How to Create a Challenging but Beginner Friendly Yoga Sequence

Many years ago I was really into the more (what I thought were) “physically demanding” sports. In high school, I was in ROTC and I loved the outdoor running, rope challenges, etc. That morphed into longer distance running, high intensity workouts (can I get an Amen for Insanity??) I spent many many many hours following along with folks like Shuan T or following the latest WOD of the day.  If the exercise didn’t include at least some form of jumping up and down, I didn’t consider it exercise.

That’s why, in my very first yoga class (that a good friend convinced me to try), I totally disregarded it. I was naturally flexible, so the low energy, stretch centered class just did nothing for me. It took another 10 years after that class to convince me to try another yoga class. Mostly because I was convinced that one class was the ONLY type of class. 

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the more gentle approaches to the yoga practice. In fact, as I age, I have been finding myself turning to a more gentle practice more frequently (i mean, at least once monthly, so there is SOME  change)). However, that’s just not what speaks to me. I tend to be more on the high energy side, so something that low energy just drives me bananas.

Notice I am saying high and low energy, not high and low speeds. You can still move slowly, deliberately and get a very intense exercise. I mean, look at how Mr. Miagi trained Danialsan or watch any number of Tai Chi artists.

High Energy Does Not Necessarily Mean High Speed

You don’t have to dance around to work hard! Sorry Richard!

I wanted to reinforce this statement because oftentimes folks get into some pretty fast moving Vinyasa Style classes (my husband loves those), and it moves more like a fast dance at prom versus the slow romantic dances. Since Vinyasa Classes were born from my favorite practice, Ashtanga Yoga, I think folks automatically assume that Ashtanga Yoga is a super fast paced practice that has you moving non-stop. When I hear that, it actually surprises me because I have always had the exact opposite Ashtanga Yoga practice. 

Sure, you are moving with your breath, and the Sun Salutations can link each posture with a breath, but the goal is to slow that breath down. Once you get through the Sun Salutations into the other postures, you stay in the postures AT LEAST five long slow breaths. Manju actually suggests staying in the poses longer that are 1) hard &  2) therapeutic (and a qualified teacher can teach you what those are). One of my favorite stories Manju shares at many of his trainings is about how the men would come to his father’s house when he was young and sit in Janu Sirsasana B for 15 minutes or more reading the paper and talking about stocks as they improved their various conditions.

It’s in the faster paced classes that I typically found myself getting hurt.

…and I saw many other students getting hurt that way too. With so much attention being made to the creation of a flowing sequence and leading people through these poses quickly, the attention to bandhas, breath and alignment sorta got moved to the back burner. This is certainly not to say there’s not place for it. In fact, I’m thankful for Shiva Ray & Bryan Kest and their contemporaries for creating the freedom of expression. In today’s post, I want to highlight a different approach to this westernized ancient practice.

Secrets to Building a Strength Based Class that’s Challenging and Still Beginner Yoga Friendly

The best part about these sequences is that they include basic yoga poses found in all beginner yoga classes. That means, these classes could be taught to folks that were new to yoga.

I should probably make one thing clear, however. These are beginner friendly poses, however if the person is truly a beginner to all things physical, the idea behind this sort of sequencing may be a little too difficult. Since the postures are held for a longer duration or combined together on one side for a longer duration, a certain amount of physical strength and endurance is assumed when structuring this sort of practice.

Secrets to Creating Strong Yoga Sequences

  • Hold the pose 3-5 breaths at a minimum. (this can be intense depending on the pose, so be prepared to “Lighten the mood” if necessary
  • Sequence 3-5 poses together, especially on one side. This forces the working side to work a longer duration
  • Be sure to allow the same amount of time for the second side. (the left side OFTEN gets rushed over because the teacher doesn’t have to explain things as much.)
  • Always emphasize the importance of awareness to bandhas (or core).

Here is an example of a quick high intensity low impact yoga sequence.

What did you think?

Did you get your heart rate up just a bit? 

Can you see how combining even more basic poses together and taking your time to get through them can create strength and endurance? 

Of course, there is SO much more to yoga than a physical practice. HOWEVER, the thing you want to think about when creating a class is how can you attract and retain your students. Or, if you’re not a yoga teacher but you’re still looking for a great way to build strength, AND flexibility AND endurance, then this may be a really great way to start. Once you have your students hooked or once you are hooked on the practice, then you can tip toe into the other 7 limbs of the practice.

But that’s a discussion for another blog post.

If you liked the yoga sequence in this post, be sure to subscribe to our youtube channel. If you are new to yoga and would like to see how yoga can help you, be sure to check out our free quiz. You’ll get a personalized yoga inspired exercise to try for yourself! If you’re ready to practice with Jennifer and the gang and you’re in Chattanooga, TN definitely swing by the studio. You can schedule your private virtual session or group session with Jennifer inside Thrive Online, the membership site dedicated to live, virtual yoga and yoga inspired wellness classes.