Using a theme in a yoga class is what makes you a yoga teacher. If you just teach asanas you are a fitness instructor. Totally nothing wrong with that, but there is more to yoga then just physical exercise. If you add the breath to it, you are a good asana instructor, but it is using a theme that will make the difference.
With yoga we don’t only want to do physical exercise we want to look inside to discover our true self and to see what is standing in between our ‘normal’ state of mind and eternal bliss. We want to discover why we do what we do, why we act the way we act and why we react the way we react. Using a theme in class can make your students look inside, make them discover more of themselves.
The theme you use for the yoga sequence you make, doesn’t always have to be a spiritual or psychological theme. Sometimes it can be a physical (anatomical) theme as well. It’s up to you as teacher to see what feels good for you and what you think your students need. When you have chosen your theme you can start building your yoga sequence / your flow. Your class should feel like a story: with a beginning, working up to the highlight of your story that makes your students look deep inside and lead them to new awareness, new experiences or new abilities. To finish your story, give ti a (happy) end.
Examples of a theme in a yoga class
1 – Peak pose
You don’t have to choose a spiritual or psychological theme for your class. If you like to stay ‘close’ to the asanas you can also choose one asana as your peak pose and build your whole class around that asana. You analyze what is needed for this asana and use your flow to prepare your students to get into it. Let’s say you want to use grasshopper, an arm balance, as your peak pose. You want to warm up the wrists first, fire up the arms and core to be able to hold the pose. To get into it, you need and a deep hip opener for the top leg and a deep twist to place the top leg on your upper arm. Knowing this you can create a flow where all asanas prepare your students to get into grasshopper. For those who can’t you want to have a modification. For example baby grasshopper.
2 – Asanas
Another option to ‘stay close’ is by just using asanas and making a fun sequence that is – for example – all about twists or all about back bends. Maybe you want to go a bit more dynamic and focus on transitions instead of the pose itself and choose unusual transitions. You can also create a sequence to heal people. For example to counteract all the sitting we do behind a desk or to stimulate digestion.
3 – Anatomy
If you like the anatomical side of yoga, you can built your flow based on an anatomical subject. A lot of yogis struggle in the beginning with their hamstrings. You can make a whole class on stretching and strengthening hamstrings.
4 – Body – mind connection
You can use the body – mind connection as a theme. It can be as simple as working with the breath and analyzing what is happening in your mind when you do certain postures. You can take it a step further and make a combination between muscles and emotions. You can – for example – create a class based on the iliopsoas muscle; our strong, deep core muscle that connects our spine to our legs. This muscle is so important and connected to so many emotions that a yoga as Liz Koch has dedicated her life to it. ‘The psoas is both an instinctive as well as an emotionally responsive muscle and by tuning into this muscle, we can gain a deeper sense of calm, integrity, and empowerment.’
Heart openers, hip openers and their emotional connection are always good options as well.
5 – Chakras
Chakras are energy centers in our body. Every chakra is connected to organs and muscles and has its own mantra. You can create a yoga sequence based on one of more chakras.
6 – Yamas and Niyamas
The yamas and niyamas offer you 10 different themes for your classes. You can simple choose Ahimsa, non-violence for your class and built your yoga sequence around it. It can be non-violence towards yourself, so you ask your students to respect their own limitations and not to judge themselves if there is a pose they can’t do. You can challenge their mind by bringing in some advanced asanas.
7 – Yoga philosophy
The yamas and the niyamas are not the only options you have if you want to use yoga philosophy as a theme for your class. The amount of themes yoga philosophy is offering you, is inexhaustible. In the last couple of weeks I created themes on subjects as: there are only two powers: love and fear, we are all one. The yoga sutras can be a nice starting point as well, yin-yang, mudras, gunas and so on.
8 – Literature and poetry
If you love reading, literature and poetry can be your inspiration. It can be yoga related, like the Bhagavad Gita but it doesn’t have to be. When I was doing my pre-university we had to read the Max Havelaar. There is a story in there that is still sticking in my mind. It’s about a Japanese stonemason that is quarrying in a big rock wall. He sees a king, carried on a thrown and thinks: ‘This kings is powerful. He doesn’t have to chop stones. I wish I was the king.’ His wish is granted and he becomes the king. Sitting on his thrown the sun burns down on him. Now he is king, but he is still not powerful, because he is sweating and hot. He wants to be the sun. Again his wish is granted. But when he is shining on the land, a cloud comes by and covers him, so he wants to be the cloud, because the cloud is more powerful as the sun. As cloud he sails over the land and the sea and let all his water fall into the sea. The sea doesn’t move. Just swallows the water, so he wants to be the sea. Now he is powerful. As sea he washes down on the shore, covering the beach and splashes on a big rock. The rock doesn’t move, so he wants to be the rock. Now he is strong, powerful. Well, up until a little Japanese stonemason comes along and start to cut pieces out of him and shows him that a stonemason is way more powerful than a rock.
The story inspired me for a ‘kids yoga class’ I did last week. I created a story about a little kid that sees all kinds of creatures (animals, trees, archers) and always wants to be the creature he sees up until he becomes a warrior and is hired by a king to fight for him. At that point he realizes that he just wants to play and have fun, not wants to be anything else than a kid.
9 – Nature
Mother earth is a big inspiration for me. She offers a lot of themes, like the changing of seasons: birth, blossoming, decay, death and rebirth, but also the simple way a tree is rooted in the ground. The difference between a strong oak tree and a flexible palm tree. The way water always runs from the mountains to the sea, not letting itself be hold back by anything. You can look outside the earth for inspiration as well: full moon, new moon, solar eclipse, shooting stars.
10 – Day to day life
You don’t even have to go ‘far’ to find themes. Christmas is coming up and can be your inspiration for a nice yoga sequence. New Year’s Eve and all the promises and resolutions that are made for the new year. Valentine is following after that. The birth of a nephew or niece can be an inspiration, a compliment somebody made you a day before, a cleansing or detox that you are doing. Your own life can be one big treasure for using a theme in your yoga class.