One can also structure a class around a particular action in the body or category of asana. Schumacher suggests teaching a class around the theme of external arm rotation, for example. Such a sequence might include Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Salute); most of the standing poses, including Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose), and Virabhadrasana I, II, and III (Warrior Poses I, II, and III); Urdhva and Adho Mukha Svanasana (Upward- and Downward-Facing Dog Poses); inversions; and backbends.
Be careful that you don’t introduce a theme at the beginning of class and then fail to fully develop it. To continually apply the theme of external arm rotation, for example, Schumacher would “show how different poses are related to each other and how the theme is varied and adapted from pose to pose.”
When Not to Theme?
While themes deepen the connection between your students and the subject matter, they can just as easily estrange them.
This is a point with which Mark Whitwell, author of Yoga of Heart, agrees.
“The problem of setting themes in yoga class is that each person is unique. A theme that applies to one person may not be relevant to another.”
He finds this to be true especially in the case of using popular Hindu images and deities as themes. This can be confusing and conflicting for some students, he says.
When your theme applies to your audience and teaching environment, it has a better chance of making a positive impact. Therefore, to ensure that your theme has relevancy, Manchester encourages us to first ask ourselves, “Where do you want to take your students in any given day? What do they need? What will best serve them?”
Another downside of using themes is their potential to make a teacher feel restrained and unable to flow with the immediate needs of the class. Schumacher offers an antidote to this. “Much as a jazz musician follows a chord progression while improvising on the theme,” he reveals, “the yoga teacher can find numerous creative and expressive ways to bring a theme to life in a truly original way without feeling hampered by it.”
With practice, you can learn to operate within a predetermined structure while still enjoying improvisation and creativity.
Tips for Success
Before you teach your next class, first sit down with a pencil and paper. Brainstorm possible themes until you come up with one that feels rich and topical. Next, jot down supporting words, phrases, imagery, appropriate asana, Pranayama, and meditation. Research yogic philosophy or poetry you may excerpt, if applicable,and link all of the components together in a sequence.
Rehearse the whole thing in your mind, from start to finish. Pay special attention to how you will open and close the classat these points, you can have the most impact on your students. Be sure, however, that you find ways to develop the theme throughout the entire class. Don’t start out strong only to let the theme face away 15 minutes later. Stay with it.
Lastly, make refinements. Experiment with vocabulary, pacing and the volume and inflection of your voice. Then test it out! Most likely, you will delight in the results. “Themes have only brought more focus to my classes, creating a more profound experience for my students,” shares Manchester. “They are a wonderful way to allow them to reflect inside and see themselves more fully.”