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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Yoga Stick Figures for your Yoga Class Planning

photo credit David Perkins

So……..are you a writer or a sketcher?  For me, as a yoga teacher sketch planning yoga classes using yoga stick figures is one of the most useful and fun things to do in preparation for a class.

Who Could Use Yoga Stick Figures 

But it’s not just for yoga teachers.  Teacher trainees & all yoga students can work with visuals to really help with understanding sequencing, asana mechanics and yoga practice flow.

I have always been a yoga class plan sketcher and my yoga stick figure has evolved over time.  It started with your typical kindergarten kinda look.  Disproportioned with straight limbs and a circle head but still illustrating the form of the pose and idea of the sequence.

Over time my yoga stick figure has evolved into more of a character with a round belly and pony tail.

The pony tail became a feature as I always wear a ponytail myself. The belly feature is getting there too 😉 

Eventually she became the inspiration for my blog logo.  

Creating your Yoga Stick Figure

You don’t need to be an amazing artist to create your yogi and classes with sketches.

I love the work of artist Eva Lotta Lam.  She has created a number of books about sketching and her book Yoga Notes: How to Sketch Yoga Postures & Sequences is an awesome resource for yogis.

Yoga Notes by Eva-Lotta Lam
Photo by Eva-Lotta Lam

Eva shows you how to sketch your own simple yoga stick figure and illustrates a bunch of yoga poses and sequences.

Her little yogi characters are so adorable that just flicking through them is inspiring enough on its own.

In my own sketches the orientation of the pose and gaze is shown by the position of the ponytail.  ie. if the ponytail is facing upwards then she is facing forward eg tadasana. Or to the left or the right if she is facing to the side eg virabhadrasana 2

Eva includes a nose on her yogi to demonstrate the position of the head and gaze.

Anatomical perfection is not critical as long as your sketches show the ‘essence of an asana’ Eva says. Simplicity is the best place to start and then you can embellish and make your yogi your own as you continue to sketch more.

How to Create your Sequence 

Whether you are planning classes or taking practice notes here’s how to start.

Grab paper and your favorite pen.  You can use index cards, a dedicated journal or  a yoga class planner that has been devised specifically for the sketching purpose of creating your own yoga class plans.

I devised a planner specifically to create an organized approach to my yoga class planning.  It’s an instantly downloadable 3 page PDF which you can see in my online store yogaskinnystudio here

You can sketch, create a written plan and list all of the details of your class such as class focus, props needed and blessing/reading.

How to take your notes

  1. Practice simple stick yoga figures. Approach with an open mind and no concern for artistic perfection! Take a look at Eva’s yoganotes blog for inspiration
  2. Start creating your sketch sequences with your stick figure.
  3. Add written notes as you go (if you need to)

Ta-da!  Enjoy sketching and have fun with your yoga character!

how to sketch a yoga avatar
Aren’t these just the cutest! Photo credit Eva-Lotta Lam

You can find out more about Eva’s adorable yoga sketches and her book yoganotes here

yoga sketch stick figures with class planner and sketching pens

Yoga Decluttering for Yoga Teachers & Instructors

Declutter and streamline your yoga class plans
Do your yoga class plans spark joy?

Do your yoga class plans spark joy?  Have you ever applied Marie Kondo’s decluttering method (the life changing magic of tidying up) to your yoga class planning?  As the evenings get longer and the weather cooler, take the opportunity to declutter and streamline your yoga teaching.

Downloadable PDF yoga class plans
Choose from 3 designs for your yoga class planner template

Midway through a recent office declutter I came across old bundles of yoga class plans on scraps of paper, index cards and spread throughout numerous notebooks.  It was time to transfer all of the elements of my class planning that ‘sparked joy’ and incorporate them in to the new, streamlined and organized yoga class plan system that I’d started to use.

Declutter Your Yoga Life

Out went…..

Yoga Magazines

Numerous yoga magazines from different publishers.  I tore out a handful of inspiring and teaching related articles that I wanted to keep.  And I also spent time gathering a stack of yoga imagery that I like to use for art journaling purposes.

I haven’t renewed any of my yoga magazine subscriptions since as I want to be more selective with my purchasing.  To be honest, I haven’t missed them.

Yoga Books

Not all of them but a handful.  I do have a great deal of yoga, anatomy & yoga philosophy books but I simply don’t read or refer to them any more.  I know which titles I constantly pick up and love and the more post it notes and pencil marks there are confirm their value to me.  If I haven’t felt compelled to underline or highlight anything then there is a good chance it isn’t the right yoga book for me.

As with magazines, I’ve reviewed my book buying habit and if I feel it’s a book I would really use and enjoy then the library or ebay will be my go to place.

Streamline Your Yoga Class Plans

Yoga class plan template
Downloadable PDF yoga class plan template

Yoga Class Plans

I came across a big, higgledy piggledy pile of papers notebooks and index cards.  I’ve used many different techniques for yoga class planning over the years.  I now know that working on individual sheets of paper with written notes & sketches is the technique that works best for me.  This inspired me to create my own yoga class planner which I now print as needed and file in one location.  It makes preparing for classes and working on sequences, themes and class types so much easier and organized.

With the paper clutter sorted, I moved on to other yoga related physical clutter.

Yoga class planner in use
Organized yoga class plans

Yoga Clothing

Ooh dear.  Way too many leggings!  Going through the yoga clothes was a quick project.  Washed out yoga leggings had lost shape and gained transparency in areas you wouldn’t want.   As for the gold embellished bootleg legging that had been worn only once, it was time to let go.  And for tops, I don’t have many but a couple of the baggier ones were removed – they don’t do well in inversions!

Yoga Props

My yoga space stores a set of basic props – home yoga mat (another lives in the car), 2 cork blocks, 2 straps, 1 bolster and 4 blankets (possibly too many but I had to invest in them for a restorative training).  I haven’t donated anything as I’ve repurposed the props I’ve replaced.

I’ve cut up an old yoga mat for various upcycling projects and a pair of old foam blocks make great homemade stamps for crafting!

Yoga Websites

I have subscribed to many yoga related websites across recent years.  Digital clutter is just as suffocating as physical so I’m spending time every day reviewing all yoga related email.  My intention is to receive email from yoga sites that I really love to read each time they post.  This decluttering exercise may take some time …..