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.

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

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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!!

7 Useful Tasks for Yoga Teachers to do during COVID19

Useful tasks for yoga teachers and teachers in training to do during the covid19 shutdown

2020 has turned in to a year of unsettling challenge for everyone, including yoga teachers. As a result of Covid19 the global population has had to manage a myriad of changes from personal lifestyle to working life.

Many industries have been impacted heavily and the yoga industry is one of those. As shared spaces such as gyms and yoga studios have had to temporarily close teaching yoga has had to adapt.

Online classes and teaching via the web have become the norm and a way to maintain a teaching schedule. But these changes have also freed us up from time commitment of traveling and managing several teaching slots in different locations. With the stay at home situation we have an opportunity to spend some of this time on other yoga related tasks.

Here is a list of 7 useful tasks for yoga teachers to do during Covid19.

1. Clean your yoga mat

Take the time to cleanse all of your yoga props. Use organic products to clean your mat, blocks and other hard props. It is also a worthwhile laundering blankets and any bolsters or eye pillows that have removable covers.

There are many organic yoga mat cleaners available – take a look at these essential oil yoga mat cleaning products.

2. Review your Mission Statement

As a yoga teacher, defining is one of the most useful tasks you can do. During this time of significant changes take time to review your expectations, career & study plans and offerings. What do you want from your yoga teaching?

Take a look at yogaskinny’s blog post about the importance of your mission statement or click here for a yoga mission statement template available on yogaskinnystudio.

With the stay at home situation we have a chance to work on other yoga related tasks

3. Study

Read those yoga books you have always meant to catch up with or invest is some new areas of the practice. You might want to improve your anatomy understanding, read about a different school of yoga such as Iyengar, or study the Yoga Sutras in more depth

4. Update your Yoga Study Tracker

Becoming a yoga teacher requires constant trainings and workshop participation along with, more recently, online studying. All of these form an important part of our ongoing learning and practice and it is important to document these.

Also, take some time to collate all of the teaching hours you have already completed. This is critical information, particularly if you are working toward Yoga Alliance memberships. Take a look at yogaskinnystudio’s downloadable PDF Study Tracker as a useful tool to keep this information in one place.

yoga study tracker work in progress for yoga teachers & teachers in training
A valuable resource for yoga teachers to keep track of their studies & teaching hours

5. Get Creative

It is well documented how a creative practice, in whatever discipline you enjoy, is a great form of self care. For me, journaling and crafting are my favorite creative practices outside of yoga. Take some time out to pursue you favorite creative pastime.

This could be writing, baking or crafting amongst countless others. If you are interested in creating something to complement your yoga practice take a look here or decorate your own dedicated yoga journal ready for you to document your practice and your thoughts.

Despite the challenges presented to us through this difficult time it is always valuable to look for the positive in a situation

6. Yoga Class Planning

Take some time to organize your class plans or spend time on your mat working on new themes, transitions and sequencing. Adapting to online teaching requires creative solutions for demonstrating and working through poses when yoga teachers cannot be physically standing next to your student. Use a dedicated Yoga Class Planner to create classes for constant referral.

7. Practice, Practice, Practice

Spending more time at home gives us an opportunity to spend more time on the mat. Or does it? If you’re struggling to get in to a routine because of your changes in routine that a look here for some simple tips.

Despite the challenges presented to us through this difficult time it is always valuable to look for the positive in a situation. Regard this change in our lives as an opportunity to offer a new perspective and provide us with helpful tools to deal with it.

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