Becoming a successful yoga teacher means becoming an expert instruction giver. Concise and precise cues allow students to float in and out of asanas. But equally important, and likely to resonate long after your students step off their mat, is the class theme or dharma talk.
It’s the other “instruction” of yoga – the one that gets to the heart of the practice.
Theme sets you apart, shows your individuality as a teacher and assures your students that yes, you’re human, and if you can stay the course of yoga so can they. There’s no shortage of concepts you can explore but sometimes – like writer’s block – they don’t flow as easily.
If that’s the case, get inspired with these 40 creative yoga class themes – gathered from life, books, quotes, music and yes, yoga classes. I’m grateful to all my teachers who have inspired me to write this list. And if you’d like to polish your technique see 5 speaking tips for yoga teachers.
Create an experience
- Explore what it feels like to be absolutely still – even while moving.
- Imagine you have 3D vision and “see” the body from every angle, not just front and back.
- Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. –Newton’s Third Law of Motion
- Explore the mat and postures as would a child playing his or her favorite game.
- Match your pose sequences to speak to the current season.
- Choose poses and create energy that’s opposite of the day’s weather. Raining? Energize the class. Sunny and hot? Cool down with restorative poses and shitali pranayama.
- Ask students to think back to their first yoga class – how every movement felt new and different. Have them relive that feeling in each pose.
- If you usually teach with music, turn it off for one class to allow your students to focus solely on hearing themselves breathe and move.
- If your students are able and in good health, have them wear blindfolds during the entire class to experience what yoga feels like, rather than what it looks like.
- Give students a couple “free” poses during class – a chance for them to do whatever it is that’s calling to them in that moment. (via yoga mentor Karen Lerner)
Let’s get physical
- Focus on the four corners of the body – the hips and the shoulders.
- Think about what life would be like to lose function of your legs. Spend class appreciating every movement your legs make.
- Focus on core strength – the deep inner strength both physical and mental that guides us through life.
- Observe the differences between one side of the body and the other.
- Make every movement purposeful and deliberate. Don’t rush the breath, fall in line with it.
- Keep your drishti on the third eye area throughout class.
- Choose a specific pose to come back to throughout class (such as chair pose) with cues to increase flexibility or increase the challenge each time.
- Emphasize the feet – placement, weight distribution, how the toes spread – even when the feet aren’t touching the ground.
- Sun salutations. Lots of them. A whole class of them with little variation in order to challenge the mind, which inevitably will start squawking. Dedicate each round or set to a different aspiration, person or event.
- Twist it up! Incorporate standing, seated and supine twists, focusing on twisting the four areas of the spine: cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral.
- “Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent.” –Sutra 2.5, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda
- “Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.” –Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist monk
- “We cannot add happiness to this world; similarly, we cannot add pain to it either.” –Swami Vivekananda from The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda Vol. 1
- “Life is beautiful because of you.”
- Think light and feel light. “Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time.” –Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar
- “Where you are right now is exactly where you need to be.“
- “By your stumbling, the world is perfected.” –Sri Aurobindo (via Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison)
- “Transcending mind-made limitations doesn’t mean you stop being yourself. On the contrary, you become more yourself than ever before.” –Steve Ross, author of Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About
- “The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment.” –Swami Kripalu
- “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” –Ray Bradbury
Feel the love
- “To say ‘I love you’ one must first be able to say the ‘I.’” –Ayn Rand
- “Some people are sent to us for quick lessons, some are sent to us for seasonal lessons and some are sent to us for a lesson we are to be taught over a lifetime.” –The Daily Love
- Create an intention to love one of your traits that you wouldn’t think to immediately self love. This trait could be physical, mental or emotional. Reaffirm your love throughout your practice.
- “The worst prison would be a closed heart.” –John Paul II
- ”Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” –1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV version)
- Instead of envisioning what love looks like, envision what love feels like in every yoga posture and during meditation or savasana.
- At the heart of all life is the heart. Henry David Thoreau said it well: “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows.” Ask students to surrender to the flow of their bodies in each posture and love where they’re at – no judgment.
- What’s your best side? Almost everyone seems to favor one side of their face for photos or one side of their body in certain yoga poses. Ask students to observe the differences between both their sides, the right masculine and the left feminine, and send love to both.
- “Your task is not to seek for love but merely to seek and find all barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” –Rumi (via dear friend @almadeline)
- Place special emphasis on backbends and heart openers, such as reverse plank, upward facing dog, camel pose, wheel, cobra and bridge. Of course, warm your students up before dropping them right into their heart center.
Want to teach these themes? You can get my step-by-step yoga sequences with themes over at The Yoga Recipe.