The most important thing to keep in mind when planning your yoga class is to teach about what is relevant & exciting to you right now. The second most important thing is to KNOW what you are teaching about. What is your message? If you don’t know, your class won’t be as powerful. With that in mind, here are three elements to a great yoga class to contemplate & plan out before you teach.
3 key elements to planning yoga classes:
This is the feeling-tone of your class. You do not need to choose it ahead of time, but it can be helpful to contemplate how you want your students to FEEL during your class & moderate your poses, pace, and tone of voice based on this.
Your sequence of poses/practices should be carefully chosen to progressively warm up the body to prepare for more challenging poses and balance the nervous system. There are many wonderful sequences out there by experienced teachers that you can use as a starting point. It is wonderful to get creative too, but be aware that not every body will respond to the same sequence the same way, so just because it worked for your body does not mean it will serve your students. If you are creating your own sequence, try to imagine being in different bodies (a large one, a stiff one, a hyper-mobile one etc) as you practice your sequence.
Your theme is the thread that ties together the different parts of your class. The best themes are what you, the teacher, feels is exciting & relevant. When you teach a theme that excites you, it will infuse your class with energy. However, be careful to not make the theme about you – themes must be made relevant for every student in the room. The easiest way to add potency to a theme and to make it more inclusive is to include a paradox or a relationship between complementary opposites.
Themes can be as simple as a single word or idea, or complex and multi-layered. Usually, simple is better unless you are unpacking the theme over the course of several weeks or months. When your theme is complex, try to distill it’s relevance to one core message. A core message is a short sentence or phrase that sums up why this theme is relevant & interesting. When creating a core message, try to make it powerful, provocative, clear, and succinct.
Planning all three of these elements for each class is complex and a lot of work. It’s ok to start out using one or two. Here are some ways to approach class planning:
- Create or borrow a standard balanced class sequence that you use for every class and switch up the bhavana and/or the theme.
- Choose a theme and teach it for a week, modifying the sequence based on your students’ needs.
- Choose a theme for the month and change the sequence each week or each day you teach.
- Unpack a more complex theme over the course of several weeks or months (for example the yoga sutras or the chakras).
- Sometimes 2 or even all three will overlap (ie, your bhavana could be the same as your theme, for example compassion).
- If you feel very connected to one bhavana as your life’s work, you could use it for every class (for example service).
Your relationship to planning your classes will evolve as you gain experience as a teacher. Some of you will become more complex & sophisticated with your plans as you gain experience and some will need less and less advance planning. Choose an approach at first that works with your nature & let it evolve as you keep learning.
These elements can form the basis of one of the main elements above (for example – use a story as your theme) OR they can offer support.
story (personal anecdotes that support theme or physical focus)
props (try to anticipate different types of people who might attend)
spanda (a pulsation between dynamic opposites that adds energy to a class – for example effort & surrender)
keywords & synonyms
Which of these elements do you use when you plan your classes? Which do you find to be the most important and/or the most helpful? What key piece of class planning have I missed?