What makes a good yoga-asana class? Anytime you walk out feeling better than when you entered. And a carefully constructed yoga sequence will ensure you get from point A (tense & stressed) to point B (all chill, no worries).
Learning how to sequence a yoga-asana class is an important skill all yoga teachers should possess. Even if you teach from pre-written scripts, you’ll instruct better if you understand why the poses are ordered a certain way or why two to three different postures are linked together.
Most classes conducted in a yoga studio or gym are sixty minutes, and each one follows a loose six-step structure that I share below.
Step 1 : Centering
I call it Centering. Others may call it Grounding or Setting an Intention. Whatever you call it, it’s an essential part of the practice.
When people step onto their mats, they may be coming from a long day at work, or after dropping kids at school. Others are squeezing it in at lunch or between running errands. Regardless, they’re all rushing in from somewhere else, and they’ll all rush out to the next thing when class is over.
In Centering, by guiding you to connect to your breath, I bring you into the present moment. Whether you’re in easy-sitting or child’s pose, this time is designed to slow you down.
The deceleration allows you to transition from the busy outside world to listen into the needs of your mind and body. Only then are you ready to proceed to the asana portion of your practice.
*Centering can last anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes.
Step 2: Warm Up
The second stage in a yoga-asana class helps to warm up and prepare the participants. This is where I first introduce postures and movement.
I choose poses that are simple but will connect or relate to more challenging ones or deeper stretches later on in the practice.
Another technique I focus on in the warm up stage is called dynamic movement. This technique incorporates larger range of motion held for shorter periods of time. Dynamic movement ensures synovial fluid flows in your joints and increases the blood circulation to the larger muscles groups of your body.
A sun salutation is considered dynamic movement and is a common warm up in vinyasa and power yoga style classes.
*Warm up can last 5-10 minutes.
step 3 : Working
After the warm up, participants are ready for the more challenging portion of their asana-practice. This doesn’t necessarily mean hard, crazy, or fast-moving poses because even gentle classes have a “working” section.
In the working section, you can focus on any (or all) of the following elements: creating heat, building strength or stamina, increasing concentration through mentally or physically challenging poses. Standing and standing balancing poses offer all of the above and are therefore often used for a significant portion of working.
Also during the working stage you can introduce static postures. A static posture is held for a longer duration of time. By incorporating longer-holding poses participants can really experience the pose and by holding the pose we accomplish all the elements I listed above.
When you’re sequencing yoga-asana classes, this section is where you’ll spend most of your time, both in planning and teaching it.
*Working can last 25-35 minutes.
step 4 : floor work/deep stretch
Each step builds from the previous stage and proceeds logically to the next one. After the heat-producing working stage, participants are now ready for deeper stretches.
In Centering, you might have included seated postures, and the working section brought in standing and standing balancing. For the floor you can round out the posture practice by including prone and/or supine poses.
One of my favorite techniques when I’m sequencing classes is to repeat elements. I select two or three postures from earlier in the class and bring them out again, this time holding the pose for a longer time. Participants can then feel the difference in their bodies between the first and second time.
*Floor stage can last 5-10 minutes
step 5 : cool down
Where the warm up stage prepared participants for the working portion, Cool Down prepares them for final relaxation. After working and deep stretches, your body’s heat (and heart rate, circulation, etc.) are elevated. During step 5, the sequence of poses helps “cool down” your body and sends signals to your brain to begin the slow-down process.
There are no hard and fast rules for the poses you select during the Cool Down, but any postures done in supine form is a safe bet. I like to end all my Cool Downs with reclined spinal twists. Twists bring balance to the spine after so much forward- and backward- bending during the regular practice.
After twisting to both sides, the participants are ready for the last step.
*Cool down last around five minutes
Step 6 : Final Relaxation
NEVER, ever, ever–and I repeat–NEVER, ever, ever SKIP THIS LAST STEP.
A yoga-asana class is only well-balance and well-structured when you include final relaxation (also called savasana). An unfortunate trend I’d like to see permanently eradicated is when teachers run short on time and opt for one more sweaty, core-fatiguing sequence instead of final relaxation.
IT’S JUST WRONG. Without final relaxation, you’re pretty much teaching calisthenics.
Skipping savasana cheats the participants out of very real benefits such as allowing time for their bodies’ processes to return to normal. And in our super-charged, amped-up culture, any time we can get people to close their eyes and relax, it’s a win-win.
When you’ve finished with all the postures, direct your participants to corpse pose and let them steep in the body-relaxing, mind-blissing goodness of final relaxation. They’ll remember that sensation far longer than the three more boat poses you crammed in.
*Minimum five minutes for final relaxation