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10 Themes To Focus On When Teaching Yoga

Karen Fabian
June 11, 2013
Karen Fabian
EYRT, NASM-certified personal trainer
June 11, 2013

Sometimes, at the beginning of class, teachers will ask their students to “set an intention for your practice.” But as a teacher, do you set an intention for your teaching?

An intention for teaching is more like a theme. It could speak to a physical focus or a mental one, and it may be something you speak to or could be something that you integrate as part of the sequence without necessarily telling the class. Whatever it is, it’s a way for you to focus yourself and put some thought, care and preparation into how you want the class to go.

Here are some suggested themes:

1. Grounding/Steadiness

This could be emphasized by staying with essential, basic poses and focusing on the alignment, along with calling attention to the straight lines present in each pose. Props can be used to create a physical experience of steadiness as well as comments about how the foundation we create in poses can create a sense of steadiness in our lives.

2. Opening/External rotation

Poses that emphasize external rotation through the hips and shoulders illustrate this theme on a physical level, while speaking to the expansion one feels when in these kinds of postures brings the theme to a higher level. These poses can also bring students into the opposite direction (opening the chest versus hunching) than they are for most of the day and bring on very powerful feelings and sensations.

3. Balancing

These poses can bring up a great deal of frustration for students as they fall out of a pose. Offering this as a theme allows you to challenge their sense of balance, helps them develop stronger legs and also examine how these poses push their buttons.

4. Learning/Discovery 

You may choose to go into class with the intention to explain something in more detail. It could be something that's done all the time in class and you want to be sure students understand the alignment. An example of this would be the proper way to move from high to low pushup. This theme speaks to the student’s ability to stay open to learning, even if they think they already know how to do the pose. Testing their ability to be a “beginner” is part of sharing how “beginner’s mind” is critical to being present and open as a yoga student.

5. Relaxing/Centering

Presenting poses that are more restorative in nature gives the students a chance to slow down and notice how their bodies feel. In the warm summer months, this can have a cooling effect. Even if you teach heated classes, you can use a slightly slower pace to create a more restful feel to the practice. Speak to creating a strong foundation, working from the “center, out,” and encouraging students to rest when they need to.

6. Twisting/Rinsing

Focusing the practice on twists, both in standing postures as well as those on the floor, can be a tremendous release. Using this as a theme allows you the chance to speak to how the breath fuels the twist, and how twists aid digestion and strengthen the core. The physical movement of twisting brings up the idea of relieving stress and getting rid of what the body doesn't need.

7. Breathing/Meditating 

Starting class with a seated meditation will allow this theme to work its way nicely into the class. You can support the idea of creating a meditative space by sticking to an essential sequence and keeping your verbal instruction focused, brief but effective. This theme works well when people seem to be very stressed, you have a restorative class or something has happened in the local, regional or national arena that is creating stress and pain for the public.

8. Strengthening/Challenging

Focusing on poses to strengthen can give people a feeling of accomplishment and stability. Including poses like Warrior 1 and 2, Side Plank, Crow and Half Moon, as well as including abdominal work, can help your students build strength and stamina. Speaking to their sense of “inner strength” can help them to acknowledge that they may be stronger than they think.

9. Holding/Working with resistance

While this can be a tough theme to bring into class and stay committed to as a teacher, it can be a great way to challenge your students to relax in their bodies while receiving strong feedback at the same time. This theme would work well in a restorative class but can also work in a flow class if you hold the poses towards the end of class longer and focus on hip openers.

10. Listening to intuition 

This theme is wonderful for encouraging people to listen to their own sense of what works for them in each pose. You could bring this up as a theme by speaking to it at the beginning of class. You could use very essential instruction to give students’ ample space and room to move into each pose on their own. Once you’ve taught one or two Sun Salutation A’s and B’s, allow students to move through the sequences on their own as this is a great way to have them listen to their breath and their own inner guidance.

Regardless of the theme you chose, take a few minutes before each class to set one. You may decide to forgo it once you assess the level of the students in class or perhaps the energetic vibe in the room (or in your gut) tells you it’s not a good fit for that particular class. Working with these themes can give you an additional challenge as a teacher and can bring a richness and variability to the your classes.

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Karen Fabian author page.
Karen Fabian
EYRT, NASM-certified personal trainer

Karen Fabian is the Founder of Bare Bones Yoga. She is an ERYT and Certified Baptiste Teacher and has been teaching since 2002.

Karen teaches in studios, schools, training centers and businesses in Boston. She teaches anatomy for yoga teachers in a variety of teacher training programs. She also has a teacher mentorship program and writes for a variety of yoga related websites. She self-published her first book, "Stretched: Build Your Yoga Business, Grow Your Teaching Techniques," in July, 2014. Her book, DVD and schedule are all available on