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Beeda Christina Gautier.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yoga Sequencing Principles

Yoga Sequencing Principles

Arranging Thoughtfully

There are few “hard and fast” rules in yoga teaching. Different lineages have different approaches. And even within a single lineage, the response to most questions is, “That depends upon the student, situation and intention.” Still, particularly as a new yoga teacher, it’s helpful to have some guidelines from which to begin. Here we've gathered guiding principles culled from multiple expert sources for mindful sequencing. The Planning Framework is a broader look at class planning while these Sequencing Principles are more specific considerations related to such topics as energy, anatomy and asana.
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Yoga Class Planning

Sequencing Principles

Quick "Go To" Menu for this Page

Have an Intention


Balance the Energy

  • Students, Season
  • Dominant Nadi
  • Langana
  • Brahmana
  • Samana

Focus on Spine

  • Forward Bending
  • Back Bending
  • Lateral Movement
  • Twist
  • Extension/Elongation
  • Inversion
  • Compression

Consider Movement Types & Joints

  • Planes of Motion—Sagittal, Frontal/Coronal, Transverse
  • Anatomy of Movement—Agonist / Antagonist, Types of Body Movement, Directional Terms, Lappa's Techings
  • Joint Movements
  • Targeting a Specific Area

Consider Prana Vayus


Move From Simple to Complex

  • Simple to Complex
  • External to Internal
  • Dynamic before Holds

Return to Neutral

  • Neutralizing
  • Counterposes

Mindfully Choose Poses

  • Poses & Peak Pose Planning
  • Segments

More Ideas

 

Close with Savasana


More Ideas
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Have an intention or focus.

There are different types of sequencing:  (1) sequencing movements within a pose, (2) sequencing from one pose to another within a family, and (3) sequencing from one family of poses to another.   All of these variables make asana sequencing a truly complex topic. – Brad Priddy

* * *

In any yoga practice ONE element is always dominant. If you want to make it asana, that’s fine, then breath can support it along with meditation and other things. If you want to make the breath a dominant element... then the asana and other things play a supportive role. Otherwise the practice can become an example of “everything but the kitchen sink”. You can organize your yoga practice around an idea, or meditation, or chanting, or ritual, or mudra – whatever you think will help you manifest the intention that you have for the class, as long as it’s ONE main thing. – Olga Kabel, SequenceWiz, How to Organize a Practice Around Yoga Breathing

Of course, success is more likely when we know where we're headed. An intention guides our choice of poses, breathing practices, thematic elements and other tools. Some types of intentions include preparing for teaching a peak pose, responding to a particular condition or energetic state, or repeating poses as a way to guide students to new aspects or a deeper expression of the poses. For more thoughts on setting an intention, see Planning Framework.

Balance the energy of the situation

Life is full of alternating opposites, such as inhaling and exhaling, sleeping versus waking, and fight or flight versus rest and digest. Each of these dualities demonstrates a dynamic balancing of opposites. Sequencing in yoga can be used to exaggerate a cycle of expansion and contraction. We begin with poses that open the front of the body and close with poses that draw the energy inward. – Ray Long, Anatomy for Vinyasa Flow and Standing Poses © 2010 p 154

Some energetic principles include meeting the energy of students and then bringing about a balanced state through such efforts as:
  • Balancing the energy of the season
  • Balancing the energy of the situation/student need
  • Balancing the energy of the dominant nadi

Larger Bullet Beginning with Energy of Students

This principle advises that if students are exhibiting lethargy, introversion or low energy that we begin slowly and then gently build intensity. In contrast, if students appear anxious, hyper or busy, we begin with more vigorous or stimulating practices to meet the students where they are.


Larger Bullet Balancing Energy of Season or Situation

In this approach drawn from fundamental Ayurvedic principles, the focus is on balancing the effects of the season or specific situation (e.g. bringing warmth when there is cold, cooling when there is excess heat, etc.). For in-depth seasonal considerations, see Sun, Moon & Seasons.


Larger Bullet Determining Dominant Nadi

At the beginning of a practice, sit and observe your breath to see which nostril—and, hence, whichnadi—is dominant. (If you can’t tell, try a few rounds of alternate-nostril breathing—it should be immediately clear which side is freer and which feels more inhibited). If the left nostril dominates, idais in charge, and you might consider focusing your attention on invigorating asanas—such asbackbendsstanding poses, inversions, and twists—to engage the pingala nadi. If the right nostril dominates, the cooling, calming energy of seated poses and forward bends might be most beneficial.


You can also bring awareness of ida and pingala into any asana practice by pausing between poses to notice which nadi dominates your breathing. Notice your mind-states as well; you will find they closely correlate with which nadi is ascendant. Are you agitated and active (pingala-like) or calm and receptive (ida-like)? Through this checking-in process, you can begin to identify which poses activate one nadi or the other, and which are particularly effective—for you, at least—in creating physical and emotional equilibrium. You’ll also be developing your awareness, deepening your practice, and clearing the way for your spiritual growth. – James Bailey, Yoga Journal, Discover the Ida and Pingala Nadis

Larger Bullet Choosing Hatha Yoga Tools

  • The article Friday Q&A: Practice for All Seasons by Yoga for Healthy Aging also addresses this topic and includes additional considerations such as a person who is a very active skier in the winter, for example, in which case a heating, vigorous practice that would often be balancing in winter may not be as called for.
  • Teachers strive to create a smooth arc of intensity, finishing in a balanced and quiet state. The following energetic principles are helpful in designing effective sequences. We have researched manysources in an effort to create as comprehensive a list as possible.

Larger Bullet Langhana

Meaning "reduction" or “light” (weight) in Sanskrit, langhana refers to quieting, soothing, cooling practices intended to calm, lower and ground energy. Examples of such practices include:


Larger Bullet Brahmana

Meaning “expansion” in Sanksrit, brahmana refers to stimulating, strengthening, challenging, heating practices. The intention is to build, nourish and raise energy. Examples of such practices include:

Larger Bullet Samana

Samana means equal or balanced in Sanskrit and is the result of most well-rounded practices. Some specific practices are particularly focused on creating mental and physical balance such as the following:
* Note on Twists: There is inconsistency in how twists are categorized among sources. We resonate with the perspective that twists can be active or gentle and can be generally balancing to the nervous system (calming when agitated and stimulating when lethargic).

Move the spine in all directions.

The different categories of asanas exert different effects not only on your body, but also on your mind and emotions. The standing poses promote emotional stability and strength. The forward bends are calming—even the very deepest forward bend should have a cooling effect, not a straining feeling. The backbends are anti-depressive and elevate mood. The inverted poses increase energy and engender equanimity and a sense of well-being. Backbends are often given to students as a prescription for depression; and forward bends as a prescription for anxiety. – Brad Priddy  [For in-depth coverage of characteristics, cautions, and sequencing considerations for each of the different pose categories, see Pose Categories under Sequencing in Member Tools.]

It's generally accepted that a balanced yoga practice will move the spine in each of its six directions. In addition, the categories of extension and inversion are often included. Following are the spinal movements targeted in a well-rounded sequence, with an example.

Larger Bullet Forward Bending

Larger Bullet Back Bending

Larger Bullet Lateral Movement

Larger Bullet Twist

Larger Bullet Spinal Extension / Axial Extension / Elongation

  • Example: Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute)
  • While the phrase "spinal extension" is sometimes interchanged with backbending, other sources are more precisely referring to the relationship of the spinal curves to each other.
  • In this latter case, the phrases "forward and backbending" refer to particular movements through space while spinal extension (as it's used here) means reducing the spinal curves or lengthening the entire spine.
  • When the phrase "extension" is used with joints other than the spine, it's used as noted in Types of Movement in the next section.

Larger Bullet Inversion

  • Example: Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)
  • The term "inversion" is classically used to mean poses in which the feet are higher than the heart, as inSarvangasana (Shoulderstand) and Sirsasana (Headstand).
  • The term inversion is also used to mean poses in which the heart is higher than the head such as in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) and Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).
  • To distinguish between the two meanings, some refer to "full inversions" and "mild inversions."

Larger Bullet Added Note: Compression

  • In the article Open ArmsAndrey Lappa adds compression (drawing the bones closer together) to the list of types of movement although he notes that "compression is only desirable therapeutically; extension is the normal aim in all asanas."
Members, see more information on the effects and sequencing of these types of movements in Pose Categories.

Consider movement types & joints.

  • Moving joints through their full range of motion can help prevent injury as well as relieve joint pain and stiffness. 
  • Knowledge of which joint movements are involved in each pose enables identification of specific anatomical issues related to students' particular challenges.
  • In the excellent book Structural Yoga Therapy (p 121), Mukunda Stiles details the joint-freeing series: a set of specific movements to systematically move all joints. Yoga therapists and teachers with private students can also use the series to test a student’s range of motion.
  • The following information may also support you when designing a sequence to target a specific area of the body.

Planes of Motion

Your body doesn’t move in one dimension. If it did, you wouldn’t be able to move your leg away from you, toward you, in front and behind you. Your body moves in three dimensions... There are three different planes of motion: sagittal, frontal, and transverse. In each plane, several different movements occur at the joints. – Acefitness.org, Explaining the Planes of Motion

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Larger Bullet Sagittal—Divides the body into left and right halves

  • Any forward and backward movement parallel to this line occurs in the sagittal plane
  • Flexion:  Decreasing the angle between two bones
  • Extension: Increasing the Angle between two bones
  • Dorsiflexion: Moving the top of the foot toward the shin (only at the ankle)
  • Plantar flexion: moving the sole of the foot downward (pointing the toes)

Larger Bullet Frontal or CoronalDivides the body into front and back halves

  • Any lateral (side) movement parallel to the line will occur in the frontal plane
  • Adduction: Motion toward the midline
  • Abduction: Motion away from the midline of the body
  • Elevation: Moving to a superior position (only at the scapula)
  • Depression: Moving to an inferior position (only at the scapula)
  • Inversion: Lifting the medial border of the foot
  • Eversion: Lifting the lateral border of the foot

Larger Bullet TransverseDivides the body into top and bottom halves

  • Movement parallel to the waistline, otherwise known as rotational movement, occurs in the transverse plane
  • Rotation- Internal (inward) or external (outward) turning about the vertical axis of the bone
  • Pronation- Rotating the hand and wrist medially from the bone
  • Supination-Rotating the hand and wrist laterally from the bone
  • Horizontal Flexion (adduction)- From the 90-degree abducted arm position, the humerus is flexed (adducted) in toward the midline of the body in the transverse plane
  • Horizontal Extension(abduction)- Return of the humerus from horizontal flexion

Anatomy of Movement

Larger Bullet Agonist & Antagonist Muscle Relationship

Muscles contract to move joints. When one muscle contracts, another muscle stretches.
  • This key relationship can guide the intention you set to address a problem area (such as rounded shoulders, for example) and the way you direct students to deepen their experience of a posture.
  • Agonist = contracting muscle
  • Antagonist = stretching muscle
  • Examples: Bending elbow to draw forearm up contracts the bicep and stretches the tricep. Drawing shoulders back contracts the trapezius and stretches the serratus anterior. (For more information, see Asana Anatomy: Trapezius and Serratus Anterior, Yoga International)

Larger Bullet Types of Body Movement

Movements of the body are described in six ways: flexion & extension, adduction & abduction, and internal & external rotation. 

Flexion / Extension

  • Flexion: Usually moves a body part forward (except in the case of the knee which moves backward).
  • Extension: Moves a body part backward such as lifting upper leg back.

Adduction / Abduction

  • Adduction – Moves a part of the body toward the midline.
  • Abduction – Moves a body part away from the midline.

Internal Rotation / External Rotation

  • Internal Rotation – Moves toward the midline.
  • External Rotation – Moves away from the midline.

Larger Bullet Other Anatomy Directional Terms


Lateral / Medial

  • Lateral – Away from the midline 
  • Medial – Toward the midline

Anterior / Posterior

  • Anterior – In front
  • Posterior – Behind

Distal / Proximal

  • Distal – Away from, farther from the origin
  • Proximal – Near, closer to the origin

Superior/Inferior

  • Superior – Above, over
  • Inferior – Below, under

Larger Bullet Lappa's Teachings

While the above descriptions are common ways of describing body movements, Andrey Lappa also describes movement types with these descriptions:
  • Stretching

  • Static Strengthening

  • Dynamic Strengthening

  • Static Endurance

  • Dynamic Endurance

  • Coordination

  • Reaction

In addition, Lappa categorizes poses as follows:

Passive

  • Uses gravity to stretch muscles

Active

  • Stretches one set of muscles by engaging others

Equally Passive & Active

  • Poses that draw equally on passive and active techniques
In the Yogal Journal article Open Arms by Todd Jones, Lappa teaches the following:
  • Traditional asanas use the first five types of movements, but not the last two.
  • Traditional asanas may utilize an overabundance of active stretches.
  • To address his findings, Lappa developed additional practices derived from other movement modalities.
  • For instance, Lappa found that most poses that train the arms focus on strength while "of the few poses that focus on arm flexibility, most are active stretches, like Viparita NamaskarGomukhasana (Cow Face), and Garudasana(Eagle), which use the strength of one set of muscles to stretch others."
  • In response to his analysis, Lappa created passive stretches for arms and shoulders.
  • See the YJ article and Andrey Lappa's website, Univeral Yoga, for more information.

Joint Movements

Following is a summary of joint movements, including an example to demonstrate the movement.

Larger Bullet Ankles

  • Plantar Flexion – pointing toes 
  • Dorsiflexion – drawing toes back toward knee
  • Eversion – outer edge of foot draws toward head
  • Inversion – inner edge of foot draws toward head
  • Rotation – circling of ankles

Larger Bullet Knees

  • Flexion – bending knee
  • Extension – straightening knee

Larger Bullet Hips

  • External Rotation – outward rotation of thighbone within hip socket
  • Internal Rotation – inward rotation of thigh coming from glutes
  • Extension – from hands & knees, back of leg rises toward sky
  • Flexion – from hands & knees, rounding to take knee to nose flexes the hip
  • Adduction – drawing leg across centerline of body as in cowface posture
  • Abduction – taking leg out away from midline of body

Larger Bullet Spine

Larger Bullet Wrists

  • Flexion – taking palm toward body
  • Extension – making the stop motion with the hand
  • Radial deviation – from straight wrist, palm up, turning thumb side toward torso
  • Ulnar deviation – from straight wrist, palm up, turning pinky side toward torso
  • Rotation – circling wrists

Larger Bullet Elbows

  • Extension – straightening arms
  • Flexion – bending arms

Larger Bullet Shoulders

  • Abduction – hands to shoulders, open elbows out
  • Adduction – hands to shoulders, draw elbows toward one another
  • External Rotation – "goal post" arms, palms facing forward
  • Internal Rotation – "goal post" arms, rotating palms down and facing back
  • Flexion – raise arms upward
  • Extension – draw arms back behind body

Larger Bullet Scapula

  • Adduction – squeeze shoulder blades
  • Abduction – round thoracic spine

Larger Bullet Neck

  • Extension – dropping head back
  • Flexion – taking chin to chest
  • Lateral flexion both directions – drawing ear toward shoulder
  • Lateral rotation both directions – turning chin toward shoulder

When Targeting a Specific Area

"Be sure to include poses that work the antagonist muscles. Do not include too many poses with similar action – that can create cumulative stress." – Olga Kabel, SequenceWiz, How to Create a Target Yoga Practice for a Specific Body Area
In the article above, Kabel offers these important considerations when targeting a specific body area.
  1. Identify target parts of skeleton.
  2. Determine the target muscles and the muscle actions; in order to provide integration, plan to involve a more general area of the body—not just the specific muscles
  3. Identify poses & pose adaptations that will stretch and strengthen those muscles. 
  4. Contract muscles first; then relax them; then stretch them.
  5. Take breaks to feel effect of practice on target area.

Consider the Prana Vayus

One should consider the role of all five pranas in asana practice. An integral asana practice should work all the pranas. It requires energization (prana), expansion (vyana), contraction (samana), upward movement (udana) and downward movement (apana) in the right proportion and balance. But the degree of these pranic movements will vary by condition and by dosha. – Dr. David Frawley & Sandra Summerfield Kozak, Yoga for your Type © 2001 p 247

The following information is drawn from the excellent and clearly written book, Yoga for your Type © 2001 by Dr. David Frawley and Sandra Summmerfield Kozak.

Larger Bullet Apana Excess: Low or Depressed Energy

  • Choose asana to raise energy (increase udana)
  • Upward moving poses
  • Standing poses
  • Chanting
  • Affirmations

Larger Bullet Udana Excess: Manic Energy or Spaced Out

  • Choose asana to lower and ground energy (increase apana)
  • Prone poses
  • Inverted poses
  • Deep, slow breathing
  • Refrain from talking

Larger Bullet Samana Excess: Energy Too Introverted

  • Choose asana to expand and release energy (increase vyana)
  • Movement-oriented poses such as vinyasa
  • Poses with extension

Larger Bullet Vyana Excess: Energy Fragmented, Diffused or Too Expanded

  • Choose asana to center, contract, consolidate energy (increase samana)
  • Seated meditation
Members,see more information on vayus, prana, and related concepts in Philosophy: Key Concepts.

Move from simple to complex.

And from dynamic to static; external to internal; gross to subtle.

It’s a rare human body that is so resilient that all the asanas come easily and safely, even if appropriately warmed. Take Wheel Pose as an example. Yes, there’s a small fraction of intermediate level students who can easily and safely explore it after some simple warming. But open the hip flexors and thighs, create space and ease along the spine by warming and stretching the spinal erectors, multifidi, and abdominals, and do a variety of shoulder openers... and I assure you all yoga students will find the this asana more accessible, intelligible, and sustainable, and the integrating sequence that follows will take it all a lot deeper. I want teachers to make the practice more accessible to all, to always assume they don’t precisely know the conditions of their students, and to make it altogether less likely that they’ll be featured in William J. Broad’s next New York Timesinstallment on how yoga can wreck your body.– Mark Stephens, Yoga Teacher Magazine, This Amazing Evolution

Larger Bullet Begin with Simple and Mindfully Prepare for Complex

  • Often, teachers are advised to keep their initial centering practice to a particular time limit, such as 8 minutes, in order to ensure students have the opportunity to soon begin simple movement and connecting with their breath.
  • The crux of this principle is to begin with the simplest poses first, moving from easy to difficult and simple to complex.
  • Similarly, teachers may wish to limit their verbal instruction and in-depth alignment teachings at the beginning of class.
  • If the class will include a complex, "peak" pose, the earlier, simpler poses are chosen to specifically prepare the body, as described in the quote above.
  • The most difficult or complex pose(s) occur at the "peak" of class and then students are returned to a balanced state.

Larger Bullet Draw Attention to External and then Internal Effects

  • T, K. V. Desikachar and Gary Kraftsow recommend guiding attention to gross movements and external effects prior to moving to the more subtle and internal ones.

Larger Bullet Consider Dynamic Movement Before Holding Poses

  • The Desikachar lineage advocates moving in and out of a pose with the breath before holding the pose.
  • Such dynamic movement allows the body to open more gently, giving the student more time to assimilate the movement.
  • In addition, it sets the tone of working intimately with the breath so that even when a pose is held, the student can make subtle movements with the breath.

Return to balanced & neutral condition.

Larger Bullet Neutralizing vs Counterposes

  • Most sources use the terms "neutralize" and "counterpose" interchangeably, recommending that we neutralize the effects of a pose with a counterpose.
  • Some sources differentiate between these effects.

Larger Bullet Neutralizing Poses

  • Rodney Yee defines "neutral poses" as those that allow for natural spinal curves and a sense of ease (Moving Toward Balance © 2004 p 356).
  • When neutralizing poses are recommended, it is with the intention that they follow poses of a specific spinal movement, such as backbending, before embarking on a new type such as twisting or forward bending.
  • Neutralizing poses can also serve the purpose of allowing students time to "pause and feel" the effects of previous poses.
  • Another way to think of neutralizing is in relation to asymmetrical poses. After practicing both sides, a symmetrical pose invites a sense of balance.
  • Yee provides examples of neutral poses that include Virasana (Hero), Dandasana (Staff), Happy Baby andTadasana (Mountain).

Larger Bullet Counterposes

For any one asana there may be various counterposes possible, depending on where the tension is felt. Whenever we feel excessive tension in any area of the body after a posture, we must try to alleviate it with a counterpose; that is, the simplest asana that relieves the tension. The counterpose for a powerful forward bend is a gentle back bend. – T.K.V. Desikachar

* * *

Don't alternate back and forth between forward bends and back bends. It is true that one good way to wind down from a session of back bends is to use a few gentle forward bends to recover and refresh the spine. However, one way that yoga was taught, especially in the early days of yoga in the West, was that you should alternate "pose and counter-pose," moving back and forth between a forward bend and a back bend to move the spine in both directions.  Generally this isnot a good practice... One pose should lead you into the next pose by means of its similarity with the next pose, not by means of opposition. – Brad Priddy

  • Perhaps the most fundamental guideline for choosing counterposes is as Desikachar teaches: to use the simplestasana to relieve tension created from previous poses.
  • T. K. V. Desikachar provides in-depth coverage and examples of counterposes in The Heart of Yoga ©1995 pgs 25-37.
  • In 5 Common Sequencing Errors, Kathryn Heagberg describes the risk of, for example, hugging knees to chest immediately following a deep backbend.

Mindfully choose poses & build segments.

This principle points to the need to have a purpose behind every chosen pose and a clear reason for sequencing it where it appears.

A Purpose for Every Pose

When I train teachers, I always ask, “Why did you select that particular pose?”  If they can’t answer, I make them go back to the drawing (sequencing) board. – Bernadette Birney, Teachasana, 6 Sequencing Guidelines

Follow—and Understand—the Rules Before Making Changes

Nowadays, most 200-hour teacher trainings give aspiring asana teachers a class outline of some sort, providing a basic sense of when to do what. In general, it’s a good idea to follow those rules—and to really understand them—before you decide to change it up and do something different. In other words, don’t do anything randomly, and don’t sacrifice safe sequencing for creative choreography. Basically, if you’re going to deviate from the sequencing guidelines you’ve been taught, have a legitimate, anatomically sound reason for doing so. Don’t set aside the safety and integrity of your class for the sake of throwing in something neat you saw on YouTube. – Kathryn Heagberg, Yoga International, 5 Common Sequencing Errors

Prioritize Safety Over Artistry

Leslie Kaminoff brings up an excellent point in his video: yoga sequencing is not the same as choreography. In choreography, the goal is artistic expression and choices are dictated by elegance and aesthetic appeal. Of course, it’s nice when a yoga class flows gracefully, but that is not the main goal. We do not practice yoga to look pretty while we are at it, but to get some benefit, whether it’s physical, physiological of psycho-emotional. The way we arrange poses and other elements in a yoga practice is determined by what we want to accomplish and how we can get there effectively with minimum risk to the body. – Olga Kabel, SequenceWiz, How to Sequence a Class for Shoulderstand

Larger Bullet Choosing & Arranging Poses

Poses are chosen for such reasons as to warm up a body part, to imprint an anatomical action via a pose that is less demanding than one to come, to neutralize between different spinal movements, to counter the effects of a deep pose, to heat, to cool, etc.

Larger Bullet Peak Pose Sequencing

As yoga teachers we have the responsibility to both analyze the biomechanics of movement in any difficult posture and try to foresee potential risks that it has for the body. Then we need to prepare our students for that particular pose and do our best to minimize the risk. – Olga Kabel, Sequence Wiz, How to Create a Yoga Practice to Prepare for a Difficult Posture

When sequencing a class featuring a Peak Pose, consider these questions, per Christina Sell:
  • What are the common misalignments of the pose?
  • What parts of the body need to be opened and prepared?
  • What are the key actions required in the pose?
  • What are related poses that share similar shapes and benefits?
And these, per Olga Kabel:
  • What is the position of the spine in the pose? (e.g. Dhanuarasana is a prone symmetrical backbend)
  • What is the spinal action? (e.g. thoracic and lumbar spinal extension)
  • What is the shoulder girdle action? (e.g. shoulders internally rotated & extended back)
  • What is the pelvic girdle action? (e.g. hips extended, knees flexed)
And these per Mark Stephens, Yoga Sequencing © 2012 pgs 45-47:
  • What needs to be open?
  • What needs to be cooperative in allowing that specific opening?
  • What needs to be stable?
  • What are the sources of that stability?
  • What are the basic postural forms & alignment principles of the peak asana?
  • What are the energetic actions of the peak asana?
  • What tension is likely to arise in doing the asanas on the pathway to the peak?
  • What asanas can address the new areas of tension along the pathway to the peak without compromising the warming and opening generated?
When preparing for a Peak Pose, introduce a progressive sequence of poses that educate the student and imprint actions in her body. One option is to include preparation from a supine position:

Pick a pose that has a moderate learning curve, and figure out how to teach the main muscle actions from a supine position during your opening. For example, if you want to teach bakasana (crow pose), cue students to engage the serratus anterior, retract the shoulder blades, keep a strong core and round the spine slightly while placing the knees on the outsides of the triceps. This signals the neuromuscular system to recreate the same actions when the arm balance resurfaces later in the practice. – Joy Keller, IDEA Fitness, Evolve Your Yoga Lesson Plans

Members, for Sample Sequences organized by Pose, Student Type, Energetic Effect, Theme and more, seeIndex of Class Plans/Sequences.

Larger Bullet Segments

Once you have warmed-up and begun to engage in the heart of your yoga session, if it is an active session, you will generate a certain amount of heat. You want to maintain this heat for the duration of the active part of your session because it lends to the flexibility of your spine and body in general and keeps you mentally prepared for engaging in active asana work. Once you begin to cool down from your session, it is not good to have any more heating or active poses. Rather, you should gently move your body into preparation for Savasana...


Ultimately whether a pose is heating (active) or cooling (passive) may depend not on the pose itself, but on the level of the practitioner. For instance, in general Sirsasana is heating and Sarvangasana is cooling, however someone with a regular, lengthy Sirsasana practice may find Sirsasana very relaxing and cooling, especially for brief periods in the pose. Almost all poses with a Jalandhara Bandha-type chin lock (e.g. SarvangasanaHalasanaSetu Bandha, and Viparita Karani) are cooling to the brain and body. After doing poses in which the chin is in Jalandhara Banda, no more active poses should be done because these are cooling for the body and brain. Progress from these poses on to Savasana. – Brad Priddy

It can be challenging for newer teachers to accomplish all intentions within a confined time and ensure an overall arc to class, from warm up to a peak intensity and back down. To move the spine in all directions, consider all joints and neutralize throughout class while weaving in a theme and providing an overall balanced or intentional class, it's easy for a class to "get away from you."
Therefore, you may wish to consider length (or proportion of lengths) of each segment of class. This will help to avoid having a backbending series take too long or finding that the proportion of standing vs. seated poses doesn't feel right or that the cool down is rushed or Savasana too short. Depending upon the style and intention for class, timing might vary quite a lot but mindfulness can keep it feeling balanced and effective.
One starting place from which to create your own timing follows:
  • Welcome, Opening, Warm Up: 15–20%
  • Heat Building, Standing Poses: 20–25%
  • Inversions, Arm Balances, Floor Poses: 20–25%
  • Cooling, Slowing Down: 15–20%
  • SavasanaPranayama, Meditation, Closing: 15–20%
If you're interested in using this type of timing framework, see Class Checklist for a grid with sample timing.

Conclude with Savasana.

  • It's universally recommended that asana practice conclude with Savasana (Corpse) in order for students to integrate the benefits of the practice before transitioning to their next activity.
  • Savasana is also a restorative posture designed to release attachment to the body and encourage access to one’s higher Self.
  • Some teachings note that it takes at least fifteen minutes to fully relax.
  • Another common guideline is to design a practice that includes 5 minutes of Savasana for every 30 minutes ofasana.

More Ideas

The following are ideas, tips and considerations for class sections. Some of these ideas may not be relevant to all styles. And some are shortened versions of the principles described above, placed here in the context of planning sections of class.

Larger Bullet Opening

  • Create an opening that gives an opportunity for students to center themselves.
  • Keep opening to a particular length, such as 8 minutes or less.
  • You may wish to introduce a theme here.

Larger Bullet Warm Up

  • Meet students where they are energetically. For example, if students appear tired or lethargic, you may choose to begin with poses on the floor and/or poses that have a slow and gentle rhythm. And if students have excess energy, you might choose to begin with standing poses or poses that require more focus or energy.
  • Use dynamic movement during warm up.
  • Avoid too much verbal instruction before students have a chance to move their bodies and become attuned to their breath and inner state.
  • Avoid static holds, seated forward bends and in-depth alignment teachings until students have a chance to become attuned to their breath and inner state.
  • If you did not introduce a theme during the Opening, you may wish to do so here.

Larger Bullet Heat Building

Larger Bullet Floor Poses

Larger Bullet Savasana

  • Consider calculating a Savasana length of 5 minutes for every 30 minutes of asana
See Yoga Sequences , Class Plans & Planning Tools for much more support.