Sequencing, Theming, and Teaching Shorter ‘Express’ Yoga Classes

Crafting Meaningful Express Yoga Classes: Sequencing, Theming & Teaching Tips

with senior trainer Heather Agnew

Watch the video or scroll down to read all the tips!

Sequencing, Theming, and Teaching Short ‘Express’ Yoga Classes

One of the evolutions that I’ve seen in yoga since I first began practicing is shorter classes. Back in the day, classes were usually 90 to 120 minutes. These days 60-minutes is the norm, but express classes are becoming much more popular, both in the studio or gym, and online.

So, how do you take all the poses, flows, breathwork, and meditation you love and pack them into an express class to have a well-rounded practice and a rich experience of yoga?

What we talk about in this discussion is how to create a theme, a sequence,  and facilitate a 20 to 45-minute class that still provides all the movement, mindfulness, and meditation that students are seeking, in a shorter timeframe, and hopefully without losing the depth of experience and meaningful relaxation that students benefit from so much.

So, let’s dig in.

When teaching shorter yoga classes, you’ll want to create sequences that are effective, balanced, and engaging within the limited time frame, and that can be tricky. Let’s talk about some considerations and ideas for sequencing great shorter yoga classes (20-45 minutes):

1) Focus on a Theme or Intention:

Choose a specific theme or intention for the class. You might focus on a body part, such as hips & shoulders, a skill like balance or ground-to-standing, or an experience like play or relaxation.

Center the sequence around poses that align with the chosen theme.

2) Incorporate Breathwork:

Allocate time for pranayama or breathwork exercises to enhance mindfulness.

Simple techniques like ujjayi breath, 3-part breath, or alternate nostril breathing work well to open or close the practice.

3) Dynamic Warm-Up:

Begin with a brief but effective warm-up to prepare the body for movement.
Include dynamic stretches and joint mobilization exercises that prepare students for your specific theme or sequence. This is particularly important if you are focusing on stronger poses, be sure that through their warmup they are preparing for the movements you have sequenced.

Here time management is really important, you can lose a lot of time with your opening and warm-up, so you’ll have to be diligent in planning and facilitating the start of your class.

4) Sun Salutations or Flow Sequences:

Incorporate a few rounds of sun salutations or a flowing sequence to build heat and link breath with movement.

Be efficient with offering multiple accessible options within your Sun Salutations – that might mean teaching 3 versions of a Sun Salutation, or offering pose options within each round of Sun Salutation

5) Consider The Usual Flow of Your Sequence

If you are teaching a general class, for example Vinyasa Flow, in an express format, you can still rely on your usual sequence.

For example, in Vinyasa Flow, we have warmups, sun salutations, standing poses, balancing poses, seated poses, strengthening and back bending, finishing poses. You can largely stick with this sequence, but you might blend some sequences together, for example – after a few sun salutations you can start to blend some standing poses into your flow.

6) Smooth Transitions:

Ensure smooth transitions between poses to maximize the time available.

Minimize downtime to keep the class flowing.

Make transitions efficient by blocking your sequences. Rather that moving from sitting to standing then back to sitting, you might begin standing, move to sitting, and then reclining.

Turn transitions into techniques. Make your transitions count by turning them into techniques. For example, when transitioning from sitting to reclining, use a few repetitions of a half-roll-back core strengthening technique and then a full-roll-down to come onto the back. It takes only a few breaths, but adds a core strengthening element into your class efficiently.

7) Sequence a Targeted Asana Series:

Depending on how you theme your class, in a 20 or 30-minute class you can focus on one sequence or pose flow, and then the rest of your class should focus on poses that impact the whole body and poses that complement or counter that pose or sequence.

For example:
If you have a class focused on preps and versions of Crow, you can sequence some wrist warmups, hip warmups, preps like Happy Baby, Yoga Squat/Garland, and then into Crow versions. Around this targeted asana sequence, have some poses that use the whole body, like Sun Salutations, and poses that counter Crow, like lunges or Locust for hip extension, Sphinx or Cobra for spinal extension, and perhaps even some soothing hand/wrist massage to ease out the work of the hands and wrists in Crow.

8) Multi-Planar Movement

Even in the shortest ‘express’ class, be sure that there are opportunities to move on all three planes of movement – sagittal, frontal, and transverse. Efficient ways to do that are to include 3 spinal warmups, or add some side bending and twists to your Warrior poses in Sun Salutations, or include finishing poses that explore the 3 planes.

It’s easy to sequence a whole class that doesn’t leave the sagittal plane, so take an extra moment to review your sequence with an eye to looking at how you are using the body, are the big joints (spine, hips, shoulders) getting a chance to move off the sagittal plane?

9) Easing Into Rest:

Dedicate time for finishing poses to ease out tension, reduce intensity, and prepare for a brief rest. You don’t want to flow straight from a dynamic sequence into Savasana, so try to ‘wind down’ with a few finishing poses that will lead the body/mind to rest.

You might include seated or supine poses that focus on areas like hamstrings, hips, and shoulders.

You might also include some restorative poses like Child’s pose, Supported Bridge, or Supported Fish.

10) Meditation or Savasana:

One of the biggest challenges in a short or express class is committing time for rest, meditation, or a short, guided relaxation.

One way to do this is to sequence from the end of class forward. Ideally have 10-20% of your class as rest. So, in a 30-minute class, 3-6 minutes should be allocated for rest.

Time Management Tips:

11) Be Prepared with Props:

To reduce downtime, have students gather all the props they’ll need in advance of class.

Add props to your cuing flow, transition with your props so they are there when you need them. Use cues like ‘bring your bricks with you to prepare for Triangle’, or ‘before you lie down, have your strap and blanket handy for this next sequence’.

12) Depth of time rather than length of time:

With shorter classes it can be a challenge to give students the depth of experience they might have in a longer class, but with some thoughtful sequencing and pace there are still opportunities for students to have ‘depth’ of time. A few things that can help are to have moments of silence – it’s easy to just talk your way through a short class – so look for spaces where you can give students space for quiet contemplation, to ‘drop in’. Consider how your sequence leads towards a rich period of rest, even if it’s only for a few minutes.

13) How do short ‘express’ yoga classes fit into your yoga teaching schedule?

If you still want to teach those long, juicy 90-minute or 120-minute classes, keep going! You might pepper your weekly schedule with a few ‘express classes’ or just offer some online home practices for your students to enjoy in between your in-person classes.

If you find that students are more eager for shorter classes, but you want to offer some longer classes where you have more time and space to explore – you might schedule weekly, fortnightly, or monthly yoga-lab type classes where you can give yourself 2-hours or so. This can be open to advancing students, all students, it can be invite-only, however you want to organize it. It gives your students a little something extra in their yoga schedule, and gives you more time and space to teach, educate, explore.

14) Create opportunities for community

When we have shorter classes more often, whether that’s face to face or virtual, or of course online, what tends to fall by the wayside is opportunities to connect and build community. So, plan for community.

Create yoga labs or intensives or masterclasses, half-day or full-day retreats where people can gather, have longer yoga sessions, get an education into elements of yoga that you don’t offer in shorter classes – that might be workshopping poses, exploring props, breathwork, or having longer meditation time, or discussing yoga philosophy and ethics.

And, have some time to chat, have a cuppa and a muffin and let people talk, share, connect, and hear other perspectives on yoga life. Make time to build and nourish community. And if you want to get elaborate, make it half-day or longer retreats and create opportunities for others – the venue you hire, the catering, other teachers who might share their specialty, or teach a craft, or guide a nature walk. You’ll be expanding your community, reaching people you might not otherwise have reached, and having meaningful experiences to share together.

Theming & Marketing Tips:

15) Naming Your Class:

‘Express’ is a pretty common name for a shorter yoga class, anywhere from 15-minutes (usually online or in corporate environments) to 30-45 minute classes online, in studio or in the gym.

Other options for naming or marketing your classes might include:
• Quick Flow
• Energy Express
• Short & Sweet
• Yoga Snack
• Prana pick-me-up
• Mini move & meditation
• Yoga Boost
• Breath-flow-rest

If you are creating online classes for your library, you can get really specific –
• 20-minute happy hips
• 30-minute breath and balance
• 45-minute fire flow

FITT – Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type

I come from an age in yoga where we had these really long, delicious yoga classes where you got to explore so much of the practice – movement, breathwork, meditation, intensity, depth of experience. Those classes are still amazing and I hope that people continue to offer them. But, in this modern time, people are time-poor, energy-poor, and those 90 or 120-minute classes just aren’t’ working for many

So, this leads me to talk about FITT

If you are in the fitness industry you are quite familiar with FITT, and if you are a fitness participant you might have noticed a lot of business that spell fit with 2 T’s, why?

FITT refers to the four principles of fitness: Frequency, intensity, time, and time

Frequency means how often you practice. I will argue that frequency is the most important principle of your yoga practice. Better to practice shorter, less intense yoga sessions more often, then wait to practice longer, more intense yoga sessions less often. We’ll talk about that more in a second, but first, the other principles of fitness.

Intensity refers to how you are challenged, which is important to growth. Progressively intensifying your practice helps you to improve in areas of strength, flexibility, balance, and endurance. Intensity can include factors like pace, holding poses longer, stronger poses, more complex movements, less support or holding more of your body against the force of gravity. (think of all our versions of Chaturanga for example)

Time means the duration of your practice. Now, I know that I’ve argued that frequency is more important than time, I want to mention that there is something that happens after a certain length of time that feels magical, that brings a depth of experience. And, to build stamina and endurance you must commit time. So, planning for some longer, deeper session of yoga within your weekly or monthly practice schedule has great benefits.

Type: The type of movements you do will result in comparable progressive overload. So, if you are keen to get stronger, you’ll need to do the type of movements that build strength, like arm balancing, core strengthening etc. If you are keen to develop cardiorespiratory fitness, you’ll need to do the type of movements that build that fitness – like lots of Sun Salutations. If you are keen to build your relaxation skills, you’ll need to do the type of movement that develops this – restorative poses, meditation, breathwork. When we think of type, we have to ask – what are the goals of the students who are coming to our classes?

Fitness uses volume of training e.g., 30 minutes 3 times a week is the same as 15 minutes 6 times a week – but with yoga frequency is more important so better to do 15 minutes 6 times a week than 1 90-minute class (or do them all!)

For most folks, frequency is the most important factor in yoga – less time more often is better than more time less often. It means that not only are you having more regular movement in your life, but more often you are turning your focus to yoga – to self awareness, to your breath, to being present and mindful, to caring for yourself.

Sequencing theming and teaching short express yoga classes

So, in closing, shorter classes can offer students a chance to have more frequency of yoga in their lives, bringing the mindfulness, ease, and self-awareness into their daily lives. Short classes can still be well-rounded, rich in experience, and support your students aims for their practice. Thoughtful planning, time management, and preparation will help you in delivering a complete and well-rounded yoga experience in a smaller package – which, for many, makes yoga more accessible and encourages more regular participation.

Want to learn more about theming and sequencing for your yoga classes? Check out our online, on-demand Sequencing & Theming Yoga course!

Stay tuned to our YouTube channel for more videos on the art of teaching yoga

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