Tips for Yoga Instructors to Start Their Own Yoga Studio
Tips for Yoga Instructors to Start Their Own Yoga Studio
June 30, 2022
A yoga teacher displays the 8 limbs of yoga in her ashtanga yoga class.
How to Integrate the 8 Limbs of Yoga into Your Classes: A Guide for Yoga Teachers
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Creating a yoga sequence is a lot like writing a story. You have a beginning, middle, end, and hopefully, some kind of lesson woven into it. 

Writing a good sequence prepares you to teach a great class that leaves your students feeling refreshed, energized, and better than they did when they first stepped onto their mat.

This article will cover the basics of sequencing and set you up for success in every class you teach.

The Origins of Yoga Sequences

Yoga sequences as we know them actually haven’t been around for as long as one might think. T. Krishnamacharya, often called the grandfather of modern-day yoga, began teaching in Mysore, India in 1926. 

He developed yoga sequences with a focus on asana and shaped the way that yoga has been taught ever since.

One of his students, Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, became the founder of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is a complex method of yoga comprising six different series–or six sequences. 

Students are encouraged to master one sequence before moving on to the next.

These sequences link movement with breath and poses are held for a set number of breaths.

This style came to the West and inspired the Vinyasa Yoga we now see practiced in studios all around the world.

The Basics of Creating Yoga Sequences

Here are some terms that I’ll use throughout this article that are important to note for yoga sequencing:

  • Key Actions: These are physical components of a pose that point out what muscles are being activated or stretched
  • Peak Pose: This is the pose that your sequence is ultimately working up to
  • Sequence: The series of poses that make up your yoga practice
  • Vinyasa: This is both a style of yoga and also sometimes refers to moving through Chaturanga Dandasana, Upward-Facing Dog, and Downward-Facing Dog. You may have taken a class and heard a teacher say “Take a Vinyasa” when referring to moving through these three poses and ending in Downward-Facing Dog.
  • Vignettes: These are typically 2-4 poses strung together and done on one side, then repeated in the same order on the other side
  • Warm-Up: Poses or movements that prepare the body for greater intensity and complexity of movement
  • Cool-Down: Poses or movements that help students’ bodies return to homeostasis after a practice

How to Plan: Creating a Yoga Sequence

All yoga sequences have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Almost all sequences begin with a warm-up and end with a cool-down. The middle part of the sequence, which we’ll call the hot part, will vary significantly from class to class.

We’ll go over three different sequencing methods for the hot part of class: Vignette Sequencing, Standing Series Sequencing, and Ladder Flows.

Most good yoga sequences follow a few rules.

These are not necessarily hard and fast rules and you won’t lose your teaching certification if you choose not to follow them.

But by understanding a few basic rules, you’ll have a road map to easily create sequences, and if you choose, learn the skills necessary to effectively break them.

#1: Build to a Peak

Choose a pose or a few poses that your students will work up to throughout class. This will inform the rest of your sequence. Your sequence should effectively prepare your students for your peak pose, and effectively wind them down from it.

# 2: Do the Same Thing On Both Sides

Keep your students' bodies even by practicing the same poses for the same amount of time on each side.

# 3: Allow at Least One Minute of Savasana for Every Ten Minutes of Practice

Savasana is arguably the most important pose of the practice.

Watch your time as you’re teaching so that your students have enough time to wind down and integrate in Savasana. If you’re teaching a 60 minute class, plan for at least six minutes in Savasana.

# 4: Keep the Needs of Your Students In Mind

If you walk into a class with a Handstand Peak sequence ready to go, but realize that the majority of your students are beginners, or have wrist or shoulder injuries, be prepared to adjust the sequence for the needs of your students.

Yoga builds both strength and flexibility. 

As yoga teachers, we have to be flexible with our plans and think on our feet to best serve our students.

#5: Begin With a Warm-Up and End With a Cool-Down

Building a sequence is kind of like writing a story with an introduction, a middle - which is the main part of the story, and an end. It’s also like making a sandwich, where the warm-up and cool-down are pieces of bread and everything in the middle is the hot part.


Basic Sequence Structure

Warm-Up:

Grounding Meditation

Intent Setting

Pranayama

Opening Integration

  •  These are grounding poses typically done seated or lying down
  • You may also choose to include some abdominal work here. I always do!
  • Other poses like Bridge or Cat & Cow can go here as well.

Hot Part:

This section varies quite a bit but often starts with Sun Salutations that begin truly warming up your student’s bodies.

Then goes into either:

  • Vignettes,
  • a Standing Series, or
  • a Ladder Flow
  • Peak Pose

Cool Down:

Usually, about 2-5 poses that counter the peak pose

Savasana


The Warm-Up

The poses you choose here prepare the body and begin moving energy in subtle and strategic ways while giving you an opportunity, as the teacher, to introduce and teach the key actions of poses coming later in class.

The warm-up section of your sequence is actually really important.

This is where you ground your students and bring them into their bodies. I always begin with a grounding meditation, either seated in Sukhasana, Easy Seated Pose, or kneeling in Virasana, or Hero’s Pose, or lying down in Savasana.

This is also your chance to set the intention for the class. Many teachers like to allow their students to set their own intent, but you may choose an intent for the class that you can speak to throughout.

For example if you’re teaching a heart-opening class with Urdhva Dhanurasana, or Wheel Pose, as the peak, you may set the intent to lead from the heart.

That way, throughout class you can speak to ways your students can practice leading from the heart in their poses. This makes your cues more powerful and allows you to weave that intent throughout class.

Incorporating pranayama at the beginning of class gets your students focused on their breathing right away.

You can lead your students through a few focused rounds of Ujjayi breathing, or try other pranayamas like Nadi Shodhana, Kapalabhati, or Uddiyana.

Opening Integration is typically a few gentle poses to begin warming up your students for their practice.

If you chose a seated pose for your meditation, like Sukkhasana, you might take your students into Baddha Konasana, or Bound Angle Pose, or a seated side bend or twist. If you began in Savasana, you might start with a supine twist, or PavanaMuktasana, or Wind Removing Pose. Keep these poses simple, two to four poses is plenty.

My go-to opening integration is a seated half straddle with a neck release, side bend, and forward fold, or if I began in Savasana, a supine hip opening series like Wind Removing Pose, Half Happy Baby, and a supine twist.

This is a great time for some core work, like Forrest Yoga abdominals, Eagle crunches, or pelvic tilts.

Core work at the beginning of practice wakes up your students' cores and prepares them to use their core muscles later in the sequence in more complex poses.

You can choose to follow core work with Bridge pose. Glutes tend to be sleepy muscles for those that sit for long periods of time (read: most people), so Bridge in the warm up activates the glutes for use later in more challenging asanas.

Cat and Cow can feel really good early in the sequence.

I like to add it after core work. If you choose to skip core work and Bridge, adding Bird Dog Crunches after Cat and Cow can help warm up the core and glutes as well. Use your cues to slow your students down so they have a chance to activate their core and glute muscles here.

In a 6o minute yoga class, this warm-up section should take about 10 to 15 minutes.

The Hot Part

These poses should progressively build in intensity and serve as  preparation for the student’s body and mind to ease into the peak pose in a safe and biomechanically sound way.

Sun Salutations are great to add at the beginning of the hot part of class. Sun Salutations build heat in the body and get your students’ movements synchronized with breath.

The three types of sequences we’ll cover in this article are Vignette Sequences, Standing Series Sequences, and Ladder Flows. This is for the hot part of the sequence. Any of these sequence types can start with Sun Salutations.

Vignette Sequence

A Vignette Sequence strings together typically 2-4 poses at a time all done on one side, followed by a Vinyasa or a pose that neutralizes the spine. Then those same poses are repeated on the other side. Vignettes are like a chapter in a story. Each vignette builds in intensity and complexity as your students work towards the peak pose. Assuming you hold each pose for five breaths, for a 60-minute class, you’ll likely have time for four 2-pose Vignettes, or three 3-pose Vignettes.

Here’s an example of a Vignette sequence:

  • Begin by doing a partial Sun Salutation B:
  • Mountain Pose >
  • Chair Pose >
  • Forward Fold >
  • Half Forward Fold >
  • Chaturanga >
  • Upward-Facing Dog >
  • Downward-Facing Dog
  • Vignette 1:
  • Right leg forward
  • Low Lunge
  • Lunge Twist
  • Half Split

Take a Vinyasa: Chaturanga > Upward-Facing Dog > Downward-Facing Dog

  • Left leg forward
  • Low Lunge
  • Lunge Twist
  • Half Split

Take a Vinyasa: Chaturanga > Upward-Facing Dog > Downward-Facing Dog

  • Vignette 2:
  • Right leg forward
  • Warrior II
  • Reverse Warrior
  • Triangle Pose
  • Take a Vinyasa: Chaturanga > Upward-Facing Dog > Downward-Facing Dog
  • Left leg forward
  • Warrior II
  • Reverse Warrior
  • Triangle Pose

Take a Vinyasa: Chaturanga > Upward-Facing Dog > Downward-Facing Dog

  • Vignette 3:
  • Right leg forward
  • Warrior I
  • Pyramid Pose
  • Standing Splits

Take a Vinyasa: Chaturanga > Upward-Facing Dog > Downward-Facing Dog

  • Left leg forward
  • Warrior I
  • Pyramid Pose
  • Standing Splits

Note: You do not necessarily have to repeat Chaturanga and Upward-Facing Dog for each vinyasa.

You can try adding different poses instead that are not sided and will neutralize the spine. These neutral poses can add variety to your class. 

They are used instead of repeating  Chaturanga and Upward-Facing Dog when changing sides of standing poses.  

What are Equalizers? 

Equalizers can help prepare your students for your peak pose. Some examples of neutralizing poses are:

  • Cobra
  • Locust 
  • Bow 
  • Camel 
  • Dolphin  
  • Handstand 
  • Forearm Stand 
  • Padangusthasana 
  • Padahastasana 
  • Ragdoll

Ideas for a Standing Series

A Standing Series sequence, on the other hand, is a sequence where you do all of the poses on one leg and then repeat them on the other leg.

This is like a short story - only one long chapter.

This type of sequence differs from a Vignette sequence because there are no Vinyasas in between.

A Vinyasa offers a break in a way. 

So while a Vignette sequence feels like short sprints for the leg muscles, a Standing Series is more like a marathon.

Vignette sequences activate fast-twitch muscle fibers in the legs, while Standing Series sequences activate slow-twitch muscle fibers since the same leg is forward the entire time.

Assuming you hold each pose for five breaths, usually a Standing Series sequence includes 10-15 poses on one side, then those same 10-15 poses on the other leg.

Here’s an example of a Standing Series sequence:

  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge
  • Warrior II
  • Reverse Warrior
  • Extended Side Angle
  • Triangle Pose
  • Lizard Lunge
  • Half Split
  • Low Lunge
  • Lunge Twist
  • Warrior I
  • Pyramid Pose
  • Standing Splits
  • Repeat the above poses with the left leg forward

What are Ladder Flows?

A Ladder Flow is similar to a Vignette Sequence because it usually includes a vinyasa in between sides, but it differs because you repeat the same poses.

The Vignette builds by adding a pose or a few poses each round. While the breath counts remain the same on each side, they may vary from round to round. Because the “flow”, or string of poses, gets longer each time, these sequences can become dynamic and cardiovascular.

Here’s an example of a Ladder Flow sequence:

  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 5 breaths
  • Warrior II - 5 breaths
  • Reverse Warrior - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa: Chaturanga > Upward-Facing Dog > Downward-Facing Dog
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 3 breaths
  • Warrior II - 3 breaths
  • Reverse Warrior - 3 breaths
  • ADD Triangle Pose  - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior II - 1 breath
  • Reverse Warrior - 1 breath
  • Triangle Pose  - 1 breath
  • ADD Lizard Lunge - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior II - 1 breath
  • Reverse Warrior - 1 breath
  • Triangle Pose - 1 breath
  • Lizard Lunge - 1 breath
  • ADD Half Split - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior II - 1 breath
  • Reverse Warrior - 1 breath
  • Triangle Pose - 1 breath
  • Lizard Lunge - 1 breath
  • Half Split - 1 breath
  • ADD Low Lunge - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior II - 1 breath
  • Reverse Warrior - 1 breath
  • Triangle Pose - 1 breath
  • Lizard Lunge - 1 breath
  • Half Split - 1 breath
  • Low Lunge - 1 breath
  • ADD Warrior I - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior II - 1 breath
  • Reverse Warrior - 1 breath
  • Triangle Pose - 1 breath
  • Lizard Lunge - 1 breath
  • Half Split - 1 breath
  • Low Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior I - 1 breath
  • ADD Pyramid Pose - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Right leg forward:
  • Crescent Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior II - 1 breath
  • Reverse Warrior - 1 breath
  • Triangle Pose - 1 breath
  • Lizard Lunge - 1 breath
  • Half Split - 1 breath
  • Low Lunge - 1 breath
  • Warrior I - 1 breath
  • Pyramid Pose - 1 breath
  • ADD Standing Splits - 5 breaths
  • Take a Vinyasa
  • Repeat on the left leg
  • Take a Vinyasa

This is just an example but you can play with breath counts and adding more than one pose each round.

Once you’ve completed your hot part sequence, it’s time for your peak pose or poses.

Ideally, by now your students are warmed up and their bodies are prepared for the peak. The above sequence examples could be leading to a peak like Splits or Warrior III.

Make sure that the key actions of your peak pose were addressed in the sequence - especially in the hot part. For example if your peak was Wheel Pose, the hot part would need to include backbends, shoulder openers, and quad and hip-flexor stretches.

The Cool-Down

The poses of your warm down should serve as counterposes to your peak and aid in guiding the student toward rest and relaxation. 

The above example sequences included a lot of poses with external hip rotation and hamstring stretches. So the cool-down would need to include poses with internal hip rotation, like Gomukhasana, or Cow Face Pose, or Ardha Matsyendrasana, or Half Lord of the Fishes Pose. If you taught a backbending class, you’d want to counter with poses that neutralize the spine, like core work and twists. If you taught a class that focused on forward folds, you’d want to counter with mild backbends like Fish Pose.

A yoga class runs through a prepared yoga sequence.

How to Get Started

A few key things to consider when getting started on a new sequence are:

Theme

Most classes include one or two themes or focuses. The themes to choose from are:

  • Forward Bends/Hamstring Focused
  • Backbends
  • Hip Focused
  • Twists
  • Arm Balances
  • Inversions

Intent

This is what you want to teach during your class or the spiritual aspect of your class.

Peak Pose

This ties in with your theme. If your peak pose is Splits, your themes are hips and hamstrings.

There are several different methods to employ when building a yoga sequence and different places to begin, but for our purposes we’ll work backwards from the peak pose to build a sequence.

First, choose a peak pose that you’d like to build up to. Then, look at what key actions are employed in the pose. What is the body doing?

Some examples of key actions to look for in a pose are:

  • Neutral pelvis
    • Like in Warrior I, Pyramid Pose, and Crescent Lunge
  • Externally rotated hip(s)
    • Like in Warrior II, Triangle Pose, and Goddess Pose
  • Inner leg line engagement
    • Like in Bridge Pose, Wheel Pose, and Chair Pose
  • Shoulder activation
    • There are different types of shoulder activation, such as:
      • Shoulder elevation
        • Like in Handstand and Wheel Pose
  • Shoulder retraction, or shoulder blades squeezed together
    • Like in Camel Pose, Bound Locust, and Humble Warrior
  • Shoulder protraction
    • Like in Plank, Downdog, and Cat Pose
  • Shoulder depression
    • Like in Cow Pose and Camel Pose
  • Shoulder internal or external rotation
    • Like in Cow Face Pose where the top arm is in external rotation and the bottom arm is in internal rotation
  • Spine decompression
    • This is where students should lift their ribs away from their hips to create space in the spine.
      • Like in Locust Pose, Warrior I, and Chair Pose

There are endless key actions to look for in poses. Ask yourself what is happening in the pose and work backwards from there.

For example, if Wheel Pose is your peak pose, some key actions you’ll need to teach are:

  • Spinal decompression - your students will need to create a backbend that maintains space between the ribs and hips so they don’t dump into their lower backs.
    • Poses to consider including:
      • Warrior I, Low Lunge, Locust Pose
  • Inner leg line engagement - your students will need to squeeze their inner thighs so that their knees don’t splay out, which will compress the lower back.
    • Poses to consider including:
      • Camel Pose, Chair Pose. Bridge Pose
  • Shoulder activation - your students will need to support themselves on their hands which means their shoulders need to be properly warmed up and also open enough to reach overhead (elevation).
    • Poses to consider including:
      • Puppy Pose, Warrior I, Plank, Reverse Plank
  • The anterior (or front) side of the body is being stretched so you’ll need to include poses that stretch the quads, hip flexors, chest, and shoulders.
    • Poses to consider including:
      • Bow Pose, Half Frog Pose, King Arthur Pose

As you build your sequence, be sure to choose poses that teach students how to do each of the key actions in your peak pose so that they are adequately prepared by the time the peak comes up.

PRACTICE the sequence in your body before you teach it. Move through each of the transitions to make sure that they feel good in your body and consider how the transitions may feel in your student’s bodies. It’s better to get the kinks out before you try to teach it to others.

Creating Effective Sequences for Your Students Takes Practice

Effective sequencing grows with your knowledge of asana, key actions, modifications and how the postures relate to one another.

Your class sequence guides your students toward a specific direction through asana but it can also tell a story that goes beyond the physical experience.

With experience, incorporating concise cueing, pranayama, meditation, energetics, chakras and more will become seamless and your creativity can really shine.

The possibilities are endless! When building your class sequence and in your home practice,  consider the following: 

  1. Who will be practicing this sequence? Observe your students and adapt your sequence to help them be successful, empowered and biomechanically safe.
  2. What are the strengths and limitations of most bodies? How is my body  similar and different from most bodies? 
  3. Where have I observed my students struggling? 
  4. Which poses feel more intense? Which poses feel more complex?
  5. When linking poses together consider - do the poses flow together easily? Is the transition unnecessarily complex? Is the transition safe for most bodies? 
  6. Does it feel good to go straight into neutral postures without externally rotated postures first? (i.e. Warrior 1 before Warrior 2?) 
  7. Are certain muscle groups becoming overly fatigued compared to others? 
  8. What key actions need to be taught in simpler poses prior to the peak  pose to be successful?

Ask yourself these questions and more as you begin to explore the effects of how poses are linked to one another and how the sequence of asana can guide your students inward with greater ease. 

Putting together sequences that are safe and effective for your students is just one way to protect yourself as a yoga teacher.

But even the safest sequence comes with some risk.

Make sure to protect yourself by carrying good insurance. beYogi offers the best coverage for yoga teachers, both part time and full-time teachers. Check it out at https://beyogi.com/yoga-insurance-plus.

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.