4 Themes to Build Into Your Yoga Class

While many yoga teachers stick to a fairly regular sequence from class to class, there are always opportunities to build in a focus on a central theme. While sometimes this can be a spiritual theme, it can be a physical theme as well. I love to focus on a physical theme because it shows students how the postures, breathing and sequence all work together to support each other and create growth and change in the body.

There are many essential themes you can weave into your classes. These concepts can be introduced early on in the class and then reiterated in different ways throughout. Some essential themes you can build into class are:

  • Using ujjayi breath
  • Using upward abdominal lock/Uddiyana Bandha to create lift in the body
  • Setting a firm foundation in each pose
  • Using the muscles of the middle and upper back to create an opening in the chest

Here are some ideas for each:

Breath: There is nothing more central to yoga than the breath. Weaving a theme around the breath can give students a powerful tool they can use in any class.

  • Start sitting on a block and demonstrate ujjayi breath
  • As you move through the opening Sun Salutations, shift the last 3 Sun A’s and Sun B’s into “breathe only” cueing. This can be a powerful way to show how breathing and moving work together
  • Share information about the relaxation response, to help them see the connection on an organic level between deep breathing and feeling relaxed in the body
  • End class with some simple pranayama exercises

Uddiyana Bandha: The technique of drawing the abdomen in towards the spine is a powerful one for yoga practice as it helps students create “lift” in the body. This “lift” can be used for several things, including jumping forward to the front of the mat, jumping into low push up (from halfway lift) in Sun Salutations, crow pose and other arm balances.

  • Start students standing and demonstrate uddiyana bandha
  • As you move them through Sun Salutation A and B, introduce “jumping forward” from Down Dog to the front of mat
  • Demonstrate jumping from halfway lift to low push up and offer 3 more Sun Salutations with the option to jump into low push up
  • Use poses like Boat and Crow to emphasize how the core lock stabilizes the body

Setting a firm foundation: Setting a firm foundation in each pose is essential for helping students feel stable as well as giving the body the support it needs to take several twisting postures, like Twisting Crescent Lunge and Twisting Triangle.

  • Start students in mountain pose. Ask them to notice the stacking of joints and the feeling of stability in the body
  • Instruct on the use of blocks to create a firm foundation and encourage students to bring their hand to the inside of the foot as they take twists to try a more stable foundation
  • Use poses like Upward Dog, Cat/Cow sequence, Warrior 1 and Bridge to emphasize how stacking the joints creates a firm foundation
  • Use balancing poses like Tree, Dancers and Eagle to reinforce the importance of foundation to balancing the whole body

Using the muscles of the middle and upper back to open the chest: Many people come to yoga with little awareness of the muscles of the middle and upper back. Spending much of our days hunched over computers and Smart Phones, we feel the effects of a collapsed chest but often lack the knowledge about how to reverse this condition. Yoga gives us many poses and sequence that help us open our chests, which for many, can be an emotional experience as well as they begin to open their heart center.

  • Start students in Mountain Pose. Have them close their eyes and instruct to draw the shoulder blades in and down. Ask them to notice how these movements open the heart center
  • In Upward dog, emphasize the movement of the shoulders “back” and “down” making special note of how the neck is relaxed
  • Use poses like Dancer’s, Camel, Locust, Bow, Bridge, Wheel and Fish to emphasize using the middle to upper back to open the heart center
  • In Savasana, have student place on hand on their heart to help them connect to physical sensations in the body

Using a theme for class can add another dimension to your teaching. Coming up with creative ways to emphasize the theme will also help you grow as a teacher. Additionally, your students will be provided with additional information about the practice. Sticking to essential themes gives your students tools they can use in just about any class, regardless of style. Pick something that inspires you and inspire others!

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