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.


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