In What Order Should You Do Yoga Poses?

Rational sequencing is based largely on the yoga you practice

Yoga class in various poses

Thomas Barwick / Stone / Getty Images

There is a common perception that there is a "right" way to sequence a yoga class. 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, 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. The 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.

Diversity in Yoga Practices

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.

It is for this reason that 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 headstands should be practiced 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.

Rationale Sequencing of Poses

With that being said, there are practical reasons for placing some postures ahead of others. For safety reasons alone, many teachers will begin practice with floor asanas to gradually loosen tendons, muscles, and ligaments before launching into standing postures.

Other teachers will standardly follow certain poses (particularly those involving the spine or major joints) with counterposes. For example, a shoulder stand may be followed by the fish 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. With Iyengar yoga, for example, the concept of pose-counterpose is outright rejected and consider detrimental to a practice. Instead, classes are structured around a particular theme with one pose leading to the next by means of its similarity rather than its opposition.

Choosing the Right Yoga for You

Different teaching styles attract different people. If you are someone who prefers greater structure to your practice, Ashtanga or Bikram may be the better option for you. If, on the other hand, 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.

Practicing 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.

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.
  • Once you are fully warm, you can move into deeper poses 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.

Was this page helpful?