Creating a Theme-Centered Class
We all have yoga classes that stand out in our minds. Perhaps we found ourselves in a puddle of cathartic tears during Savasana (Corpse Pose) or euphoric after rising into an unassisted Sirsasana (Headstand) for the first time. Something that the teacher said, or simply her way of being, can stick with us for years. As yoga teachers, we all want to deliver such classes. We want to touch our students' hearts, even long after they leave their yoga mats.
So, then, what is it that sets an exemplary yoga class apart from a forgettable one? Is there a method behind the magic?
The Power of Themes
Jeanie Manchester, a certified Anusara teacher based in Boulder, Colorado, believes that the answer resides in creating a theme-centered class.
"A theme has the potential to take students to the very heart of the yoga practice: To remember and to recognize our basic connection to the universe and to each other," she says.
John Schumacher, director of Unity Woods in Bethesda, MD, agrees. "People generally absorb experiences and information much more readily when it is presented in an organized, thematic manner," he says.
Selecting a Theme
In choosing a theme, consider using a philosophical concept (like the three gunas), a category of asana (such as twisting), an event in nature (say, the full moon), or a pair of opposing heart qualities (try willpower and playfulness).
Schumacher, a senior Iyengar teacher, also advises to "first and foremost, pick a theme that is interesting to you and about which you have some real knowledge and understanding."
If you do not feel comfortable with or passionate about your subject matter, your students will sense it quickly.
One way to assure that your students resonate with the theme-at-hand is to choose a topic that specifically addresses one of their questions or expressed interests.
"Students often ask a question about yoga, like 'How does the coccyx help you find the back body?'" Manchester says. "This can lead me into an entire week's worth of themes relating physical anatomy to 'The Universal Presence.' I love when students ask a question because then I really know I'm serving a need."
Putting It into Action
To introduce a theme, begin the class by briefly reading a passage or telling a personal anecdote that effectively sets the stage. The ideas brought up can then be fleshed out and developed through your sequencing and choice of language.
Don't spend too much time talking, though. Your theme will have more impact once the students get moving and can sense it in their bodies through direct experience.
"Sequencing and themes go hand-in-hand," says Manchester. One category of themes that she uses is nature's pulsations, or spanda, such as the autumnal equinox, the juncture between summer and winter.
"Summer lends itself to backbending. Winter lends itself to forward folding, hip opening, going inside," she says. For sequencing, then, she suggests a backbend focus, and midway through the class shift to more "quieting, cooling, meditative poses," such as forward bends, hip openers, twists, and inversions.