How to design a yoga class around a theme

Although my formal yoga teacher training ended at the end of November, I still have one more observation to do, one more written assignment, my practicum, and my certification class to complete before I can actually call myself a yoga teacher. The plan was to do my practicum and certification class this February, but due to unforeseen things taking up my time this coming month and now being in full-blown wedding planning mode, I’ve postponed my practicum, observation and certification class until fall of 2018.

Since I had already started my final written assignment back in November, I thought it might be helpful to post it on the blog for yoga teacher class inspiration 🙂

Yogic Text Assignment: Design a class around a theme from a yogic text

Most of the yoga classes I attended at MokSana incorporate elements of yogic tradition into the asanas, which is important because without weaving yoga’s rich tradition into class in some form — be it chanting, meditating or sharing stories — students are just moving their bodies into various positions and gaining none of the mental and spiritual benefits. Yogic philosophy provides context, and a well-prepared class with a yogic theme that ties in nicely with your poses makes a class feel purposeful and complete.

Here’s an example of a class created around a theme.

Introduction: Today’s class will help you let go of your ego and unleash the fearless god or goddess within, using Kali, the fearless mother goodness, as your guide. Kali is featured in many yogic texts, including Devi Mahatmya, a text of the 5th – 6th century AD. The story goes that Kali was created to help the Gods defeat the demons to save humanity, which she did with ease. But after defeating the demons, she got carried away and started destroying everything, until her husband Shiva intervened. Just as she was about to crush him too, she noticed he was beneath her foot and stuck out her tongue in surprise. Kali is often depicted with dark blue skin, protruding tongue, ten arms and hands holding weapons and severed heads, and wearing a garland and skirt of dismembered body parts. Although Kali may sound like the opposite state of what we are trying to achieve in yoga, she is a fierce protector of spirit: it is thought that her gruesome attire represents the ego, and ego arises out of identification with the body.

Peak pose: Utkata Konasana (goddess pose)

Other poses similar to this theme that will work up to the peak pose: Baddhakonasana (Cobbler pose), Parighasana (Gate pose), Malasana, Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II), Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III), Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward fold)

Easy poses in this sequence: Malasana, Cobbler pose, Wide-Legged Forward Fold (seated), Warrior I and II), Gate pose

Poses that may feel hard: Warrior III, Wide-Legged Forward Fold (standing), Triangle pose, Reverse Warrior

Warm-up poses: Windshield wiper legs, supine twist, figure 4 hip stretch, reclined leg extension (in front and out to both sides with a strap, seated wide legged forward fold, cobbler pose, cat cow, lower stomach for half frog, upward facing dog, downward facing dog, low lunge, crescent pose, chair pose.

5 ways to weave the theme throughout the class:

  1. Introduce the theme and tell the legend of Kali at the start of the class before warm up.
  2. During the warm up, have the student incorporate their arms and hands (grasp elbows and circle arms during windshield wiper legs, or have them do arm circles and wrist circles to imagine Kali’s 10 arms and hands).
  3. Ask students to sense each body part as they move through the poses, comparing the physical senses to ego that they are beginning to shed.
  4. When the student get to the peak pose, retell the legend and have them imagine they are destroying their demons – have them stomp each foot and breathe out deeply, sticking their tongues out to release anything they feel they need to release.
  5. After the peak pose, remind students that as Kali was getting out of hand and her significant other appeared to calm her down, so they too can imagine that (…or maybe that would just make them angrier?), or perhaps that their ego has been defeated and all fear is gone. Encourage students to breathe deeply as they move into the cool down poses.