Developing yoga class themes invites students to go deeper.
Theming is a powerful way to gain insight and awareness of the more subtle elements of the practice. It is a way to refine and go deeper into one particular element you’ve chosen to unpack.
Yoga class themes are also a wonderful tool when selecting a peak posture. Theming may help narrow the options when choosing the poses for the sequence. A specific topic has the ability to create a centerfold that yolks the physical and philosophical components the teacher wishes to explore and share.
For new and seasoned yoga teachers, constructing yoga class themes that are relevant, intentional, and relatable is an ongoing practice that becomes more nuanced over time. Keep reading to learn the top tips for choosing a theme and how to develop an authentic voice as a yoga teacher.
Table of Contents:
Why Create a Yoga Class Theme?
Choosing a theme to anchor your yoga class is a way to bring students into a deeper experience of the practice and move into a space of philosophical inquiry.
Yoga is so much more than the asana and physical poses; it’s a space to ask the bigger questions and develop an awareness of self.
The asana practice is one aspect of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga.
The Eight Limbs presents a way to create meaning and intention in one’s lifestyle by presenting a guide with ethics, moral boundaries, and self-discipline.
Theming in a yoga class allows the practitioner (and the teacher) to consider yoga’s esoteric, metaphysical, philosophical, mythical, and ethical components.
Jnana is the yoga of knowledge and wisdom; it is the study and inquiry of who we are beyond our ego-mind.
A theme invites the teacher and the student to probe beyond the physical and examine the rich history and educational sources that provide the lineage of yoga its roots.
Where to Discuss and Your Theme
Bookend your class with the theme you’ve chosen. You may open the practice with a word, quote, or intention that centers on your theme. You may also close the practice with a brief nod to what you revealed throughout the class.
It is important to leave moments of silence for students to absorb what has been said and feel the sensations and expressions of each pose. As you work with a theme, try to keep the musing brief to allow students to digest what has been said. Less is more.
Take one of the classes mentioned above and answer the following questions:
What is the theme?
How is the topic reflected in the environment/movement?
What language is used? Pick 3-5 words that add to the theme.
Where and when does Clara bring the theme into the practice? Why do you think this is?
What other elements contribute to the theme? List 5-7.
Theming for New Yoga Teachers
When starting teaching, there are a lot of elements to consider, including the sequence, pacing, timing, modifications, and music.
Ask a question.
The yoga practice is so individual; we each show up to participate in a sequence of postures together, yet our class experience will be wholly unique depending on what we are going through that day.
Work with what’s in front of you.
The best way to choose a theme for new AND advanced teachers is to work with the idea that you are currently moving through.
The caveat to this advice is if you are too emotionally close to the subject. Remember that you are the facilitator of the experience, so while it is great to encourage students through a heart-felt theme, you are holding the space for them to go deeper and not vice versa.
On Sharing Personal Experiences
Sharing personal anecdotes may offer students a different perspective on a similar event in their lives.
Much of what we learn is through stories. Story validates our experiences, gives a voice to the underdog/those with less power, and enriches our connection to each other.
By sharing what you’ve gone through and your process, you may provide something that someone needs to hear on that day. It is insightful, educating, and liberating to listen to what others have gone through and learn about their approach.
I appreciate it when teachers share their stories as it sheds light on how I move through similar sentiments and express intense emotions.
One of the most poignant classes I’ve attended was one themed on grief. The teacher of the class had shared something close to her heart.
Her words permitted me to feel the sorrow I’d been carrying about a similar event I’d experienced.
I’ve left many yoga classes feeling lighter, calmer, and more grounded in moving forward with a difficult decision. Partly owing to my body’s movement and release and partly from the intentional theme. The carefully constructed approach to the theme helped me better understand myself.
These experiences on such personal and poignant topics can be therapeutic for the student.
The shadow sight to sharing personal experiences is when oversharing occurs. I’ve also been in classes where what is shared abruptly turns from investigative to unnecessary venting. The latter occurs when the teacher is not clean around their emotional wounds.
Do not bring the topic to your class if you are still emotionally charged by it.
If you’re feeling tired, stuck, raw, or still working through how you feel, leave it out until you can approach it without the residue affecting your words.
10 Tips for Creating Authentic Yoga Class Themes
1. Choose a topic that you’re passionate about.
The best way to offer a theme to your students is to speak about a topic that interests you. Your students will feel your excitement and enthusiasm if you genuinely care about what you teach, so choose something YOU want to learn more about or share with the community.
2. Speak from an authentic space.
You don’t need to be an expert on the topic you’ve chosen to discuss, especially if you’re still learning about it yourself. It’s important that whatever you share, you have embodied and worked with yourself before you bring it to a yoga class. If you’re unsure about what you are saying or doing, your students will feel it, and it’s your job to be the anchor as you guide students through the experience.
When I started teaching mantra, Clara’s advice was to practice it alone for two years before teaching it. Daniel Odier, a Tantric Philosopher, practiced for nearly 40 years before bringing what he’d learned to the community.
What you share will resonate if you speak from the heart. When you choose a theme, check in with what you want to say and remember that how you feel about your topic may change depending on the type of day that you are having.
Honor your relationship to the practice. Authenticity asks that we speak what is true for us at that moment. Choose what you share by reflecting on your experience and how you want to express it to others.
3. Have a backup plan.
You may have crafted a great theme to discuss during your yoga class, but you’re not feeling it when the day arrives. You could be tired, sick, or experiencing an emotional hangover. If you’re not feeling well or have something weighing on your emotional resilience, keeping your theme simple is better than forcing what you do not feel. There are days we have to show up and perform even when we do not feel like it, and sometimes, putting on a brave face and faking it can put us in a better mood.
Honor how you feel, and do not teach a theme that doesn’t light you up, even if you’ve rehearsed it and planned your class around it. If you wake up and what you’ve created doesn’t work that day, choose a simple theme that suits your class. Working with the breath is always a great backup plan!
4. Share your sources; cite accordingly!
Your theme could be about a particular person who influenced or sparked your curiosity. If you draw insight or knowledge from a teacher, artist, or guide, remember to cite your source of inspiration. If you use a poem or quote, refer back to the author and give credit where it is due.
5. Rehearse your theme.
Write your theme or say it aloud, especially if you’re using a mantra, quote, or poem. Rehearsing your theme will help you feel more comfortable speaking it aloud and more confident in what you are saying.
If you teach several classes each week, use the same theme for each class and see how you can fine-tune and adjust the theme based on what you see around you and what you feel within. How the theme expresses itself may change as you keep working with it.
6. Make it universal.
Clara is the queen of universal themes. Sometimes, her themes include a personal tale, though most of the topics she offers are universal. A versatile and omnipresent subject is more relatable, as students will infer and create meaning based on their experiences.
7. Learn how to say the same thing in five different ways.
Clara’s tip to students in the Art of Vinyasa Yoga Sequencing Training is to say the same phrase repeatedly throughout the class in various ways. We all learn in different ways, and your students may receive what you have to say if you speak to the central focus of your theme throughout the class without repeating yourself.
Repitition is how we learn; however, when we say the same thing over and over, we dilute the message. Your students may tune you out if you repeat yourself, though if you get creative in how you state your message, it may have a greater impact by the fifth time around!
8. Choose postures/peak poses and music that compliment.
Your theme should complement your class sequence and music playlist. A great example of this is Drop Back Vinyasa. This class is themed on surrender. Heart-opening practices ask that we open the front line, typically associated with reception, vulnerability, and expansion.
Check out this article to learn more about the energy associated with heart opening and this article to learn more about arm balancing.
9. Connect your theme to an emotion.
The yoga practice is a portal to the body; what we feel is real, and there is no hiding from the sensations once you step onto your mat. As yoga teachers, we know that emotions are stored in the body. Emotional energy is stored in and affects our organs, muscles, tissues, and the function of the body’s major systems, including the endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. As a result, it is not uncommon to experience a rush of emotion during yoga and other body-focused practices and therapies.
Consider the emotion expressed through the poses you choose and the theme you’ve decided to work with. Heart and hip-opening have a very different effect on the body than arm and leg balancing poses.
The six main emotions are anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, anticipation, trust, and joy.
As you construct your theme and select the poses for your class, considering the emotion you’re invoking will help you guide students through a more intentional experience.
10. Stay in the experience with your students.
Stay in the sequence with your students to keep the rhythm and observe where it is appropriate to reconnect to your theme. You may offer the theme at the beginning and end of the class as a way to bookend the experience.
Opening the class with the theme is a great way to introduce students to the central intent of the experience. Closing the class with an echo of the theme allows students to chew on what you’ve laid out.
You will learn to carefully place the theme at appropriate moments during the class as you continue to teach. Leaving enough space for students to reflect on what you have said is as important as the alignment cues and reminders of the theme.
One way to stay in the experience with your students is through breath. Breathe with your students as they move through the postures. In this way, you’ll feel with them when it is time to speak and when it is time to leave silence to digest what has been said.
Dissecting and Discovering Themes
There are so many ways to theme a yoga class and just as many sources to find inspiration!
Your theme may be something you plan and prepare beforehand, or perhaps its something as simple as looking out your window for a glimpse of beauty.
Sources to Spark Inspiration:
Developing Your Voice as a Yoga Teacher
The practice and what you offer students will shift as you do. Trust that you will build the confidence to explore advanced poses and themes as you continue to teach.
Here are a few ways to develop your voice as a teacher:
Record yourself teaching.
Tape yourself teaching; this is a great way to assess your alignment cues, tone of voice, pacing, timing, and theming of the class structure. It may be hard to listen to yourself (we’ve all been there!) though it is worth assessing what you want to change/develop moving forward.
Ask for feedback.
Seek your peers or friends who attend your classes- or ask them to come to your class- and get their feedback. Ask those versed in the craft who can provide you with constructive wisdom to develop as a yoga teacher. It’s great to hear how your sequence and themes land with others.
Seek a mentor.
Mentorship is a great way to grow and develop a signature style while learning the foundational elements of the yoga practice. I mentored with Clara shortly after completing my 200-Hour Program. Clara attended my yoga classes, provided me with tips to improve, reviewed my class sequences, asked me questions to develop my understanding, and provided me with a wealth of resources to draw from.
Write it down.
Like recording your yoga class, write down your sequence and theme to review your creation. Write it several times and speak it out loud to yourself. This will help you memorize what you want to offer students, and you will hear how your theme and cues flow together. Reviewing your writing or spoken word may help you find the snags in your sequence and where you need to add to or take away from the theme.
When practicing or presenting your theme, speak slower than you think you should. Nervousness typically causes people to speak faster than they want to or think they are. Pausing will also allow your students time to adjust and absorb your words.
More Resources to Learn About Yoga Class Themes
Theme with the Hindu Goddesses: