how-to-sequence-a-yoga-class Photo: Joanne Highland demonstrating a Mountain Pose | Photo by Americas Dot Surf

Tips on How to Sequence a Yoga Class For Beginners

Every yoga teacher training course covers sequencing as part of their curriculum, providing many strategies instructors can use to offer engaging yoga classes. As a newly certified teacher, I remember feeling eager to put this knowledge to work and inspired to craft innovative sequences with creative transitions and exciting flows.

However, I soon discovered that nearly every time I constructed a class I thought would engage my students, I had to throw my plan out the window as soon as I began. I quickly realized my fancy flow would not serve a class with several beginners present.

Fresh out of a yoga teacher training, where I practiced alongside other experienced yogis and teacher trainees, I lost some connection to yoga’s beautiful simplicity.

As yoga teachers, we want to provide students with an engaging, safe, and meaningful experience. The aim is to balance challenging them in some ways while ensuring they don’t become overwhelmed – especially true when working with beginner-level students new to yoga. You want them to return to your class, after all!

In my years of teaching yoga, I’ve learned that an engaging class does not always require fancy pose variations or exciting new transitions between asanas. Sure, it’s lovely to change up your patterns and sequences occasionally, but there’s also a lot of value in revisiting the basics with your beginning students.

So, let’s take a few steps back to the foundations of asana practice and explore the fundamentals of sequencing. Join me as I share my insights and practical tips for crafting a beginner-friendly yoga class.

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Building a Beginner-Friendly Yoga Class

If you’re a newly certified yoga teacher, you might not feel completely confident in your ability to think on the fly. Even after several years of teaching, I sometimes like to keep a general idea in mind for the direction of my classes. Having a loose plan for your class when you’re a new teacher can help you feel more confident and grounded in leading beginners through their first yoga flows. 

You may find it helpful to revisit the standard sequence for constructing a class, as taught in many yoga teacher training programs: 

  • Presencing: Use this time at the beginning of the class to help your students focus their attention on the yoga practice ahead. 
  • Warm-up: Transition into gentle movements that warm up and mobilize key muscle groups and areas of the body used in the primary movement practice. 
  • Movement: This is the main event in terms of sequencing, whether a series of Hatha poses, a Vinyasa flow, or another type of sequence. 
  • Cool-down: During this transition, guide your students through a few deep stretches or counterposes to balance out the previous movement. This time is really about preparing for the integration period to follow.
  • Final rest: Close the class with a few minutes of quiet, reflective time or guided meditation while in Savasana or another restorative pose.

Sequencing a whole yoga class becomes much less overwhelming when broken down into these clear sections. Depending on the length of your class, you’ll likely cover a handful of poses in the opening and closing (warm-up and cool-down) sections. 

Now, you only have to focus on constructing the main movement section.


Practical Sequencing Tips for Beginners

When I’m preparing to teach a yoga class geared toward beginners, here are some approaches I have found to be successful. These tips will help you have a clear vision for your class construction while accommodating your beginner-level students.

Use a Peak Pose Structure

This type of yoga sequence highlights one primary asana you work towards gradually. A peak pose sequence gives you a clear destination while offering flexibility in arriving there. It’s an excellent structure for beginners, as each posture you use in the sequence builds on the one before it at a manageable pace. 

Remember that a “peak pose” doesn’t have to be super advanced like an inversion or arm balance. Tree (Vrksasana) or Triangle (Trikonasana) are fantastic peak pose choices for beginners.

With this strategy, your students will build their knowledge of fundamental asanas in the warm-up. Then, they’ll benefit from the challenge of the peak pose, where you may spend some time workshopping the alignment of the posture.

Work With a Theme

Choosing a theme for your sequence is another effective way to give yourself some direction in planning the class while leaving room to accommodate your students’ abilities. You might take inspiration from different pose categories – for example, “balancing” or “forward folds” – or focus on a targeted muscle group or physical goal, like “core strength” or “hip opening.” Then, choose a few poses that fit your theme and arrange them into a sequence. 

The idea behind working within a theme is to narrow your choices of poses to include in your sequence. With all the pose variations that have emerged with the expansion of contemporary yoga, we now have hundreds of poses to choose from when building a sequence! Adhering to a specific category of postures will help you avoid overcomplicating things and potentially overwhelming your beginning students.

Expand a Sequence

If you want your beginning students to flow, use a simple sequence you can build on gradually. The classic Sun Salutation is always popular, but you should scale it back even more and begin with a Half Sun Salutation. 

First, guide your students through a few rounds of your sequence slowly. Spend a few breaths in each pose to give detailed alignment cues and familiarize your students with each asana. Then, guide them through a few slow flows, transitioning smoothly between the poses. 

Depending on how your students pick up the movement, you can add another pose or two to expand the sequence. For example, add a Standing Crescent side-body stretch or Chair pose at the beginning of a Half Sun Salutation. 

This strategy allows you to advance the difficulty or keep it scaled back based on how your students respond to the initial sequence.


Personal Teaching Insights

Beyond the technicalities of constructing a class, here are a few effective teaching strategies I always keep in mind, especially when teaching a class of beginning yoga students.

Keep It Simple

No matter your approach, my best advice is to remember to keep it simple! Yoga is a multifaceted practice. Along with detailed alignment cues for every posture, we also ask our students to pay attention to their internal state of being – their breath, thoughts, emotions, and energy. On top of that, we throw in lessons in language and philosophy by sharing Sanskrit terminology and sprinkling in some yogic wisdom of the yamas and niyamas

It’s a lot to take in, even for experienced yogis! Teaching a more pared-down, less complicated sequence leaves room for absorbing other knowledge inherent to yoga.

Observe and Adjust Accordingly

It might seem obvious, but observe your students! If you have a sequence in your head, you might be more concerned with remembering the next pose. Before you know it, you’re rattling off poses, and brand-new students can get left behind. Instead, watch your students closely to ensure you’re pacing your cues appropriately to their comprehension and experience levels.

Leave Your Ego at the Door

If you’re a newly certified teacher, you might feel the need to “prove” yourself by crafting impressive sequences. But this performance-focused approach is motivated by ego and prevents you from truly connecting with your students, which is what yoga is all about – its root word, yuj, means to “yoke together” or “unite,” after all. 

Watch your students closely and be willing to pivot your class plan to meet their needs and abilities. Your care and attention as a yoga instructor will help your students feel safe and comfortable in your classes.

Accommodating Varying Experience Levels in a Mixed Class

Even when a studio schedule lists your class specifically as “beginner” or “intermediate” level, you may still end up with a group of mixed-level yogis. Perhaps there are students in between levels who want to challenge themselves. Or maybe a beginning-level class is the only one a more experienced student could attend that day, and they decided to participate. 

When this happens, don’t sweat it! Rely on your knowledge and training to offer accommodations to beginning students stepping out of their comfort zone. On the other hand, when guiding a beginner-friendly sequence, you can always include options for more advanced students to challenge themselves. 

Even the most experienced yogis can still benefit from beginner-friendly classes. Their effort may be more internal rather than external. Beginners will concentrate on getting their bodies into the correct position and following the movements. More advanced students already familiar with alignment can focus on other aspects of their practice – mindfulness and breath awareness.

Final Thoughts

What I love most about teaching yoga is guiding beginners through their first yoga sequences. There’s something so fulfilling about seeing a new student have an “A-ha!” moment when they realize the subtleties of alignment in a new pose or watching them discover their natural rhythm of flow.

Ultimately, teaching yoga is the art of holding space for students to have their own meaningful experiences. To me, it’s an act of service. When you meet your students at their appropriate practice level, they’ll feel supported and encouraged to continue their yoga journey. 

Take these insights as your sign to embrace the beauty and simplicity of a few foundational poses, approaching your yoga classes and personal asana practice with a beginner’s mind, full of wonder and enthusiasm for learning.