In yoga teacher training, I recommend using themes when creating your yoga classes. Without one, you might be tempted to throw everything in, but when you select a theme, it guides and narrows your selections. Think buffet vs ordering off the menu.
Also, using themes allows you to deliver powerful messages. Participants not only stretch their muscles, but their brains too. Incorporating a theme is an opportunity to plant seeds. This isn’t about manipulation, but allowing participants to explore and reflect on differing perspectives in a non-judgmental environment.
Simply, a theme is a common thread running throughout your entire sequence.
Is a theme important?
Brand new teachers may be concerned with other priorities such as remembering the different stages of a yoga class, figuring out technology or music, or not throwing up out of nervousness. Over time, though, as you gain more confidence, and learn to create an experience for your participants, theming plays a larger role.
If you’re just starting out, and you want to get in the habit of incorporating themes, I suggest using alignment or physical-based themes such as hip openers or back bends. These themes are more tangible than trying to plan a sequence around nature or gratitude.
Pantser or Planner
In the writing world, you’re either a Pantser or a Planner. If you’re a Pantser, it means you tend to write by “the seat of your pants” with little direction. If you’re a planner, it means you spend more time plotting out the course.
The same description can be applied for yoga teachers when sequencing classes. If you’re a Pantser, you might stay with a loose flow in your head, but allow the needs of your class to dictate the direction and postures you teach. Planners put significant time into prepping their classes.
Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle, like me. I like the free flow, but if there’s a specific topic in mind, then planning is the more efficient route to go.
And by the way, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Pantser, Plotter, or somewhere in between.
Ahhhh. . .so many poses, so many possibilities, so I’ve provided a few tips as you think about bringing themes into your class sequencing.
1. When selecting a theme, understand some will work for one class, while others may be perfect for teaching a series of classes.
2. If you do a series, this allows you to batch several classes at once, and for planners, that’s a huge time saver.
3. When creating a series of classes around a central theme, make sure there’s continuity so participants know the classes are connected.
But it’s also important to:
4. Make sure the series of classes can stand alone. There’s no guarantees your participants will be able to attend all the different classes of your theme, so you don’t want them to feel lost or like they’ve missed an important lesson because they couldn’t get to class last week.
5. Repetition is your friend. Participants needs repetition in their classes in order to learn and integrate. Repetition allows you to chart your participants’ progress. Repetition prevents you from getting burned out because you’re spending so much time creating new classes.
6. When using a theme, find the happy-medium. There’s no need to mention the theme a hundred times, but only mentioning it during the opening and ending is a sure way for your participants to forget there was even a theme involved.
7. I read a tip about not bringing personal stories into your class to supplement the message or theme because the class isn’t about the teacher. While I believe teacher ego has no place in a yoga class, personal stories (when done appropriately) enrich the message, build connections, and make you relatable and approachable.
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30+ themes to use in your yoga classes
As I mentioned earlier, if you’re a baby or new teacher, and you want to use themes in your class planning, start with physical themes such as:
- Hip Openers
- Back bends
- Forward Bends
Go to your bookshelf and search for inspiration in your favorite books. A quick glance at my yoga bookshelves, gave me:
- Four Agreements**
- Bhagavad Gita
- Artist’s Way
- Anatomy of a Spirit
- Meditations on the Mat
**The Four Agreements is a perfect example of a theme that could be a single class or series of four classes. You could plan one class that covers all the agreements, or you could plan a series of classes where each classes touches on one of the four agreements.
Nature is an endless supply of inspiration for yoga classes, both in terms of a stand alone or a series.
- Locations (mountain, ocean, desert)
- Weather (rain, snow, wind)
- Elements (fire, wind, air, metal)
- Seasons (winter, spring, summer, fall)
One of my favorite topics to use for themes is the Eight Limbs of Patanjali:
- Yamas (restraints)
- Niyamas (observances)
- Asana (posture)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (bliss, union)
From the Eight Limbs of the Yoga Sutras you could take the yamas individually:
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (moderation)
- Aparigraha (non-greediness)
Also from the Eight Limbs, the five niyamas individually:
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (burning impurities)
- Svadyaya (self-study)
- Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to the Divine)
With more than 30+ themes to use in your yoga classes, you’ll turn ho-hum classes into ahh-producing experiences. What are some of your favorite themes?