As yoga teachers, how do we design great practices? To answer that question, we first need to explore what ‘great’ actually means. Does it refer to a fun practice? Do we gauge it by how we feel immediately after? Or, is a great practice one that contributes positively to our life?
It has to be that last one, right? And if that’s the aim (instead of designing a fun flow or a crowd pleaser) our sequencing decisions will likely change. Here are some yoga sequencing tips to help you move the needle in the right direction:
Yoga sequencing tip one: Not all pose categories are created equal:
Think about ‘standing poses’ for example. The only thing they have in common is that they’re done on the feet. Revolved Triangle is a twist, Pyramid is a forward fold, Extended Side Angle is a lateral etc. Each of these pose categories (twists, forward folds, laterals as well as back bends, inversions and extensions) do different things to the body, mind and emotions.
Each targets the viscera, and influences the movement of energy in the body, differently. For example, forward folds target the eliminative organs and help us get rid of waste. They do this on a physical level, by helping us eliminate waste from the body. They also do it on a mental/emotional level, by helping us let go of outdated thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
Conversely, back bends deepen our access to the lungs and through that, the breath (specifically, the inhale). This puts us in touch with a movement of energy that influences our capacity to receive, be that energy from the breath or our ability to receive love, support and even new information.
Each pose category has a different personality, which means we can design classes with different personalities too. Moreover, if you can identify what, in your life, needs fine-tuning, you can design a practice to specifically bring about the transformation you need.
Yoga sequencing tip two: Breath is boss:
It’s well documented that the breath is a direct pathway to the autonomic nervous system. Long exhales (and left nostril breathing) will activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which will help you relax and internalise your focus. Long inhales (and right nostril breathing) will activate the sympathetic nervous system and help you to feel bright, alert and more aware of your surroundings.
If you pair long exhales with their complementary pose categories, you’ll create a class that will leave people feeling peaceful and still. If you pair long inhales with their complementary pose categories, you’ll create a class that will leave people feeling bright and vital. The first class is suitable for people who feel anxious, stressed or busy. The second kind of class is suitable for people who feel lethargic or lack motivation.
This holds true for pranayama as well. Different pranayamas do different things so rather than just choosing your favourite pranayama, choose one that aligns specifically with the goal you’ve set when it comes to transforming your life.
Yoga sequencing tip three: Asana, pranayama and meditation should be in every single class:
Why? Because they actually address different parts of you. Asana addresses the physical body. Pranayama addresses the energy body. Meditation addresses the mind. If you want to design a practice that addresses a whole person, you need to include techniques that touch every part of them. This means, the next time you’re tempted to leave off meditation because people find it hard or boring, don’t! The journey isn’t complete without it.
Yoga sequencing tip four: Only teach what you’ve embodied:
It’s tempting to include techniques (be they asana, pranayama, bandha, mantra or meditation) that you’ve done just enough times to memorise but not enough times to embody. It’s common to feel pressure to provide novel experiences for students but you can only guide people through journeys you’ve genuinely taken yourself. This is how you build your capacity to introduce people to subtle body experiences and how you can be confident you have a bank of experience deep enough to address students’ queries with integrity.
These are all big topics, of course, and they require more than a blog to understand so, if you’d like to learn more, check out: ‘Yoga and You: The Art and Science of Intelligent Sequencing‘. It’s a 40hr, self-paced deep dive into yoga sequencing so you can develop your capacity to design classes that transform people (not just entertain them).