November 20, 2016

Three Elements of Intelligent Sequencing

Yoga Anatomy Academy is about to throw down (a.k.a. post) our first yoga sequence on this blog. We thought we’d preface it with a behind the scenes break-down of how we think through creating a sequence.

There are as many ways to sequence a yoga class (or personal practice) as there are individuals practicing yoga, and we have so much love for the diversity of this practice. 

But there are three main sequencing principles that we believe in with all our souls here at Yoga Anatomy Academy. These are three golden nuggets that WE think are essential to smart sequencing. So, before throwing out our sequence to the internet winds, we thought a little introduction to the essence behind our sequencing inspiration was in order:

Creativity: Yogi as Creative Force 

Yoga asana and vinyasa krama are not fossils.

“[Yoga asana is] living, and…infinitely creative….[The heart of the yoga practice is] a wholehearted invitation to create and explore and keep the practice alive through you”

Dana Trixie Flynn, co-founder of Laughing Lotus studios

As a yoga practitioner, you have a mandate to bring yoga alive in you, knowing that it may not look like the yoga of the next person over (or you in a year or in another stage of your life). 

We know that too much repetition makes a body cranky. The human body needs a vast, wide array of movement (creative Shakti energy) to maintain its highest health. Within a movement practice, we also benefit from a modest amount of structure and repetition (ideally to counteract our worst or most frequent body habits). 

The modest structure can come from different aspects of the practice that are “non-negotiables” to you. They will be different for different yogis. Maybe a non-negotiable for you is that a certain portion of class has no music. Maybe it’s a 5 minute seated meditation and centering to start. Maybe its a sun salute. Kripalu yoga recognizes the 6 movements of the spine as a vital component of warm-up.  

But within this form, and within the root essence of yoga, you have a palette and a brush and a moment to bring alive that which is inside of you (and not simply repeat what you have been told).

Truth in Advertising: the Realest Non-Negotiable

For those yoga teachers offering public classes, we must balance creativity with what I call “Truth In Advertising”.

Unless otherwise specified, an ongoing weekly class should be a well-rounded class.

A well-rounded hatha (ha=sun, tha=moon) yoga class is one that (per your interpretation) has yang (masculine, solar, power) and yin (feminine, lunar, soft) elements. It will have twists and forward folds and backbends, and hopefully– my favorite — side bends. It will have a mix of (for example) standing poses, and seated poses, and quadruped poses.


Truth in advertising also means that your sequence starts at the time that the class starts; your sequence ends at the time that the class is advertised to end. Staying true to the title and level of the class means it will be level-appropriate (recognizing that there has never been a yoga class where every person was at the same exact “level”), and that you will honor the individuality in front of you. 

Level-Appropriate Yoga is Key.

These statements are, of course, quite obvious.

Yet too often we see yoga teachers with a rigid commitment to a sequence that exists within their head. In our humble opinion, no matter how creative, how enlightening, how powerful, that sequence should never — supersede your basic commitments to truth, respect and sanctity of time.

If you find that your sequences regularly push into savasana time, or go past the end time of class, dig in the proverbial mine for them gems that form the heart of your sequence. If you must, seek out opportunities to teach longer classes or ask if you can officially change the end time of your class by 5 or more minutes.

If you find that your sequences leave a subset of students arrayed on their mats in some state of giving up, use your creative wisdom to uplift the whole, to enhance inclusivity, and allow your sequences to reflect that highest creativity. 

Your sequence MUST hold up to freedom and need to change.

The class is a container. Fill it with the highest quality yoga, but like a thoughtful barista, leave a little room at the top for cream and sugar. 

Anatomic Coherence

Finally, onto our biggie here at “The Academy” (as we refer to ourselves ;)): we believe that within a creative, well-rounded, truth-in-advertising yoga class, a yoga teacher should maintain anatomic coherency. 

“Anatomic Coherency” sounds really snooty, so forgive us. Here’s what we mean by it: an anatomically coherent class is built around one of three elements…

  1. a Simple flow
  2. a Peak pose
  3. a cluster of “sibling poses”

A simple flow means poses that are within a fairly normal range of motion. This works great for fast moving classes.

A peak pose is usually a somewhat challenging or complex pose that requires (or at least benefits from) practicing and teaching its component parts before attempting. 

A cluster of sibling poses includes poses that look a heckuva lot like each other. Like when all three children have red hair. One pose segues to the next without much fuss, or one variation is performed on your back, one from table, one from standing. Sibling pose clusters can be simple or complex.

ariele foster ardha chandra chapasana ardha chandrasana half moon pose
Ardha Chandra Chapasana

An ideal class may have all three of these elements:

  • a simple flow that opens the inner thighs (Warrior II might be included),
  • then challenges us with a peak pose, maybe half moon (ardha chandrasana), or a variation like with a bind or ardha chandra chapasana – see photo at left),
  • then takes us on a journey that includes siblings of half moon, like hasta padangusthasana B, or maybe in the cool-down you can a great inner thigh stretch, or maybe you want to get wild and sporty and include vasisthasana (side plank) with the leg up in the air.
Your sequences deserve more coherency than this
Your sequences deserve more coherency than this “necklace”.

Anatomic coherence is not:

… wildly different poses or pose types that are strung together simply for the sake of newness, differentiation or challenge to the body.

Bodily incoherent sequences, in which a joint or body part might go from one extreme to the other, are defeating to most yoga students. 

Anatomically in-coherent sequences jar the nervous system

Anatomically random pose selections might add to the well-roundedness of the class, but do so at the sake of increased risk of injury

And that, in a long nutshell, summarizes our core beliefs around smart sequencing.

However, we have SO much more to say about Sequencing.

Want to dive deep?

Join our live or pre-recorded sequencing workshops to learn more.

What are your most important sequencing principles? We’d love to hear in the comments below!

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