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7 Ways to Incorporate Yoga Philosophy into a Physical Flow

Find ways to weave yoga philosophy into your asana sequence without alienating or overwhelming your students.

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As yoga teachers, we have so many responsibilities to our students. We keep them physically safe with sage verbal cues and hands-on adjustments. We make them feel welcome and accomplished while simultaneously encouraging them to push their edge. We introduce Sanskrit, and cue their ujjayi breath. Some of us use music and others quote the Bhagavad Gita. We do ALL of this while creating comprehensive flows and guiding an anatomically intelligent asana series.

With all this to manage, it can be challenging to incorporate the more esoteric elements of a well-rounded yoga class including inspiration and the introduction of the other 7 limbs of yoga. Guiding these valuable principles to truly resonate with each person is the real art. Here are some of my favorite tips:

1. Relate the teachings to modern day life

Few people in 2015 America can relate to Hindu deities or ancient holy men so enlightened they practically levitate above mountaintops in Nepal. But people can understand things they deal with in their own lives, so personalize the principles. The lesson of Ahimsa (non-violence), for example can be perfectly applied to our responses to everyday challenges. All the sutras, yamas, and niyamas are just as relevant today as they ever were. We just need to practice articulating their pertinence in modern language.

See also Live Your Yoga: Discover the Yamas + Niyamas

2. Break it down.

Instead of undertaking ALL of Patanjali’s wisdom in one 90-minute class, chose one limb or “yama” per class over a series of classes. This allows bite-sized pieces of wisdom that can be more easily digested.

3. Create your asana series in alignment with your theme.

If you are talking about niyama (personal observances), introspective poses like Eagle, and prostrate positions of honor, like Child’s Pose, are physical embodiments of this idea. Use them to create unity in your theme.

See also 5 Ways to Creatively Sequence a Yoga Class

4. Chose a soundtrack that helps narrate your theme.

If you do use music in class, there are hundreds of songs about love, peace, joy, balance, etc. Find them and allow their lyrics to subtly underscore your theme.

5. Find contemporary references that illustrate ancient spiritual text.

People can’t always relate to Lao Tzu or Sri Swami Vivekananda, but most can relate to John Lennon or Martin Luther King. Similar messages abound throughout history. Find them, so students feel like you are speaking their language.

6. Open their minds to personal contemplation. Don’t tell them what to think.

Telling people how to feel or what to think invites resistance. Offer them the wisdom of the sutras and invite them to consider it. Encourage students to practice applying these limbs and notice the changes it brings into their experiences.

7. Follow your passion.

As any great author will tell you, “write what you know.” We always speak most authentically and passionately about the messages that resonate with US. Start there. When you speak from your soul, it resonates most deeply with others.

See also The Yoga Sutra: Your Guide To Living Every Moment

An Innovative and Inspiring Mind/Body Professional, Elise Joan is the founder of, a groundbreaking new site that allows members to mix-and-match videos in Yoga, Fitness, and Barre to create their own customized workouts and yoga flows (from 10 minutes to 2 hours) and save their favorites as playlists. She has created cutting-edge fitness, barre & yoga programs for the prestigious Equinox fitness clubs and is the creator of several bestselling yoga, ballet and fitness DVDs for Shape, Gaiam, element and Exercise TV among others. Her writing has been published in such magazines as Allure, Elle, Glamour, SELF, Shape, Women’s Health, and LA Yoga.