• Kelly Tobin

Planning Yoga Classes ....

Great yoga classes can bring yogis on a collective journey, suspend them in the moment, provide them with a feeling of being held in a sacred and harmonious container, free from seeing from the lense of "I" and free from to-do lists and the tyranny of needing to do more, evoking feelings of freedom, joy and oneness.

I recall great classes with teachers I hold in high esteem such as Seane Corn, Ashley Turner, Dana Trixie Flynn, Shiva Rhea, Janet Stone and DC local favorites: Kevin Waldorf-Cruz, Kimberly Wilson and others, where I have felt completely refreshed, rejuvenated and transformed. During those classes I have been able to simultaneously let go, be more grounded, aware, still and focused, feel incredibly grateful, open and untethered in the heart. I have felt less focused on thoughts and profound self-acceptance, able to let go of the relentless inner critic. These classes and teachers have affected me profoundly.

In the spirit of all that I have experienced in yoga, and in honor of my great teachers, I keep these classes and teachers in mind when planning and develop a cohesive, thought out plan which optimizes students potential for an embodied and perhaps even transformational experience.

To plan, I ponder basic considerations first, like:

  • Time of day. Morning brings a slower, "tamasic" energy (according to Ayurvedic principles) and is a quieter, cohesive, time of day. At mid-day, the height of the day, there is rajasic energy, and we are activated and moving. A great time for a vigorous flow.

  • Season. Its great to address seasonal transitions and what the new season represents, the mood it inspires and tap into that transitional energy and teach a class which grounds yogis through the change.

  • Moon phase. Inviting awareness and talking about moon phase may help the yogi align with their higher self. Lunar flows are cooling and replenishing whereas, a solar flow is heating perhaps with rapid Sun Salutations. Share the intention and guide yogis through bowing to and honoring the moon with a soothing class. You can address the moon phase specifically such as focusing on new beginnings during the new moon- a time for self-reflection and relaxation. Or focus on forgiving and letting go, during the full moon.

  • What's happening in the world. It may lessen anxiety, and foster a sense of oneness, to acknowledge socio-political or environmental events, perhaps setting an intention of healing for those suffering from natural or un-natural disasters, etc. This can address the elephant in the room that may be at the top of their minds, before tuning into the task at hand, moving the breath through the body with focus and intentionality, and with love, doing the work of yoga limiting the fluctuations in the mind.

  • Class level. For an advanced class you may offer an advanced sequence, working up to a peak pose. For an intermediate class, perhaps pass out straps and work into binds safely. For newbie classes teach to that level and explain what "assists" are and what they are not (correctional) of course always asking if a student is open to assists. If you observe the class and notice a brief chattarunga tutorial would be good (for any level class) by all means it is our responsibility to offer what is needed.

  • Students energy. The best laid plans often fail. It is key to assess students energy. If you walk into 20 yogis laying on their back, seemingly with low energy reserves, you may opt to honor that versus moving into a rapid flow perhaps leaving them more drained and depleted. Always allow space for spontaneity and observe, teach to what you sense, responding with whatever feels right in that moment.

Beyond the basics above, you can focus on the energy body and chakra energy vortexes. You may wish to introduce at a basic level what the chakras are or, focus on balancing and bringing awareness to particular chakra, such as "anahata" heart chakra or "muladhara" root chakra. You can link the chakra to a broader theme. A heart chakra focus links well with a self-love themed class perhaps around Valentine's day, infusing heart opening poses and breathing loving compassion into the heart. The root chakra focus is useful during seasonal transitions, or at the start of a new year- rooting through change, offering seated poses, or tree pose, using language to strengthen the feeling of being grounded.

Modern-day Western yoga often does not give enough homage to the roots of yoga, which stem as far back as over 5,000 years ago, so you may wish as I do, to share more of the spiritual, holy teachings. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras offer themes you can invoke of "svadiyaya", self study, or "ahimsa", non-violence, "satya" truthfulness of thinking, speaking, and acting with integrity, "santosha" contentment, or "karana" compassion. The Bhaghavad Gita offers ideas such as "ishvara pranidhana", surrendering to a higher source, and "karma yoga", the yoga of service. Sharing yoga readings or quotes from these and other epic yoga texts can be inspiring to yogis. Also you can share ruminations from spiritual luminaries such as Pema Chodrun, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rumi or others. This can be a reading at the beginning, end or even during class, with a small notebook handy such as during pigeon pose or a longer held pose. If yogis are overly serious moving in and out of poses, I may invite students to "relax shoulders down the back, lengthen the crown of the head, and perhaps turn up the corners of the mouth". I can then read, "as peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh says Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy."

To strengthen your theme you may choose particular songs and lyrics, designing a playlist to maximize the potential for the students to vibe with the theme, through hearing you talk about it and also hearing music to support and strengthen their felt experience. There are a few playlists in the yoga section of my site, titled for the theme of the class.

You can teach yogis how to do a particular Yogic breath that goes with your theme such as Dirga Pranayama for stress and anxiety relief, or Ujjayi Pranayama for a stronger flow, or Kapalabhatti breath for a strong awareness to the breath, lungs and surrounding muscles (mention that students with high blood pressure or who just ate a meal, may not wish to partake). Also Nadi Shodana breath is a great one to instruct and invite students to take off the mat in times when immediate stress reduction is needed.

It is key to use and instruct yogis on how to use props in a beginner classes, but even in advanced classes you can return the students to using props, when they may feel they are far beyond "needing" them or needing any support, and encourage precisely that, to use the props for "support" to reinforce a theme of inviting in help from others in life versus the alternative.

Also consider where you are teaching and the population, are you at a yoga studio with avid yogis, or at a special event with brand new yogis to you and they are also new to that space, or are you teaching at a gym? Its important to consider the amount of yoga folks have been exposed to, what other exercise they have been doing and to ask them what level they are, and about again, physical injuries, etc.

As we know, teaching yoga is more than instructing people to step forward, step back and side bend. Teachers guide yogis through an intimate experience in their body and many feelings can come up, including past hurt and trauma. Given that most humans have experienced some form of trauma, or deeply distressing experience or injury, its important to teach from a place of compassion and love. David Emerson leads great sessions informing teachers on teaching students who have experienced trauma as well as chronic disempowerment. David suggests teaching less from a place where the teacher is in a place of power (in relation to the students) and teaching from a place that puts the student in a place where they are embodied and empowered .... by encouraging them to make choices and not hoarding power as the teacher.

There are many yoga trainings with curriculum for teaching particular populations: kids yoga, prenatal yoga, yoga for Veterans, and for survivors of physical or mental abuse, for elderly populations, breast cancer survivors, etc. You may wish to do one such training and specialize in offering these special skills to help a particular group.

As you know, planning a class can take time almost as much time as teaching the class itself, so perhaps stick with 1 theme per week, or month, depending on how many classes you teach. And, I wish you all the best, on your teaching journey! Thank you in advance if you choose to leave any comments below.

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