You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.” ― C. JoyBell


Building Your Sequence

Now you’re ready to build your sequence!

Below are the steps for building a sequence.

You may follow a slightly different format for a workshop where you may dive deeper into individual poses rather than create vignettes, but the energy arch is the same.

You’ll still want to build in intensity and complexity.

Grounding 

Most classes begin with some sort of grounding.

Take some time to get your students breathing together and on the same page.

This step is crucial to get even the busiest students in the moment and ready to follow your lead.

There are basically three ways to get your students grounded.

One is in a seated meditation pose. This could be Sukkhasana, Baddha Konasana, or Virasana.

A second way is in a supine pose such as Savasana, Supported Supta Baddha Konasana, or lying supine with bent knees. 

A third way to begin your class is in Balasana or Child’s Pose.

Get your students breathing and introduce your intent while they’re breathing in this first pose.

Opening Integration 

This is typically two to five poses that begin the process of preparing your students to flow. These also usually fall into the theme you chose for your class, and also easily follow the grounding pose you started with.

For Splits, if I started my students in Sukhasana, I might move them into Janu Sirsasana, or Baddha Konasana to start introducing some hamstring and hip opening.

If they began in Savasana, I might take them into Wind Removing Pose and a supine hamstring opener.

Warm Up 

In any movement practice, properly warming up is crucial.

Based on your peak pose, what do your students need to warm up before they get moving?

I always begin with some abdominal exercises. You need your core for everything you do!

If crunches aren’t your thing, there are endless core exercises you can add into your warm up.

Get creative!

When teaching Splits, I typically put in Bridge pose right after abdominals so their hip flexors are prepared for the deeper stretches they’ll move into throughout practice.

If you’re teaching Handstand, it’s a good idea to start warming up their wrists and shoulders since they’ll be using those a lot throughout practice.

Sun Salutations typically would go in at the end of the warm up to start building heat.

Flow  

This section of your class is where you can really get creative!

 I section my sequences out into shorter vignettes - typically 2-4 poses on one leg, followed by Chaturanga - Updog - Downdog or some other neutralizing poses, then those same 2-4 poses on the other leg.

In some classes, I might string together up to 12 poses on one leg and then repeat on the other leg. It just depends on how much time you have and how you want the class to feel.

With the example of Splits as a peak, this is what a typical flow section might look like:


V1:   WARRIOR 2    -       TRIANGLE   -       ½ SPLIT

E1:   COBRA       E2:   ARDHA BHEKASANA

 

V2:   WARRIOR 1-       PYRAMID    -       LUNGE

E1:   UPDOG       E2:   LOCUST

 

V3:   WARRIOR 1 WITH GOMUKHASANA ARMS - KING ARTHUR’S LUNGE  -       LIZARD

E1:   BOUND LOCUST    E2:   CAMEL

 

V4:   PYRAMID    -       WARRIOR 3-       STANDING SPLITS

E1:   DHANURASANA/ BOW                 E2:   FROG

V stands for Vignette, and E stands for Equalizer.


Equalizer poses are what you’d put in place of Upward Facing Dog.

For example, in Vignette 1, after ½ Split on the right leg you’d move to Chaturanga, Cobra, Downdog, then Warrior 2 on the left leg.

This is optional but can make your classes more interesting than repeating Chaturanga, Updog, Downdog after each vignette.

You can see how the poses build in intensity and complexity. Warrior 1 (in Vignette 2) is less intense and complex than Warrior 1 with Gomukhasana Arms (in Vignette 3).

And Lunge (in Vignette 2) is less intense and complex than King Arthur’s Lunge (in Vignette 3).

Warrior 2 (in Vignette 1) is less intense and complex than Warrior 3 (in Vignette 4).

After you move through your vignettes, it’s time for your peak! Give your students time to work through the peak pose.

If necessary, demonstrate the peak to your students so your visual learners can see what pose you’re walking them through if they haven’t already.

Wind Down 

Wind down is just as important as your warm up. Plan a few poses that will help your students wind down from the flow. 

As a general rule, after backbending you want to do some poses that neutralize the spine.

 Abdominal exercises are great for this (and I add them in at the end of every backbening class) because they engage the opposite muscles that were working all class and help decompress the spine.

If your class had a lot of hip openers/poses in external rotation, you may want to add in some poses that are internally rotated, like Gomukhasana.

For the Splits class above, I might wind down with Wind Removing Pose, Supine Twist, and Happy Baby.

Always end with Savasana! 

That may sound like stating the obvious but giving your students 5-10 minutes in Savasana is truly key to a great yoga practice.

Allow some time for silence. It might be the only quiet time your students get!

Putting together an ideal yoga practice that leaves your students feeling refreshed, energized, and maybe a little bit yoga high is one of the greatest gifts you can give your students.

Add in your own personal touches in every class, workshop, and event you teach. Your uniqueness is what brings students back to your classes! 

Adriana Lee
Adriana Lee
Adriana's yoga journey began at a young age and continues to inspire her every day by healing mind, body and spirit through the breath. She received her 200 Hour RYT through Frog Lotus Yoga's center, Suryalila, in Adalusia, Spain. She also trained an additional 50 hours with Heba Saab at Body Heat Hot Yoga in Las Vegas, NV. She continued training with Heba by assisting and acting as a mentor to her 200 Hour trainees. She trained with Cameron Shayne in Miami and received a 50 Hour certification in the Budokon Yoga system. She is also a certified Pilates instructor and a Reiki Level 2 practitioner. Her yoga practice has brought sweetness and authenticity into her life and her intention is to share that sweetness and help her students strive to be their own authentic selves.