Sequencing is an art form. Given the right tools, anyone can create a good class by reading bodies and responding to energies. Teachers show up with a specific offering and modify it according to class needs.
If I need to alter my plans for any reason (i.e., If the energy level of the class is low, or everyone is new, or most of the students are injured, I have a simple, nourishing routine that I can use at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, I keep it casual and creative.
Learning from others is a great way to grow. You can expand your repertoire by taking regular classes and observing the way others teach. I highly recommend participating in the 30-Day Yoga Challenge. This is a great opportunity to learn about teaching, and you will pick up a few tips and tricks for vinyasa classes.
I want to see them move, laugh, reconnect, and, most importantly, find their own home within themselves. Here are the blueprints that will help you learn to navigate and sequence a Vinyasa class:
Create a Theme
It is noticeable that classes that are randomly put together have a different feel than classes that progress towards something bigger. We define “peak posture” in teacher training as the pose that determines the rest. The “peak posture” can be anything. However, more advanced poses are usually chosen. Crow, Handstand, Compass, Wheel).
Teachers who are good at this will open and strengthen the muscles needed for the best posture in class. This allows students to be more accessible. The “theme” does not have to be a particular pose.
I have taught classes that focus on compassion and heart-openers. I have also taught classes that emphasize core strength and classes that focus on releasing the breath by using extended holds. There needs to be a small or big thing to inspire and focus the rest of the practice.
Warming Up is Important
Warm-ups are the first introduction to what the teacher will be sharing. Students must connect to their muscles and breathe deeply into their bodies in order to achieve the most difficult poses. Decide on the poses (Crow, Half Moon, or Handstand). Spend some time at the beginning of your practice opening up those muscles.
Holding Planks or Two-Legged Tabletops, I remind the students to channel strength before beginning. This should be a 5-10 minute sequence. Spend time cueing breath.
Sun Salutations can be varied.
Sun Salutations is the ideal place to show off your creativity. Choose two poses that give your class a glimpse of what you’ll be offering.
The second set can be made shorter by jumping straight back into Chaturanga and then stepping back.
Sun Salutations should be done quickly and fluidly so that the class can move around freely. This should again take 5-10 minutes.
Create a strong main sequence.
The main sequence of a good class should be strong and still enough for the students to feel the connection between mind and body. Although there are times that the Warrior pose can be omitted and replaced with lunges or balancing, as a traditionalist, I bring the Warriors into every class.
It doesn’t matter what you do, but it needs to be powerful and explosive to use and strengthen the largest muscle groups in the body.
Here is where your practice pays off. Play around with your Warriors poses and learn transitions and connections that feel good to your body. Please share them with your students.
Keep your hips wide and your thighs engaged. I like to bring the sequence back onto the mat by using a Flying Warrior or Wide Angle Forward fold and then a Peaceful Warrior for the transition. Lizard Lunges and Side Angles will bring the class down to the floor before moving into Side Planks or Chaturanga.
You can also play around with body details: feet (balancing, walking long, or stepping in), hands (stretching fingers and placing them behind the back), gazes (looking upwards, downwards, inwards), and hands. The smallest details can inspire any sequence.
Note on timing: You can make this section as long as you like, or if your goal is to work fast and get a good sweat going, you can repeat this sequence about three times.
First, the class is brought up to Warrior I (or Warrior II) and then sent back into Vinyasa. The second round takes the class through the entire sequence. They may be turned around or held in the poses for longer to help with alignment.
Third round: The second round should be repeated but faster. Introduce something new to the end, such as a balanced pose, like Half Moon or Tree. This will prepare them for the next section. The entire sequence should last about 20 minutes, with one or two breaths per pose. This is usually shorter than expected.
Use your imagination to create new twists and balances
When the class is high-energy, you can bring them into extended holds and neutral hips in order to find stillness. Utkatasana, High Lunge, and Crow Pose are all good transitions. In every phase, I use Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose and Warrior III because they are both great for the inner thighs and hamstrings.
Standing Splits are also great for balance sections, as the fold resets your mind, and the lift challenges your balance. Seated Spinal Twists are also a great addition to my routine. Avoid balancing students on one leg more than three times, as this may cause injury to the SI joints.
You can tell if they are standing on one leg too long if you notice their feet shaking. The whole section should last about 10 minutes, with two or three breaths per pose.
Give a Challenge
Once they have been balanced, invert them or bring them to the peak position. It is possible to include both, but it is not necessary. This is especially true if you add Legs up the Wall or Plow at the end.
Studio policies vary on stopping the class for a demonstration. If you have the opportunity, I would recommend that you take the time to demonstrate the postures. Whatever “peak pose” you choose. Even if it’s an “advanced class,” you should still give clear instructions and props.
This is the perfect place to introduce inversions such as a Tripod or Supported Headstand if you’re not working towards a specific position. If possible, try to incorporate some variations using the legs. Allow them to meditate in Virasana (meditation) and reconnect with the breath after they have finished before introducing heart-openers. This section shouldn’t take more than five minutes.
Bring it back to the heart.
Teachers often prefer to close with heart-openers or folds. Give both to students.
Students will feel stiff if they don’t stretch and reset their spines at the end of the class. Here are some basic notes you should hit: Camel, Bow Bridge, and Wheel. Pick one note and repeat it about three times, adding new options every time. Camel or wheel should be the last option for each section.
Students can also have fun playing on their backbends while lying on their stomachs. Students can stretch their arms or legs in different ways, hold opposite ankles, or even hold them for a long time to increase their heart rate.
Please encourage your students to hold the poses for about ten breaths, but be sure not to restrict their breathing. Give the students about 5-7 minutes, and then let them do a Revolved twist or a Happy Baby to “reset the spine.”
Take the Time to Stay Down
Even the most active students still come to yoga for realignment. This is when we allow them to focus inward. This section requires some thought and planning. Use props, the wall, and hands-on assistance.
Pigeon poses are the most common, but you should also consider Cow Face Pose and Fire Log/Double Pigeon. Revolved head-to-knee is my favorite pose, as it opens the side of the body and hamstrings. The Frog Pose is another option, and Butterfly and Wide Angle Seated Forward Bend can be healing.
You can end your class with a Seated Forward Bend. This will allow students to put all the pieces together before rolling onto their backs in Savasana. This should last between 5-7 minutes, depending on the class.
Savasana offers you two choices: either speak or not speak. Decide carefully, as authenticity is key. Sometimes, I am moved to share an idea or poem, especially when I see the excitement in the classroom. Other times, I have been so eager to convey a message that I broke the silence.
If you need it, a short phrase or poem can have a great deal of meaning for your students. Please refrain from using music to accompany the words. It is time for them to heal. Alone. James Blake did not tell them how to let go.
Send students on their way after observing the breath and a final Om. Allow them to take a moment in a quiet, meditative position so that they can check the connection between mind and body.
While it may seem awkward to stand in front of students as they put away their mats, it is important to remain friendly and approachable, giving individualized feedback about their practice and thanking newcomers.
Each class will have subtle messages about you – what you like, dislike, and need. Watch your creativity grow as you take note of your tendencies. Make it authentic.