Students come to yoga looking to navigate life’s ups and downs—and never is that more true than during the holiday season.
As a yoga teacher, you’re poised to help students through this time by offering relevant class themes that complement what they’re going through. If you’re new to teaching, this might feel like a welcome challenge. But if you’ve been teaching for a while, holiday themes—another class on gratitude?!—might send you ducking under the covers until January.
Having a list of themes to work with can help you plan your curriculum, but the best classes are those in which teachers add their own contemplative take. Weaving your personal perspectives and experiences into your classes can help you to formulate a relevant theme that your students will remember long after the holiday season has passed.
Here are four ways to spice up those tired holiday class themes.
See also: Principles of Sequencing a Yoga Class
The winter solstice marks the onset of winter, the shortest day of the year, and the waning of the light. It’s a time to turn inward and embrace darkness and the depths one can find in the pause before the light returns and the days begin to grow longer once again.
If the Earth had a 24-hour clock, solstice would be midnight (the bottom of an exhalation), spring equinox would be 9 a.m. (inhalation), summer solstice would be noon (top of an inhalation), and the autumnal equinox would be 9 p.m. (exhalation). Solstice is the pregnant pause before the Earth’s next inhale, a time to let go and contemplate.
Poses to include in your winter solstice practice: Forward bends and seated postures remind students of the importance of turning inward. As they find space in their poses between steadiness and expansion, you can remind them of the space and the pause at the bottom of the exhale.
Things to mention: As a teacher, you might want to offer prompts for contemplation. Some things to consider:
- What are you letting go of? What is falling away? Going to bed too late? Hanging around people who don’t support you? Self-doubt?
- What’s the next chapter in your life? What needs more light? Starting a new career? Reading more books? Starting to compost or embracing a lifestyle that involves less waste?
- I also like to offer suggestions on how to keep light alive even during the darker days of solstice, such as lighting candles throughout the house, watching the sunrise, and bringing fresh flowers into everyday life.
During the holiday season, it’s natural that we tend to do a lot of things for others, like thinking of and finding thoughtful gifts, planning and shopping for gatherings, and making time for social obligations. If you’re inviting others into your home, there’s exponentially more work to be done. And all this while you managing your usual responsibilities related to home, life, and work. It’s no wonder then that self-care often takes a backseat during this time.
Poses to cultivate self-care: Poses that draw you inward, such as forward folds and hip openers, can be a nice touch to symbolize taking care of oneself. Pair these with more expansive poses that symbolize what it feels like to be the host at the party, who has energy to offer and can give from a nourished place.
Things to mention: As a yoga teacher, I ask students to think about how they can ask for help when they’re feeling overwhelmed—whether that’s figuring out how to maintain their yoga or fitness routine during the busy season or setting boundaries with family.
Shift your attitude
The holidays have a reputation for being stressful and intense. And they certainly can be. The mass consumerism and excess doesn’t sit well with many yoga students who try to consume consciously. Not to mention that some people are navigating complicated family dynamics or grieving the loss of a loved one during this time.
What if you encouraged your students to shift out of that “stress” mindset, and into examples of calm and compassion and love for those around them?
Poses to help you shift your attitude: Sequence this yoga class to include some heart-opening backbends, and set the intention that holiday season can—and will—be a positive experience.
Things to mention: I like to give students examples of how to do this, such as:
- Focus on values that apply to everybody: togetherness, generosity, and gratitude.
- Before you join family, keep good company first: Put your headphones on and listen to upbeat music or positive podcasts or books. Go for a solo walk or run. Meditate or read a book before bed.
- As a yoga teacher, contemplate what you do personally to shift your attitude and offer that as another example.
Say gratitude without saying gratitude
It’s understandable—and yet overdone—to theme yoga classes around gratitude near the holidays. It is a great theme! Yet, because it’s taught so frequently, I suspect some people might tune out the message. Find other ways to say “what are you grateful for,” such as “what do you not want to take for granted?” or “what do you feel appreciative of?”
Poses to include: You can practice any pose with a sense of appreciation.
Things to mention: To shake it up, talk about the actual benefits of gratitude. The “why.” You can remind students that gratitude:
- Boosts happiness
- Can reduce feelings of anxiety and depression
- Encourages self-care and, hence healthful choices
- Improves sleep and strengthens relationships
- Sets off a cycle of kindness
I also like to point out that a culture of gratitude that’s too excessive can prevent success in situations that require candor and criticism, which is another form of bypassing. Other creative ideas to shake up gratitude:
- Provide a piece of paper and pen for every student and have them write down three things they feel grateful for, with one thing to share with the group out loud, if they’re comfortable. It’s always important not to pressure students into feeling a way they simply do not feel. For example, someone grieving might not feel grateful right now, while for others, gratitude might help them through their grief.