Sequencing: The Key To Planning And To Improvising



We all have been inspired by a class that left us feeling as if we’d accessed every single muscle in our bodies from every possible angle, and left us perfectly balanced, wrung out and freshly energized. It was probably a class such as this which inspired us to become teachers ourselves.

Once mastered, the principles of sequencing make class planning a breeze. What you might not have considered yet is that sequencing is the key to on the spot improvisation. You know the scenario: you’ve planned a killer heart opening arm balance class with Scorpion as the pinnacle pose, but you arrive to find a class entirely composed of one armed, computer screen hunched folks. What to do!? Or maybe you’re called at the very last moment to substitute, but haven’t developed a class plan for the week yet. Or perhaps your classes are all Mixed Level and you’re invited at the last minute to sub for an advanced teachers’ practice - Gulp! Gasp! Wait a minute! You’ve got this - the basic principles of sequencing will help you in creating a well rounded class at any level you can practice (your own practice is the key!) with creative style and deep foundational balance.

The basic principles of sequencing are simple:

  • The arc
  • Choice of pinnacle pose
  • Style and level appropriate warm up
  • Counter pose
  • Finishing poses
  • Corpse pose
  • In the application comes the artistry.

One of the marks of a professional in any creative field is the ability to synthesize the practical and visionary aspects of creation in a way that expresses and addresses the needs of the audience elegantly. The practical aspects of your class are the following:

  • Your style (Ashtanga, Iyenger, Vinyasa, &c)
  • Who shows up - what level, injuries, capabilities and limitations they bring
  • Time alotted
  • Physical space (walls, availability of props)
  • Your ability and edge for the day

Start with time available: is this a 60 or a 90 minute class? Beginning with the end in mind, allow a minimum of 10% of the total class time for an adequate Savasana, and the same amount for your warmup.

Most teachers will have a relatively standard warmup sequence, perhaps different sequences or lengths for different levels of student. Sometimes this is style dependent as well. For instance, Asthanga yogis warm up with Sun Salutations, while Kripalu yogis emphasize a longer, often seated and gentle warmup to even the most advanced practices.

Some points to consider in planning your warmup sequence include a transition from “getting there” to being there in the class, breath awareness (often simultaneous), neck and shoulder releases, spinal motion, basic hip motion. At 6-9 minutes for the standard class times, this is a relatively cursory, but often helpful transition. You will want to skew your warmup sequence toward the joint or action of your pinnacle pose.

Choose (or adjust, if you’re adapting to changing conditions) your pinnacle pose. A pinnacle pose is the hub of the wheel of class, the most challenging pose embodying the progression or theme of the class. Perhaps Triangle for a Intro class, Natarajasana for a Beginner class, Head Stand for Intermediate or Eight Angle Pose for your Advanced students. Once chosen, ask yourself these questions regarding your pinnacle pose:

  • What actions are you emphasizing in the pose?
  • What joints are responsible for the opening in the pose?
  • Will you need to offer modifications and alternatives?
  • What are the secondary actions and joints a student might easily overlook in their own preparation?

The arc of the class will progress from warmup through standing poses, perhaps including vinyasa in transitions between poses, perhaps not. From standing poses to prone, seated and finally supine poses. Depending on your pinnacle, you may alter the duration of each class of pose or the sequence slightly.

The principle of counterpose will move you from your starting pose, chosen for its relation to the pinnacle pose, through an intentionally balanced sequence peaking about two-thirds of the way through class.  Each pose will be followed by a pose to neutralize and deepen the prior action: sided poses always followed by the complementary side, backbends by forward bends - however brief or gentle, and visa versa or either bend balanced by a twist. By gently deepening the action with each counter, you’ll elegantly progress toward your pinnacle pose. By having planned the class so that your pinnacle pose occurs about 2/3 of the way through, you’ll pace yourself with ease, knowing that at 6 minutes of an hour-long class you want to begin your first standing, half an hour later leading into your pinnacle which could take 5 minutes if you have a great deal of instruction and demonstration to go along with it, and another 10 minutes to wind down to Savasana.

Some traditions dictate finishing poses, and often teachers have a standard set including Bridge, possible Full Wheel Backbend, perhaps an inversion, sometimes core work and concluding with a final spinal twist. Having a relatively standard warmup and finishing sequence can be a comforting way of creating space and atmosphere of class by bookending the novelty and challenge of every class with a comforting, if not easy, rhythm.

By keeping in mind the principles of arc, pinnacle and counterpose with an awareness of how your plan fits the clock, you’ll create classes that leave your students balanced and happier than when they arrived with ease and grace that will infuse everything you do and give.  

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