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, for example, every class is comprised of a sequence of 26 poses (asanas) that do not change. The principle is that this allows you to focus on your breathing and the quality of your asanas rather than navigating an ever-changing sequence of postures. Ashtanga yoga is similar, with 41 standard asanas.

But does this mean 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. 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; it is this variety that keeps yoga fresh.

Reasons to Use a Yoga Sequence

Still, there are practical and good reasons for placing some postures ahead of others and following a yoga sequence.

  • Safety: Many teachers will begin practice with floor asanas to gradually loosen tendons, muscles, and ligaments before launching into standing postures.
  • Balance: Other teachers will routinely follow certain poses (particularly those involving the spine or major joints) with counterposes. For example, Fish pose may follow a Shoulderstand 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. Instead, classes are structured around a particular theme, with one pose leading to the next through similarity rather than opposition.

Choosing the Right Yoga Practice for You

Different teaching styles attract different people. Try 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 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 practice that focuses on stretching the body. There are no set poses or 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: In Vinyasa yoga—also known as "flow"—poses flow from one to 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. 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?

When you set an intention, 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 instinctively.

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, such as backbends and hamstring stretches, once you are fully warm.
  • 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 or written down. 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 sequence. 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.

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.