How to Theme Your Yoga Class: 3 Essential Ways to Bring It Together + Examples
To theme your yoga class is to create a sense of cohesion. It's all about cohesion. And really, it's like that with anything you create or design. A work of art, a work project, a family, a life, a yoga class. It's got to come together to work. The best way to do that for a yoga class is to incorporate a fantastic theme.
I fell off the wagon for a while back when I was first starting out and started not to use themes. I got a little too confident and thought I didn't have to impress or convince people anymore.
But here's where I went so wrong about that: it's not about impressing people. It's about lifting them up and making them feel better, even if only for a short while.
And so I've come to believe that themes respect the student. A theme says to your students, "I've thought about this class and what you might need, and what I present to you makes sense, is not random and fits together." If it's cohesive then it's like telling a good story. Only the students get to take part in the story directly.
In this way, you create an experience for them. It becomes more than just running the students through poses, getting them into the breath. It becomes a climb, a dance, a story, a conquest, a soul journey.
But how to theme your class?
3 Essential Ways to Theme Your Class:
1. Physical themes:
Usually, with physical themes, you are taking them to a climax pose, and all the poses lead up to the pose. The poses after the climax pose are for cool-down and countering the climax pose.
Example: Say you choose an arm balance like crow pose for your climax. You will do a lot of arm and core strengthening plus work with the hips a bit (to work with hip flexor to get knees as close to armpits as possible) and spend some time in prep poses like malasana. You would counter this with a heart opener and stretching the hamstrings too.
Or it could be that you are addressing a physical part or aspect of the body. I like to do this, and I especially do this in my workshops wherein I talk about nutrition, pranayama, energy healing and meditation too. I have targeted blood sugar, adrenals, the heart, the lungs, the immune system, the digestive system, detoxification, the brain, the thyroid, reproduction, and even the liver.
Example: For a thyroid balancing class, I have chosen bridge into plow into shoulder-stand into plow into fish pose as my climax flow. So all through class I did throat openers and closers, prepping them for this. Neck rolls, puppy pose, cat/cow with chin tucks and releases, camel, followed by rabbit, bridge pose and variations on its own, core work, hamstring opening through chin tucked forward folds, etc. Then settle them with a heart opening bolster after the climax flow.
2. Mind-centered themes:
These kind of themed classes are so important in this age. We are wrapped up in our thoughts, busier than ever, and thoughts are rampant and domineering.
Clearing the mind is one of the best things you can do for your students. That is why a lot of them are coming to you, even if they don't know it. These classes will use a lot of meditation and pranayama.
Many of my mind-themed classes use mantras as well. "I am whole." "I am enough." "I am abundant." "I am truth or Sat Nam." "I am love." "I am free." Mantras are sometimes the quickest and best route to focusing and clearing the mind on one thing.
A lot of your artful themes when it comes to the mind will be centered around either clearing the thoughts or improving upon the thoughts (and beliefs). These will be obviously geared toward stress relief since it is the mind that causes much of stress.
The kinds of themes you might come up with when it comes to the mind are themes like focusing or concentration, positive thoughts, overall mindfulness, thought awareness, visualization, mind emptying, idea inspiration, asking of a question (like a mantra), reset the headspace/improve mood, clearing the mind through strong breath work, relieve anxiety, etc.
Meditation or meditative movement will be essential for these types of practices. If you need some meditation help, I've got a free course:
Example: Say your theme is balance for the overactive mind. You could start with nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) pranayama and then move into a centering meditation for the mind followed by poses that work both sides of the body (maybe even starting with the left side for a change, maybe even spending a little more time on the left side). Your savasana could be a visualization of both sides of the brain lit up and working together in service for the student.
3. Heart and spiritually centered themes:
These are going to be your more spiritual classes, and this kind of theme requires an open mind and heart from your students. Choose and design these intentionally. These themes must be authentic.
Because of the way I am, I love these kinds of themes. But not all my students do, and I'm keenly aware of this. Some people are not ready, and it is not my job to force push people's consciousness upward.
But when I get a group of students who love to dedicate their practice to their consciousness and/or creativity, who love to delve into spiritual energy work, we really go after it. These are heart-centered and energy-centered themes like gratitude, love, letting go, forgiveness, aligning the chakras (or focusing on one chakra), creativity, truth, love of self, overcoming fear, joy, acceptance, courage, connection, etc.
Teach these sparingly, and with a no bullshit kind of matter-of-factness when you do. I would even reserve these for workshops, as I started doing a few years into my teaching.
People look at yoga in all kinds of different ways, and especially here in the West, people do an inner eye roll when a class is "self-help" or "motivational." Many students are coming to yoga for the physical practice (at this point), and this is okay. Because that's the way it usually does start out.
But you and I both know that yoga is sneaky, and it might not always going to be physical. But it is considerate to respect where people are in terms of energy healing and consciousness. And it might even detract people who need your class. A lot of people are taking baby steps, and they are simply not ready sometimes.
So you just can't teach these kind of spiritually, emotionally themed classes all the time and every day because it's a lot of work to do right before or after work or during your lunch hour when students are fitting yoga into their days.
Nonetheless, I love love love this kind of class because it buoys my heart to see people who are ready to rise up, to vibrationally and inwardly change along with their physical bodies. These are the best and most moving classes to teach (maybe because they are so lovely and rare).
Example: A class themed around inner peace might start with a meditation designed to incorporate peace, a peaceful pranayama instruction followed by a slightly restorative physical practice that also opens the heart. Lots of sympathetic nervous system forward folding, long holds with long breaths to practice patience and letting go, instructing a mudra that signifies energy healing during those holds. All capped off with that same pranayama and peace-centered meditation from the beginning of class.
What are some of your most favorite classes you've taught? Was there a theme involved? Did this help you think of some themes of your own? Any ideas come up?!
Please share if you love a beautiful yoga class! Sharing is love, and I thank you for yours.