5 Common Yoga Sequencing Mistakes Even Experienced Teachers Make

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You know that feeling of exhaustion mixed with satisfaction that comes during Savasana, an exceptional yoga class? I wish all yoga practices were like that.

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

But there are common sequencing mistakes that many teachers make, even when they have mastered the basics. These mistakes can be unpleasant for students and, at the same time, unsatisfying for their minds.

Different people need different things on different days, and there is no foolproof way to create an exceptional experience for every student. The problem is that you are the teacher and you supposedly know best, so students are unlikely to complain. After a couple of disappointing experiences, they will 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 that your students will feel more prepared after class than before it.

5 mistakes in yoga sequences that distract your students

When you create a sequence, you want to challenge your students physically and mentally while also helping them feel purpose and learning. An imbalance between these elements can create an imbalance in their experience.

1. There is no unifying theme or principle

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

We cultivate that purpose by linking postures or practices with a central theme or repeated action in mind. Your purpose might refer to a physical or philosophical concept, whether it’s steady breathing, a solid foundation, a focus, or Drishtieven with an open heart. It could also convey a relevant technical skill on the mat, whether it is focusing on the middle and upper back in twists or maintaining tension in the invisible back leg during standing postures.

A sequence that emerges from a single cohesive concept makes for a very different and more satisfying experience than a class that consists of a variety of postures, even if there is a seemingly logical path to the sequence and the transitions make sense. We help students connect to the topic not only through the postures we choose, but also through the cues we offer, the questions we ask, even the music we choose or a reading we might share. We may even mention or succinctly hint at ways that that topic might be carried beyond the mat.

Without the cohesion of a shared meaning or context, the practice adds nothing to the student’s experience or contributes to the understanding of yoga itself.

2. Getting too attached to your topic

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

3. Repeating too many similar poses in a row

Related to the previous point, even a subject that students appreciate can create a feeling of physical imbalance or exhaustion if that is the predominant type of pose they share in a short period of time.

Consider creating a sequence whose theme is the pursuit of balance. A series of several standing one-legged poses might seem sensible, such as taking students from Chair Pose (Utkatasana) to Figure 4 (Standing Pigeon) and then Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana III), followed by Shiva Squats before bringing them into Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana).

The transitions may appear fluid, but when students finally reach a two-footed pose like Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II), their front leg muscles will likely be fatigued to the point of feeling unstable, which is contrary to the intended lesson.

On a more subtle level, in the same way that a fast-paced film needs quiet moments to allow the audience to catch their breath and consider the stakes, your theme will resonate more vividly when students also have the opportunity to throw their weight behind the mat or props.

4. Putting too much emphasis on novelty

A variation in posture, a transition, a cue, or a new approach to familiar postures can be stimulating. For example, it can be tempting to focus on the most interesting way to adopt a posture rather than the most intuitive way.

Challenging the status quo and encouraging our students to explore new approaches within the safe confines of their mat has its advantages, but there is also power in simplicity and familiarity.

The postures and cues that we teachers consider so basic that they are boring may be something that students have never experienced, heard of, or understood before. Yoga rarely occupies a more central place in our students’ lives than it does in our own.

When yoga practice is based on familiar postures and intuitive transitions, students have plenty of energy and attention to absorb the new information that is also offered to them. Therefore, novelty should be a small part of any sequence, not the main component. Your sequence can provide space for one or two new things, usually related to your focus. That’s enough.

5. Not practicing the sequence before teaching it

The way a sequence looks on paper is not exactly the same as how it translates into the body. No matter how well a sequence may seem to express your theme, it is essential to walk through it on the mat before sharing it.

When the sequence comes solely from the brain and not the body, there is a greater chance of a disconnect between what is being taught and what the learner is feeling. The cues for a transition may be inaccurate, or the sequence may inadvertently overload a body part. That error can have the unfortunate effect of distracting, exhausting, or even frustrating learners.

For example, a twist-focused sequence might inadvertently lead students into prolonged bent-knee standing poses such as Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Revolved Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana), High Lunge, Revolved Half Moon Pose (Parivrtta Anjaneyasana), Warrior 3, and Revolved Half Moon Pose (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana). Students likely felt fatigue in their legs and hips before the end of class.

Likewise, if you don’t practice a novel transition before you teach it, you may not be able to anticipate when students might need supports or anticipate how confusing and overwhelming it will be in practice.

There is no single prescribed way to create a practice that suits every student, but avoiding these mistakes can help make your experience less frustrating and more meaningful, which has effects that go far beyond a memorable Savasana.