How to Build a Yoga Sequence

Yoga class in various poses

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There is a common perception that there is a "right" way to perform a yoga sequence. This is especially true with some types of yoga in which the order of poses is set, usually because of an underlying principle that governs the practice.

With Bikram yoga, you are assigned a sequence of 26 poses (asanas) that you are meant to adhere to. The principle is that, by doing so, you can focus on your breathing and the quality of your asanas rather than navigating an ever-changing sequence of postures. Similar is seen with Ashtanga yoga, in which there are 41 asanas.

But should this suggest that there a "right" way to sequence asanas or that a more free-form approach is inherently wrong? It depends largely on how you view yoga.

Factors that Affect Your Yoga Sequence

Yoga is ultimately about discovery. It is why instructors are referred to as "teachers," and workouts are described as "practices." With yoga, you are meant to gain insight from everyone you work with (including other students), which you can apply to your own practice. As such, yoga is an individual experience with different and unique forms of expression.

For this reason, no one set of rules can be applied to every type of yoga; for instance, in his book "Light on Yoga," B.K.S. Iyengar says that you should practice headstands at the beginning of a yoga class. In Pattabhi Jois's Ashtanga practice, the headstand is reserved for the latter part of the 90-minute primary series.

Is either approach "right?" In the end, they both are, and it is this variety that keeps yoga fresh.

Reasons to Use a Yoga Sequence

With that being said, there are practical and good reasons for placing some postures ahead of others and following a yoga sequence.

  • Safety reasons: Many teachers will begin practice with floor asanas for safety reasons alone to gradually loosen tendons, muscles, and ligaments before launching into standing postures.
  • Balance poses with counterposes: Other teachers will standardly follow certain poses (particularly those involving the spine or major joints) with counterposes. For example, the fish may follow a shoulder stand to provide a counter stretch for the neck. Similarly, after a series of backbends, it is often nice to do a forward bend to help release the lower back.

But, even then, there are no hard-and-fast rules. For example, with Iyengar yoga, the concept of pose-counterpose is outright rejected and considered detrimental to a practice. Instead, classes are structured around a particular theme, with one pose leading to the next through its similarity rather than its opposition.

Choosing the Right Yoga for You

Different teaching styles attract different people. Try from a range of yoga styles to find the one that suits you best in the moment.

  • Ashtanga: Ashtanga yoga has participating yogis follow any one of six sequences. This yoga style has a determined order, which teachers can help lead in class.
  • Bikram: Bikram yoga consists of 26 set postures, and two pranayama breathing exercises, all of which are performed in a heated room.
  • Hatha: Hatha yoga is a gentle yoga that includes static poses, and places an importance on breathing and meditation.
  • Restorative: Restorative yoga is a freestyle yoga and focuses on stretching the body. There are no set poses or a required series.
  • Power: Power yoga is related to both Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga, and teachers have the freedom to select the order of poses. You can expect each class to be different.
  • Vinyasa: Vinyasa yoga—also known as "flow"—helps one pose flow from one into another. This is a more freestyle approach where you can adjust the sequence of flows in each practice.

If you prefer greater structure to your practice, Ashtanga or Bikram may be the better option for you. On the other hand, if you embrace a more freestyle approach, vinyasa or power yoga can help expand your practice by exposing you to a wider variety of poses.

Although some instructors or classes complete yoga poses in a certain order, there is no right or wrong order or way to do yoga. You simply need to explore which type (or types) of yoga speaks to you as an individual.

Practice Yoga Sequences at Home

When practicing at home, you can direct your sequence of poses by setting your intention first. Identify what you are hoping to achieve with the practice.

A sense of balance and calm? A release of tension in your back? Greater control in your breathing and flow of movement? By setting your intention first, the poses have a way of revealing themselves.

Consider your goals, write down the list of poses that will help you achieve them, and find an order that makes most sense for your flow. You might want to complete your yoga sequence from easiest to hardest. Or, you might want to simply go with the flow and transition from pose to pose as you proceed with the workout.

You will then need to ensure that you enter the practice safely. To this end:

  • Start with gentle stretching before warming up with some standing postures or sun salutations.
  • Move into deeper poses once you are fully warm, such as backbends and hamstring stretches.
  • End the practice by cooling down with some relaxing poses (such as forward bends or gentle twists) before settling into savasana.

Whatever postures you choose, listen to your body, and you will always make the right choice.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you build a yoga sequence?

You can build a yoga sequence by first understanding what your goals are. Keeping safety in mind and balancing your poses with the appropriate counterposes, you can build a yoga sequence that will work the muscle groups you're targeting and the movement goals you have.

What is the name for a sequence of yoga positions?

A sequence of yoga poses is also known as a vinyasa. This sequence is a flow of singular poses—or asanas—that flow from one to the next.

How do you sequence a yoga class?

If you're a yoga teacher, or creating a flow for yourself, sequencing a yoga class can be beneficial before beginning. Consider your goals for the practice and build a sequence around the purpose of the class. Begin with easy poses and build up to more difficult asanas. Balance each posture with a counter-posture, which will target alternating body parts.

How can you remember yoga sequences?

If you're teaching a class, it's important to have your yoga sequence memorized. Split up your class into smaller yoga sequences, and memorize each section by repeating the order to yourself. Add in additional smaller sequences until you build up to a full flow.

If it's a freestyle class, don't be nervous if you miss an intended flow. Instead, go with the flow and improvise while keeping safety and goals in mind.

A Word From Verywell

Your personal yoga practice can be customized to best fit your needs. Yoga sequences can also vary depending on the type of yoga as well as the instructor's preference. While it's not always necessary, having a yoga sequence can help with the safety and natural flow of a practice.

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