by Tasha Eichenseher | Aug 31, 2017
If you’ve ever finished a vinyasa class feeling on edge, depleted, and ungrounded, it may have had to do with the way that class was sequenced.
If you’ve ever finished a vinyasa class feeling on edge, depleted, and ungrounded, it may have had to do with the way that class was sequenced—the order and timing of the poses and how they built to a peak, and then flowed to Savasana, explains Natasha Rizopoulos, founder of Align Your Flow Yoga, a senior teacher at Down Under Yoga in Boston, and the guide of Yoga Journal’s new online course, Sequencing 101: Unlock the Power of Every Pose.
“Good sequencing allows students to leave class feeling balanced—energetically, physically, and mentally,” she says. “In contrast, a poorly sequenced class feels physically confusing and energetically unbalanced.” According to Rizopoulos, learning the principles, or building blocks, of good sequencing, either as a teacher or for your own home practice, will give you the creative freedom to modify or tailor your practice and classes based on what you or your students need more or less of in order to make progress. And most importantly, good sequencing will prepare the body and mind for true rest and renewal in Savasana—one of the primary benefits of a yoga practice.
Here, Rizopoulos shares four sequencing faux pas that can leave you or your students feeling the opposite of blissed out.
4 Asana Sequencing Faux Pas
One big mistake that people make with sequencing is that they become wedded to their sequences, explains Rizopoulos. They plan and memorize elaborate classes, but then when they show up to teach, the people they expected to see in class are not there. “You have to teach to the room,” she says. “If your regulars have not shown up and instead you have a room full of people who aren’t familiar with your teaching and are perhaps not as experienced as you expected, you can’t teach what you memorized. That’s bad sequencing.” Instead, says Rizopoulos, learn the building blocks, or what she calls the essential elements, of poses—the actions and suite of poses that build strength and warm-up the body parts you’ll need in a peak pose—and then you can mix and match, depending on who shows up for class and what they are capable of.
Teachers can easily confuse sequencing with choreography, but they are completely different, says Rizopoulos. “Sequencing is based on sound principles of anatomy and alignment; choreography is performance,” she explains. Rizopoulos’s philosophy on this: If someone were to sit down with you and go through every pose in your sequence and ask why it’s there, you should have a reason that is related to your peak pose (not just because it is a fun posture). “If you don’t have a good reason, it doesn’t belong in the sequence,” she says.
3. Stacking Poses
Another sequencing mistake Rizopoulos sees is when teachers stack too many poses on one side. “For one thing, students get exhausted,” she explains. “When students are tired and they run out of steam, they’re not able to move intelligently, and they’re not able to think as creatively about the poses.” Also, if you stack too many poses on one side, all of the alignment gets muddied, she adds. “Each pose should inform the next one and teach you something about that next pose.” For example, these three poses work well together: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II) to Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose) to Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose). They all have the same basic foundation, the legs are externally rotated, and their actions are similar, explains Rizopoulos. Essentially, the legs of Warrior Pose II + the reach of Extended Triangle Pose = Extended Side Angle Pose. But if you add neutral standing poses, such as Warrior I and Warrior III, to the mix before switching sides, it will distract from the actions you need to reach your peak pose, in this case, Extended Side Angle.
4. Neglecting Savasana
Teachers get very excited about their peak pose, often spending the whole class building to that posture, and then right after it saying “OK, Savasana,” says Rizopoulos. But that misses the point, she explains. “In the same way you build up to a peak, you have to cool down to Savasana. My job as a yoga teacher is to give my students good Savasana.” In Rizopoulos’s formula for successful sequencing, the cool down is as important as the buildup.