5 Common Yoga Sequencing Mistakes Even Experienced Teachers Make

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You know that feeling of exhaustion mingled with contentment that happens during Savasana an exceptional yoga class? If only every yoga practice felt this way.

In yoga teacher training (YTT), teachers learn the basic principles of logical sequencing—how to warm up and cool down, when to peak in intensity, maybe even how to concisely and inclusively cue a pose without breaking the rhythm of a vinyasa class.

But there are common sequencing mistakes that many teachers make, even when they’re proficient in the basics. These blunders can feel less than stellar in students’ bodies and equally unsatisfactory to their minds.

Everyone needs different things on different days, and there’s no foolproof way that we can create an exceptional experience for each student. Problem is, you’re the teacher and supposedly know best, so chances are students  aren’t going to complain. After a couple disappointing experiences, they’ll either stop coming, try a different class, or think they just don’t “get” yoga.

But there are things you can do to increase the likelihood of your students feeling more put together after your class than before it.

5 Yoga Sequence Mistakes That Distract Your Students

When you’re creating a sequence, you want to challenge your students in body and mind while also helping them feel a sense of purpose and learning. An imbalance among these elements can create an imbalance in their experience.

1. No Theme or Uniting Principle

The word “vinyasa” is often translated as “to place in a special way” or, as I interpret it, to place with purpose. An effective yoga practice feels as though it has an underlying purpose, meaning, or lesson. It’s so much more than just moving and breathing, which is one of the reasons why practicing yoga with a teacher feels different than simply stretching on the floor while watching Netflix.

We cultivate that purpose by linking poses or practices with a central theme or repeated action in mind. Your purpose could reference a physical or philosophical concept, whether a steady breath, strong foundation, focus or drishti, even an open heart. It could also convey a technical skill relevant on the mat, whether that’s focusing on the mid and upper back in twists or maintaining engagement in your unseen back leg during standing poses.

A sequence that grows from a single cohesive concept generates a very different, and more fulfilling, experience than a class consisting of an assortment of postures, even if there is a seemingly logical trajectory to the sequence and the transitions make sense. We help students connect to the theme via not only the poses we choose but the cues we offer, the questions we ask, even the music we choose or a reading we might share. We may even succinctly mention or hint at the ways that theme could carry beyond the mat.

Without the cohesion of a shared meaning or context, the practice lends no insight to the student’s experience. Nor does it add to anyone’s understanding of yoga itself.

2. Adhering Too Rigidly to Your Theme

Although a central theme provides depth and meaning to a class, it is possible to overdo it. Students come expecting a reasonably well-rounded experience. At least some of your students will already be familiar with or only mildly interested in what you teach, both in terms of the poses and their related concepts. If your entire sequence adheres exclusively to that theme, such as backbends even in standing poses, they may leave feeling that the class wasn’t for them.

3. Repeating Too Many Similar Poses in a Row

Related to the previous point, even a theme that students appreciate can create a feeling of physical imbalance or exhaustion if that’s the predominant type of pose that you share in a short span of time.

Think of creating a sequence themed to finding your balance. A series of several one-legged standing poses might seem to make sense, such as taking students from Chair Pose (Utkatasana) to Figure 4 (Standing Pigeon) to Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana III) followed by Shiva Squats before taking them into Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana).

The transitions may seem fluid, but by the time students finally land in a two-footed pose like Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II), their front leg muscles will probably be fatigued to the point of feeling unstable, which is contrary to your intended lesson.

On a more subtle level, in the same way that a fast-paced movie needs moments of quiet to let the audience catch their breath and consider what is at stake, your theme will resonate more vividly when students also have the opportunity to surrender their weight to the mat or props.

4. Overemphasizing Novelty

A novel pose variation, transition, cue, or new-to-you approach to familiar poses can be exhilarating. It can be tempting, for example, to fixate on the most interesting way to move into a pose rather than the most intuitive.

There is benefit to challenging the status quo and encouraging our students to explore new approaches within the safe confines of their mat. But there is also power in simplicity and familiarity.

The poses and cues that we teachers might consider to be so foundational as to be boring might be something students have never before experienced, heard, or understood. Yoga is seldom as central in our students’ lives as it is in ours.

When the practice of yoga is built from familiar poses and intuitive transitions, students have energy and attention left over to take in the new information you’re also offering. As such, novelty should be a small portion of any sequence, not the primary component. Your sequence can provide space for one or two new things, usually related to your focus. That’s sufficient.

5. Not Practicing Your Sequence Before Teaching It

How a sequence looks on paper isn’t exactly how it translates to the body. No matter how well a sequence may seem to express your theme, it’s essential to move through it on the mat prior to sharing.

When your sequence stems from your brain alone and not your body, there’s more potential for disconnect between what you’re teaching and what the student is feeling. Your cues for a transition could be inaccurate. Or your sequence might inadvertently overtax a body part. That mistake can have the unfortunate effect of distracting, exhausting, or even frustrating students.

For example, a sequence focused on twisting might inadvertently take students through long holds in too many bent-knee standing poses, such as Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Revolved Chair (Parivrtta Utkatasana), High Lunge, Revolved Crescent (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana), Warrior 3, and Revolved Half Moon (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana). Students probably felt exhausted in their legs and hips before the end of class.

Likewise, if you don’t practice a novel transition before teaching it, you might fail to anticipate when students might need props or not anticipate how confusing and overwhelming it is in practice.

There’s no single prescribed way to create a practice that will suit every student. But avoiding these mistakes can help their experience be less frustrating and more meaningful, which has effects far beyond a memorable Savasana.

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