Simplicity is at the heart of yoga. In the beginning, hundreds of years ago, yoga consisted of a few simple postures practiced in repetition. It’s since evolved into an almost competitive game of who can do the most advanced poses.
It might sometimes feel like, in order to be a ‘real’ yogi, we have to be able to do this arm balance, that inversion or the deepest splits.
This can be intimidating for new yoga students and new yoga teachers alike. It’s hard enough to actually do all these advanced poses, let alone teach them. The good news is yoga doesn’t have to be this complicated!
When it comes down to it, a good yoga sequence has three things: basic postures, repetition and breath.
There’s no shame in going back to the foundation. An effective sequence doesn’t have to be one that incorporates all the most advanced poses. Sometimes all it takes is the willingness to get back to basics and keep breathing.
Each type of yoga has its own variations on sequencing a class, but most follow a similar structure. This is the secret to creating the perfect yoga sequence.
Beginning a yoga class with some grounding is a great way to get your students into their bodies and out of their heads. It only takes a few minutes, and it helps the practitioners quiet their minds and turn their attention inward.
There are a variety of ways to ground in the beginning of class. You could guide a seated meditation, start with some deep yin poses or even begin in savasana (corpse pose).
All these options create stillness in the mind, which will carry over the rest of the class. Yoga is about an awareness of the breath and body, so taking the time to ground at the beginning of class sets that foundation.
We sometimes need a little help coming into our breath at the beginning of class. Because we breathe so differently and deeply in class, it can be difficult to come right into it, especially when we’re moving.
Doing pranayama (breathing exercises), such as bhastrika or kapalabhati, is a great way to heat up the body and get ready for deep breathing and movement over the next hour or so.
If you’re not comfortable teaching pranayama, incorporate small movements like majaryasana/bitilasana (cat/cow), utthita marjaryasana (alternating arm/leg extension) or ardha matsyendrasana (alternating seated twists) moving with the breath.
This will bring students into their breath, and it’s a good warm-up for the body.
Now that you’ve gotten your students grounded and breathing, it’s time to start moving a little bit.
Depending on the style you’re teaching, you’ll most likely begin with surya namaskar (sun salutations). These are often performed three-ten times through. Remember, repetition is key in yoga.
It’s also helpful for newer students who are still figuring things out. Moving through sun salutations several times will help them understand the poses more quickly. Sun salutations are also a really nice way to warm up our muscles and joints.
From this point in the class, let yourself get creative.
A lot of classes typically get into standing postures. Poses like virabhadrasana 1/2 (warrior 1/2) and anjaneyasana (high/crescent lunge) or variations of these are great here, especially for flow classes.
A good yoga sequence will generally build up to more intense poses. So from your standing poses/flow, you could move to an arm balance or inversion.
If you want to incorporate core-strengthening exercises, now is the time to do so. Poses like navasana (boat pose) and makara adho mukha svanasana (forearm plank pose) are good because they’re accessible to a lot of people and work the entire core.
After core work, moving into some backbends is an easy way to begin the transition from fiery poses to recovery. Be sure to move gently into backbends and work your way up to the more intense ones.
For example, you could begin with a couple rounds of salabhasana (locust pose), moving to dhanurasana (bow pose) and then, when everyone’s backs are warm, into ustrasana (camel pose).
Before you end class, try to include a bit of yin. Yin poses get deeply into the joints, helping our bodies recover after a muscular practice. These could include hamstring stretches, hip openers or spinal twists.
If you’re not sure what part of the body you want to stretch, look back at the rest of your class. If you did a lot of lunges, maybe you’ll want to open up the hips; for a class heavy in chaturanga dandasana (high to low plank), open up the shoulders.
You always want to end your class in savasana or a meditation. You can choose one or the other, or give your students the option to choose whichever one they want.
Both ways offer a few minutes for the yoga practice to sink into the body. Allowing the body to relax like this after a vigorous class seals in the practice. It lets us walk away from our mats feeling strong, grounded and relaxed.
Don’t be afraid to bring some of your own practice into the classes you teach. If you have a few favorite poses you do at home, incorporate them into your sequences!
It’s also important to remember to only teach what you know. If you can’t do a handstand yourself, you don’t need to teach it. Keep things simple.
The best thing you can do for your class when you’re teaching is to be present. Get your students breathing and moving safely, and you’ll teach a great yoga class.