How to Theme Wisely: 10 Best Practices for a Theme-Based Class

The difference between a fine teacher and a great teacher is the ability to inspire students and transform their lives beyond just the asana. To do this, you must tap into your own authentic understanding of how the yoga works for you. From the alchemical experience of your life, you can create relatable themes that make a difference for your students. Lots of people can lead a class by reading from a script, but not everyone can inspire. To do this, you must speak your truth and connect to the hearts of your students by living your yoga. Theming allows you to inspire others by sharing your story and impressions of how yoga heals and increases our joy.

What Is a Theme?

A theme is a concept, phrase, quote, or story that is the focal point of your class. It is the philosophical drishti. It should be relatable, intentional, universal, understandable and honest. You should use your own human experience to embody the teachings of yoga and share what you know with your students. Ideally, it should be transportable into life off the mat. A good theme should be memorable and interesting.

10 Best Practices for Teaching a Theme-Based Class

  1. A common pitfall is to make a "philosophy sandwich" by offering a bit of your inspiration at the beginning and then not referencing it again until the end of practice after Savasana. This will feel empty and contrived to students. It is the equivalent of making a sandwich without anything between the two pieces of bread. Thread your theme intelligently throughout class.

  2. Make your theme appropriate to the audience/students at that moment. Avoid forcing a theme that won’t resonate wisely with your class. For example, you will address courage in preparing to flow toward inversions differently for beginners who are just trying it for their first time versus an advanced group. You need to find the note that resonates within the theme.

  3. The key to theming success is to be PREPARED.

  4. Be sensitive to current events, catastrophes, celebrations, holidays, seasons, mood, energy, and local phenomenon. Speak to what the majority of people are hearing and seeing in the world around them.

  5. Keep it simple and stay on track with your theme. Beware of changing themes or letting the theme expand too large. Keeping it simple and concise allows students to take away the key concept. For example, have a takeaway point or sound byte.

  6. Track the philosophical and/or physical focus of your classes in a diary or calendar. This ensures you are providing a balanced variety to repeat clients.

  7. Embody what you teach. Understand the philosophy in your life before you share it.

  8. Never fake it. Be honest with what you know.

  9. Make it interesting. Is it something you would want to hear about for an hour?

  10. Don't be afraid to bring in darker, more realistic themes like fear, anxiety or anger. Resist the urge to only inspire through positive theming. Students will appreciate it more when you keep it real.

When to Use Your Theme

  • Opening Wave: 1-5 minutes
  • Middle Waves: Include language that relates to your theme; use a thesaurus to keep your wording interesting. Drop in quotes, sutras or chakras that relate to your theme.
  • Closing Wave: 1-3 minutes

Get Organized

  • Create a theme binder and organize your files on your computer into a theming library. The best teachers are the most organized teachers.
  • Recycle your themes, making it easier on yourself while at the same time refreshing your perspective.
  • Keep a theme journal with you at all times for new ideas to capture inspiration as it strikes you. Also stay inspired by taking classes with other inspiring teachers.
  • Use the worksheet Theme-Based Class Plan featured on my website to quickly organize your thoughts into an inspirational theme for teaching class.

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