Back to Basics for your Yoga Practice & Teaching

getting back to yoga basics for your practice and teaching
photo credit Laura-Olsen-AIlaizu

2021 brings with it a lot of baggage but also a lot of hope for a better year. A fresh start, even with current challenges, presents an opportunity to take a beginners mindset and go back to basics for your yoga practice and teaching.

Sometimes as a yoga practitioner or yoga teacher we can become consumed by the need to do something new. New poses, original sequencing and unique themes all bring freshness to a yoga practice.

But the bigger value can be found more often when we get back to basics. Here are a few ideas to bring the yoga in your life back to basics.

1. The Poses

As every conscientious yogi will know, Tadasana (mountain pose) is considered the foundation stone for other asanas. It is often the pose we sweep back to in a vinyasa flow sequence but consider how long you actually hold this pose?

Spend time really exploring those poses that are the cornerstones of your own regular practice or teaching. Review those poses you turn to frequently and become curious about every detail of the asana. Make adjustments and use props where necessary to refine the form of the pose. Take one of your regular poses and spend a yoga practice focusing just on that one asana.

Approach it as a beginner and refer to online classes, books and the advice of your teacher (if you can during these Covid times) to really research, study and practice the pose. Make use of your yoga materials to read up on the meaning, benefits and anatomical detail of the pose. ( I really recommend BKS Iyengar’s books – ‘Light on Yoga’ and ‘Path to Holistic Health’ are helpful)

A Better Frame of Mind.

2. Attitude

Sometimes when we step on to our mat we are full of the negativity of ‘not in the mood’ for yoga. But we all know that we will always step off the mat in a better frame of mind.

Confront your mood by telling yourself that you will do only one pose. It may well be you only do one pose but there is a reasonable chance you will do another. Remember, any time spent on yoga whether asana or other yoga study is part of the practice – bad mood or good!

3. Reading & Study

Specifically, the Yoga Sutras. If you don’t already have a copy it is a worthwhile investment. The Yoga Sutras is the foundational textbook of our yoga practice. Dip back in to the Sutras. Choose just one Sutra to contemplate. If you are a teacher spend time considering how you can introduce this theme in to your class.

A Beginners Mindset and Go Back to Basics

4. Journaling, Note Taking & Class Planning

By journaling and taking handwritten notes we begin to slow our thinking and become more mindful of our ideas as we write. That physical action of putting pen to paper gives us an opportunity to bring our thoughts, ideas, yoga class planning and study to a quiet moment. Free of the digital distraction of a screen see where the simplicity of just writing takes you.

5. Teaching with a Beginners Mind

Teach a class to your students with a back to basics theme. Really break down the elements of each pose. Dedicate a class to just one or two beginners poses that you practice in depth. Make your verbal clues more direct and simplify your yoga language. Spread the toes. Ground the heels. Engage the thigh muscles. Open the palm. Combine these phrases with clear demonstration during your instruction to the class. Remember that as teachers we are always in a place of constant learning which is why it is called a yoga ‘practice’.

It can be difficult to get a clear perspective on the challenges we are all facing as individuals, communities and a global population. Use your yoga practice to anchor you while you navigate these overwhelming and unpredictable times.

Shop Small & Handmade – Gift Ideas for Yogis

photo credit joanna kosinska on unsplash

Now that we approach the end of a very difficult 2020 it seems that our holidays this year will be a little different this year

Everyone has had a tough time in 2020 and one of those groups really affected by lockdowns are the small, local businesses. Online shopping has become their way to keep going. So with that in mind let’s shop small with unique independent makers and crafters.

Check out these great gift ideas either for yourself (happy holidays to me!) or your favorite yoga and self care fan.

Macrame Rainbow Essential Oil Diffuser

photo by stick and thread

How fun is this? A little handmade rainbow essential oil diffuser for your home or your car. Just a few drops of oil added to the bead and hang wherever you like. It has to be on show somewhere as it’s too cute to hide away!

Organic Meditation Cushion Set

photo renoolife

How beautiful is this? Love the meditation cushions but double love the color. If this doesn’t inspire you to sit quietly for a moment of meditation or mindfulness then what will?!!

Wooden Tea Box with Glass Lid

photo the bamboo leaf

A critical part of any self care day is a hot cup of herbal tea. We’ve all got oodles of these little tea envelopes with the tea cups. Why not give them some extra special storage to make each drink a treat!

Organic Hemp Yoga Mat

photo khusiinc

100% Handmade. Natural. Biodegradable. What better gift could you give. Ticking all the boxed for a sustainable product to be loved forever!

Yoga Tote Bag

photo buddhigear

Cross body shoulder Bag. Great for yoga, great for groceries, great for travel. Who doesn’t need foldaway, reusable bag for using again and again and again. In fact, it’s a life essential!

Essential Oil Rack

photo superfinepine

We’ve all got at least five or six essential oils haven’t we? Whether for our diffuser or body care how useful is this dinky essential oil rack? (fits 15ml bottles, by the way )

Wooden Yoga Blocks

photo burmanwoodcraft

For the dedicated yogi in your life – especially the Iyengar fans. These solid wooden blocks are perfect for supporting poses and bringing the floor to you when you can’t make it to the floor. These firm blocks are also perfectly shaped for super easy wrapping!

Mini Yoga Artwork

photo maycontainpaper

Minature artwork to grace a yogi’s altar. These little canvases come with their own little easel for easy display in your yoga and meditation space. These artworks are from yogaskinny’s sister etsy site, maycontainpaper.

Embroidered Meditation Shawl

photo thestitchbarnstore

They say that having a dedicated meditation shawl is a way of absorbing all of the good energy from your meditation practice. What a wonderful concept! Keep cozy and warm during meditation or even use as your post yoga cover up. This beautiful, drapey wrap can be personalized with elegant embroidery for that extra special touch

Handbound Plant Dyed Hemp Journal

photo katagolda

This organic plant dyed journal is handbound contains 92 pages of unlined paper for all of your journaling thoughts, ideas and notes. Available in a bunch of gorgeous colors. I think I’ll have the orange….no, the turquoise…..no, the red…..no……..eeek. I want all of them!

Lavender Eye Pillow

Photo fieldhousetextile

Everyone needs a little down time and everyone needs a lavender eye pillow. These unique eye pillows are filled with rice, dried lavender and lavender essential oil in a a naturally dyed case. The perfect accompaniment to a relaxing savasana.

Make this year’s holidays a little more special by committing to shop small and support small businesses. Let’s look for a positive from 2020 and maybe we’ll all just convert to the idea of ‘shop small’ going forward. How good would that be? 🙂

Please know that I am an etsy affiliate which means that I may earn a small commission from any gifts you purchase via yogaskinny.

Creating Themes for Yoga Classes

lady doing yoga and smiling.  creating themes for yoga classes - tips for yoga teachers
Photo Credit – Wesley Tingey on Unsplash

Creating a theme for a yoga class is one of the best ways of incorporating the true philosophy of yoga into teaching a yoga class.

Creating themes for yoga classes is an essential aspect of creating a well rounded yoga class.

Although we have embraced the practice of yoga in the West much of the time it is still considered a way of keeping fit. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, of course, but sometimes it misses out on the other benefits of a yoga practice.

As a yoga teacher wanting to share the joys of yoga how can you incorporate themes? There are several sources of inspiration you can turn to.

Learn from your own teachers and classes you attend (whether in person or online)

Listen to the words of your own teachers. The words that inspire and whose classes that leave you feeling uplifted and inspired. Use the phrases and ideas that speak to you in your own yoga class planning & teaching. Incorporate your own authentic voice into the themes that inspire you when you use them in your own classes.

The classic yoga text, The Yoga Sutras, and other reading (yoga or otherwise)

You can always find inspiration in the Yoga Sutras. There is a lifetime of learning and inspiration in just this text alone. The first two limbs of the eight limbs of yoga, the yamas & niyamas are full of easy to interpret themes.

The theme of ahimsa, or non harming, can be interpreted in many ways. An obvious interpretation would be to encourage your students to practice the poses without force. Don’t attempt to make that pose happen if your knee joint is in pain or your hamstrings are screaming at you. Don’t allow your ego to be swayed by other students in the room pulling off the full pose. Observe your own body and thought patterns and honor them.

stack of books including teaching yoga beyond the poses with a cup of tea

Other written inspiration options to explore include poetry and quotations from spiritual texts. Poets & authors I love and refer to often are Rumi, Pema Chodron, Shakti Gawain & Julia Cameron

Creating Themes for Yoga Classes

I recently came across a wonderful book all about theming and ideas. Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses is written by two yoga teachers. It is a mixture of book and workbook so that you can develop your ideas in one location.

Broken up in to three parts, part 1 explores how to find your own voice. Being authentic to who you are and your teaching is critical to teaching authentically.

Part 2 is packed full of 54 themes for you to explore including the yamas & niyamas, quotes and other ideas from outside of yoga.

Each theme summarises a little about the theme, quotes or poems that connect to the theme and poses that would work well. There is also a range of suggested phrases that help to incorporate the theme in to the class from beginning to end.

From these theme breakdowns you can start to develop your own from quotes you love or experiences you’ve had. Avoid overwhelm by choosing simple themes that are are succinct and easy to demonstrate through poses.

For example, you can illustrate the theme of ‘opening up to change’ through the use of backbends and open heart poses such as salabhasana (locust), urdhva mukha svanasana and ustrasana (camel). Backbends are good opening poses to reflect this theme.

Part 3 of the book includes a bunch of really useful, blank theme templates for you to use to develop your own notes, ideas and themes for class.

Theme template from the pages of teaching yoga beyond the poses
Theme page template from Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses

Your own experience and personal anecdotes

Observe how your teachers may use a simple personal anecdote or piece of yoga philosophy to weave a theme through a class.

Be sure to make use of your own experiences. Use those small moments of inspiration in your day to day life. Even the simplest experience can be used as a way of illustrating a theme you can incorporate into your class.

Maybe it’s the unexpected kindness from a stranger or the surprising outcome from an event you were dreading. All personal experiences can work as start points for your theme inspiration.

An easy place to harvest ideas is through the use of a gratitude journal or daily journal. The simple things we are grateful for each day can really spark inspiration in your students when incorporated in to a yoga class.

Your teacher training manuals & materials

There is a good chance that a teacher training that you have attended has included materials on yoga philosophy. Take time to re-read those materials and your own notes from the training. There is a good chance that you have jotted down an idea that inspired you at the time and you can now develop a theme from it.

Weaving a theme through your class – a summary

  • The key thing to weaving a theme through one of your classes is to start from a place of authenticity.
  • Your students will recognize when the phrases you are using come from a place of authenticity and personal meaning.
  • Talk about the theme briefly in your class opening.
  • Describe how certain poses or sequences illustrate or reflect the theme.
  • Refer back to your theme through your words as you lead your students through poses and breath work.
  • With gently repetition incorporate your theme throughout the length of the class.
  • On closing the class, wind down and use an inspiring quote or mantra to illustrate the theme further.

With practice and repetition, theming will become easier and second nature to you and your classes will become more engaging and offer more of that yoga value that we, as teachers, strive to share.


Please know that, like many blogs, products featured on yogaskinny sometimes include affiliate links. So if you choose to make a purchase you are helping to support the site because a small commission may be paid. This really helps me with the costs of running my small blog for things such as web hosting, software costs & site maintenance.

Art Journaling for Self Care

open page of art journal for art journaling for self care
“Stay Strong” mixed media art journal page by @maycontainpaper

(materials used above include old book pages, vintage handwriting, PDF download numbers, acrylic paint & Tim Holtz artist tissue & phrases)

Self care has become the big go to phrase of late. And now, in this strange time of Covid, it has become more important than ever.

For me I have really begun to lean on creative outlets as a way of meeting self care needs. One of my favorite ways of creating is through art journaling.

So, what is art journaling and what exactly is an art journal?

Art journaling is a creative way of showing ideas, thoughts and experiences through art. Using collage, mixed media, sketching and words (among other techniques) your art journal is a personal, creative, visual expression of you.

Why to Art Journal

As a yogi, I liken art journaling to a form of meditation. Sitting quietly in front of a page and combining collage with color, words and sketching is calming and brings the focuses the mind.

The purpose of the journal isn’t to create a perfect piece of art in much the same way that forming the perfect yoga pose isn’t the goal. It is the practice of journaling creatively with your own choice of words, color and pattern. As with yoga, it is the journey and not the destination that is key.

For a yogi, it is much like a regular yoga practice. The contrast between the beginning of a yoga practice and the end of a yoga practice. Sitting down to art journal feels like sitting down on your yoga mat and working with words, colors and imagery as you would work through poses.

As a yogi, I liken art journaling to a form of meditation

How to Start

The physical journal itself is not important. Some people work in a planner, others choose to journal in a dedicated sketchbook and others may create their own journal (which is a great self care craft too 😉

yellow art journal page
“I feel so lucky” mixed media art journal page by @maycontainpaper

(materials used above include old book pages, handmade paper, magazine cutouts, handprinted tissue papers, black fine line marker, acrylic paint & Tim Holtz phrases)

Gather Materials

Gather your materials for your art journaling. This does not have to be special equipment. In fact, a quick rummage around your home could easily unearth an old planner and pen. Even one of your children’s discarded exercise books and colored pencils would work. Or maybe a bound note book with a cheap set of acrylic paints is perfect starting point. The weight of the paper or the brand of the pencil isn’t important. Just choose the materials that are to hand and the colors that appeal to you.

Sitting down to art journal feels like sitting down on your yoga mat and working with the words, colors and imagery as you would work through the poses.

You may like to add other paper ephemera and magazine imagery to work in collage. Trying mixing different paint mediums with pencil & chalk or add glitter and stitches. No rules! (you can see some ideas for creating a very simple journal here on yogaskinny)

A quick search on google or instagram of art journaling will bring up a whole swathe of art journal work. Use these as a quick visual resource to inspire you to start. Avoid copying too closely and let your own color choices and marks start you on your journey.

Art journaling is a very personal practice. Your own creative work will always have more depth and meaning than recreating the work of others.

Give it a try and see how meditative art journaling can be and make creativity part of you self care routine.

All of the art journal pages shown here are my own pages from my Instagram account @maycontainpaper

“Choose to see the good stuff” mixed media page by @maycontainpaper

(materials used above include old book pages, magazine cutouts, handprinted tissue papers, black fine line marker, brown packing tape, white paint pen, gold leaf, acrylic paint & Tim Holtz phrases)

Five Really Useful Yoga Books

With schedules changing due to current world events I’ve found myself looking beyond the usual books I refer to on my yoga bookshelf.

This selection of five books is not your usual bundle covering physical poses and sequences. Dip in to yoga asana with props, yoga in day to day life, yoga themes for classes, your yoga business & yoga teacher ethics.

These five really useful yoga books are great options to revisit during stay at home and quarantine days.

The Path to Holistic Health – BKS Iyengar

This is a weighty, hardback book that’s not really easy to tote around in your yoga bag! Ideal for home use – and can be used as a thin yoga block too 😉 Bonus!

With yoga practice and online classes from home it’s a great book to leave open for constant referral at the side of your mat.

I love the huge section of the book that incorporates props. Mr Iyengar’s use of props are critical for a balanced practice enabling you to create the form of the poses with support.

The yoga therapy section is also a great help for sequencing for specific needs, conditions and groups. Sooooo useful.

Living your Yoga – Judith Hanson Lasater

This has always been one of my favorite yoga books. I have a very well used copy and will regularly revisit its pages. Nothing about the poses here but lots about how to incorporate yoga into your life – the whole bigger picture of yoga!

Full of personal anecdotes and presented in a down to earth and easy to read way, this book is a must have reference. You can see my more detailed review of Judith’s book here.

Teaching Yoga Beyond the Poses – Sage Rountree & Alexandra Desiato

This is a really useful book. In fact, more of a workbook. I bought my copy to help explore new themes when class planning.

As well as using themes from the Yoga Sutras it also explores other quotes and ideas that can support a theme.

There is inspiration to be found in the simple every day moments that are worth exploring and incorporating into your classes.

At the back of the book there are a bunch of useful theme templates that can be used to develop your own ideas. An asset for any yoga teacher or teaching trainee.

every yogi’s bookshelf needs to make space for these really useful yoga books

yogaskinny

The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga – Amy Ippolitti

With the drastic changes in the yoga teaching industry it is crucial to keep a ‘business’ head as we navigate the new normal.

Although some of the teaching scenarios aren’t relevant right at this moment lots of the other content is super relevant. Teaching, marketing, professional relationships, planning & finances are just some of the topics that are all covered in an easy to digest way. You can see a more detailed review of Amy’s book posted here on yogaskinny.

Teaching Yoga – Donna Farhi

I’ve been spending time re-reading Donna Farhi’s book as its focus explores the teacher-student relationship. No yoga sequences or poses to be found here but a well written discussion about the ethics of yoga teaching.

She describes various situations between teacher and student and details ‘ethical inquiries’ as a start point to consider further. It’s a useful read for any yoga teacher wanting to learn more about the teacher/student relationship.

All of these books are worth exploring as part of your own yoga study and practice. Not just focusing on the physical practice but providing an opportunity to nurture your learning, improve your teaching and understand your spiritual connection to this wonderful practice.

As I’m an Amazon affiliate I may receive a small commission for any purchase you make from my blog. However, I do recommend you search for these books through secondhand outlets such as eBay and other sellers. I buy almost all of my yoga books used, have never been disappointed and always save money. win-win!!