Great sequences have the power to delight, transform, and elevate.
Traveling through a wonderful sequence is like experiencing a hero’s journey — with all its ups, downs, and life-altering discoveries.
In a powerful sequence, there will likely be:
- Moments of exertion and intensity matched by moments of pause and reflection.
- Quicker cadences followed by slow, deliberate pacing.
- Tried and true poses alongside out-of-the-box variations.
- A narrative arc, if you will.
If you’re a yoga teacher still finding your voice, know that the crafting of a yoga sequence is a chance to draw out your most creative self. At the same time, you get to honor the tradition and lineages you’ve studied. It’s a beautiful balance.
When it comes to sequencing, no ONE FORMULA will work better than the rest. For that reason, it’s helpful to have a few strategies in your pocket — especially when you’re first getting started.
This guide will share my 5 best tips for sequencing Vinyasa yoga classes. I also include 5 sequencing methods that my teacher trainees have found helpful over the years. Think of this as Sequencing 101.
Hi, I’m Leigha Butler 👋🏽 I’ve run a yoga channel on YouTube since 2006 where my classes have been viewed about 6 million times to date. This doesn’t at all mean you should listen to me! But here’s why I believe I’m qualified to write this article…
It’s because one of the most common questions I get is from yoga teachers asking how I come up with sequences.
The truth is, I adore sequencing. And it just so happens that I’ve thought a lot about it over the years creating curricula and teaching YTT Sequencing modules when I owned my yoga studio and led trainings.
Creative sequencing is one of things I love to do on my yoga membership portal.
Alright, back to the goods!
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5 Tips for Sequencing a Vinyasa Yoga Class
Sequencing Tip #1
Establish a (Very) Firm Foundation in Asana
Know your poses inside and out
Individual asanas are the essential ingredients in your sequencing recipes! For this reason, you’ll need a really solid working knowledge of yoga’s foundational poses plus some awareness of rarer variations.
How do you get such a foundation?
Turn to tried and true resources for asana, like these (my personal favs):
- David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga The Practice Manual I am deeply indebted to this manual for teaching MUCH of what I know about asana. I’ve taught with it many times, and I continue to discover fresh nuances each time I crack it open. Total bonus that it’s spiral bound, so it lies flat if you want to practice with it.
- BKS Iyengar’s Light on Yoga They don’t refer to this as the “bible” for no reason. Iyengar painstakingly features image after image of yoga asana with clear explanations and benefits of each pose.
- Dharma Mittra’s 608 Yoga Poses A beautifully photographed guide to asana
Sequencing Tip #2
Take A LOT of Classes
Get to know what great sequencing feels like
I once heard it said in a graduate teaching pedagogy seminar that the best teachers are great borrowers. That’s because there is no such thing as stealing when it comes to sequencing yoga classes. No one owns Warrior 2 to Peaceful Warrior to Triangle, ya feel me? You can’t even copyright it.
That said, if you find yourself borrowing a particularly creative sequence from someone, I think the respectful thing to do is to give credit (It never, ever hurts to give props).
The point here is: Borrow away! When you take lots and lots of classes, you learn what kind of sequencing you love (and just as helpful, what kind you don’t).
Go to teachers whose classes feel wonderful to you, but it’s also a great idea to mix it up and seek out all sorts of influences to keep fresh inspiration coming.
Some of the best classes out there to take (IMHO):
- Go local. Got a favorite studio? How about trying a new one? The more research, the better.
- AloMoves. 1000s of classes of all durations and intensities with Instagram’s biggest “yoga stars.” But seriously, you can find a lot of yoga movement gold here.
- Glo. I refined my own love for arm balances and inversions with classes by Dice Lide-Klein and Kathryn Budig back in the day.
- Leigha Butler Yoga. Yup. I went there! I believe in what I do, and I’ve been offering weekly 60-min classes on my membership site since 2018. By now the class library is quite large, and I’ve added dozens of shorter classes too! (You can take a free trial here.)
Sequencing Tip #3
Use Your Home Practice As Inspiration
"Put it in your body"
When my former studio co-owner and I conducted yoga teacher trainings, we would share the mantra, “Put it in your body.”
As in: Do the asana. Do the transition. Do the sequence. To do is to know. You gotta feel it for yourself.
Mess around! Hop on your mat and start moving.
No need to abide by convention. Figure out what your body likes and make a note of it. Break rules. Play with things that work. Play with things that don’t. This is how creative sequences are born.
Play around on your mat, and ask these questions:
- What does my body want to do next? Doesn’t matter if it’s a proper asana. Maybe it won’t even have a name.
- Where can I transition from here? Keep asking this over and over…
- What haven’t I done yet? If your goal is to offer a well-rounded experience, be sure you’re hitting all the major angles.
- At what point should I “punctuate” this? “Taking a vinyasa” is just one way to punctuate between sides. Or you could return to Mountain Pose. Or come up with any neutral position to put a proverbial period on the end of a sequence.
- How can I deepen the sequence I just did? You’ve warmed up for… something. What is it?
Sequencing Tip #4
Experiment with Different Formats
Try These 5, For Example (#s 1 + 5 are what I recommend most):
Good sequencing has a guiding logic.
You DO NOT have to have every single movement pre-planned (I think that would be a mistake). Still, it’s nice to have at least some sense of direction as you dive in to teach.
Try These 5 Formats to Organize Your Sequence or Class:
- The “Spark”: Credit to my former co-lead trainer Jacquelyn Nash. The two of us taught “the spark” many times together. It works like this: Let the logic of your class flow from a singular inspiration or focus. The “spark” could be…
- A body part (heart, hips, feet…)
- A transition (your own or someone else’s that you found inspiring)
- A pose (Could be a pinnacle pose, definitely doesn’t have to be)
- A concept or idea (from the Sutras or otherwise. Feel free to borrow mine right here:)
- The gunas
- The chakras
- The elements
- The ocean
- “All the angles”
- The sage Visvamitrasana, the story of Hanuman, etc.
- An emotion
- If you can think of it, you can create a class or sequence around it
- The Deepening Method (AKA The “3 Pass Method”):
- Create a 3-7 pose sequence.
- Repeat it two more times, making it more challenging or adding variations (such as binds) each time you pass
- The Riffing Method:
- Create 1 sequence
- Repeat it, peppering in new poses or arm variations each time
- This is different from deepening (above) because you are inserting new poses in between and are therefore creating a new pattern each time through
- The Ladder Method:
- Start with 1-3 poses
- Add a new pose or pose pairing each time you repeat the sequence
- Repeat as many times as you like
- The Observe Method:
- This one takes the most experience, but it’s not impossible. Truly, it has become my own favorite method (and the fav of many teachers I know)
- From a “spark” (above), craft a single transition or sequence
- As you cue, observe your students — their energy level, their alignment, their body language, their needs as you perceive them — and decide what to do next based on this sensory feedback
- I’d argue that this is the best way to structure a class because it keeps you absolutely present with your students. However, there’s no doubt that it takes practice and lots of confidence (which blossoms over time, I promise)
Sequencing Tip #5
Make Use of Resources
But don't let them sap you of your originality
Every year that I taught YTT, I ended up having a few trainees who were especially dedicated and studious. Sometimes this desire to do well bordered on anxious or neurotic. And this is what would happen to students like this when it came to sequencing:
- They’d make heavy use of all of the resources I’m about to share with you at the expense of their present-mindedness and innate creativity
- They had a hard time NOT working from notes when it came time to teach classes
- They would spend hours writing out sequences A true waste of time if you want my honest opinion (maybe the first few times you can do this, but after that your prep need not take more than 20 mins)
- They’d stress about teaching instead of enjoying themselves And guess what. Students feel this!
That’s why I offer the BIG CAVEAT: Know these resources are out there, but use them sparingly.
Resources for Sequencing (But don't get stuck relying on them):
- Mark Stephens Yoga Sequencing A helpful manual when you need inspiration and organizational guidance
- Yoga Journal Sequence Builder
- Sequencing Apps Ultimately, I don’t believe you need someone else to create a sequence for you. Sure, it can be helpful or inspirational to see what others are doing. But you’ve imbibed enough yoga, I’m guessing, to tap into your own wisdom and creativity when it comes to sequencing. Have at it! Sink until you swim.
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To Wrap Up Our Sequencing Talk For Now:
As important as great structure can be, some of the best classes are total jazz. Meaning: They’re improv and sometimes go off the rails into wild, ecstatic chaos!
Once you know the poses inside and out — and once you’ve put your own body, mind, and heart through enough yoga moves — you will truly get to know what’s going to work and what’s not in a class.
If I can leave you with one sentiment, it’s: Prepare a little, trust yourself more. Your students will have fun if you’re having fun too.
I know it can be scary, but you’ve got this. Start small. Don’t be ashamed of relying on common sequences (like that good ol’ Warrior 2 > Peaceful > Triangle). Experiment. Be willing to fail sometimes.
Most of all, do your best to stay present with students.
Your own sequencing style will blossom over time.
Leigha Butler is the founder of LBY, an online portal for yoga lovers who want to take their practice to new heights. Stay superlatively supple and strong for life. You can learn more or sign up for a free trial right here.