The 5 Principles For Sequencing Any Yoga Class

Jan 23, 2018

When I was 20, I read a story about a relationship between Guruji (the late Sri K Pattabhi Jois) and a young man in a wheel chair.

Guruji’s fame at yoga has spread in southern India and a family brought their child to Guruji.

For many, the child, sitting in a wheel chair, was a shock as to how to teach him yoga poses.

Guruji on the other hand, simply picked up the young man, and laid him down on the ground and began to move his body through the healing sequence entrusted to him by his teacher, Trimuali Krishnamacharya.

A sequence of postures known as "Ashtanga."

Sequencing is like writing a song really. And the great Vamana Rishi who was the first to connect the concept of VinYasa with Asana. Or the idea of Flow (VinYasa) as it has been understood in musical expression of chants to the divine in the musical language of Sanskrit, with the idea of physical poses.

Vamana Rishi said: "Vina VinYasa Yoga Asanadin NaKriyat" - 'Without Flow Yoga Pose Should Not Be Taken.'

Vamana Rishi is encouraging practitioners to notice the connection between physical poses one takes, and the manner in which one enters and exists poses.

This premise of yoga practice is shared not only in Ashtanga Yoga, but in Sivananda and Bikram. Yoga practices that exemplify ideas about sequencing simply because they have been around as a sequence for at least 100 years, and regular practitioners enjoy a stress free and disease free lifestyle.

Over the last twenty years of practicing and teaching I have discovered that Ashtanga, Bikram and Sivananda follow similar principles, even though their "sequencing" is very different, and their style is far apart form each other.

What is the difference between a principle and a sequence?

A sequence lays out an order of poses, such as cobra, half locust, full locust, floor bow. These 4 poses together systematically work the spine from the low back, to the upper back, to the middle section of the back, then the entire spine as a whole.

Here we see VinYasa in the aspect that each pose prepares the body to "sing" the next pose (or "note") with harmony, while maintain harmony across all poses.

This is true in Ashtanga, with Janu Sirsasana A then B, then C.

Principles is looking at poses as a group rather than individual. Principle require more open mind, and personalization of the specific poses based on our experience, knowledge, and savdhaya or reading.

Here are principles that are shared across Bikram, Ashtanga and Sivananda Yoga.

Standing poses are just for warm up - Bikram is the most direct in his dialogue when he says, 45 minute into the class, after the 13th pose and everyone is lying down in 'savasana.'
"Everything up until not was a warm up!"
Even in Ashtanga all 6 series start with the same sun salutation and standing series.
This principle also points out that standing poses should take no more than half the length of practice.

Hip opener poses BEFORE backbends – like ‘pigeon’ (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana), or ‘double pigeon’ (Dwi Pada Kapotasana) – hip opening poses actually help make back bends easier, safer, and smoother.

Backbend are the most important poses in yoga – as moving forward people, we sit in chairs. It is important for us to bend our spine backwards regularly. Watch kids. Their body contorts in all kind of shapes until we make them sit in chairs for 3-4 years in preparation for more years in spine limitation.

Forward bends balance backbends - they also calm the mind and massage the core. You can start with forward bends, like ‘bound angle’ (Baddha Konasana), or you can have them at toward the end.

Twists – like ‘sage twist’ (Marichiasana) are great to balance out backbends, they also complement forward bends.

Armed with these principles let me share with you what I learned at the end of my first teacher training back in 2000. My instructor, John DeMinico left me with a few principles that I have discovered is also shared by all 3 styles of yoga, and also simplifies the proceed in creating a sequence for 'preventative maintenance.' i.e. to help the body become more efficient with regular practice and across years.

There are 5 simple steps in this sequence builder technique:

Center - get the room (or yourself) in a state of connection. This happens through the breath in the styles mentioned. 
Sun Salutation - Bikram first breathing and half moon pose can be considered a form of sun salutation.
Standing poses - whether standing on 1 leg or 2. Intelligent choices of which poses go together can be learned from looking at the specific poses used in each style.
Floor poses - here it is important that the spine moves in all 3 direction. Forward, Backward, Twist.
How many poses to choose from each spine action is different from style to style.
But they all share this principle of moving spine in all 3 directions.
Savasana - this is the most important pose in all 3 styles of Yoga.

The breath is THROUGH THE NOSE! You never breath out of the mouth, unless it is in very specific breathing poses. In Bikram the 2 breathing poses use the exhale through the mouth, the rest of the practice the breath is through the nose.
Ashtanga maintains the same breath with soft sound throughout the whole practice, only through the nose.
Sivananda breath is also through the nose, yet no sound.

Principles help clear the dust of the glass that shows the map.
The practice itself the the experience of following the poses on the map of the style you have chosen.

30 day practices are very educational. Approach the practice from the fresh eyes of a child playing the game as if for the first time each time. Try Ashtanga, Bikram and Sivananda, individually, every day for 30 days (Ashtanga you get Saturdays and Moon Days off, but not in the other 3 styles).

Send me an email and let me know what you learned! [email protected]

I hope these simple principles help you when navigating through the wide range of yoga poses available today.

Have fun creating sequencing, though ask yourself 'WHY am I making this sequence?' And then you can decide, do I enjoy the way Ashtanga does it? Bikram? Sivananada? How do I improvise on a sequence (song) that is proven to be very effective?

In my courses you learn the answer to this and much more.

If you are interested, visit and check out of variety of yoga courses that provide you with Yoga Alliance CE credits.