1. a : a subject or topic of discourse or of artistic representation: guilt and punishment is the theme of the story
b : a specific and distinctive quality, characteristic, or concern: the campaign has lacked a theme
A theme, particularly for a yoga class, is a central idea on which the class focuses. This theme can be related to a particular pose that the class will be working on, current events, or centered on a particular aspect of yoga (breathing, chakras, etc.). Themes are a vital part of any yoga class because they take your practice from an exercise class into something deeper. The teacher gives your mind something to stretch around rather than just stretching the body. This can be as simple as asking you to breathe and internally notice the muscles stretching and can be as complex as asking you to gather forgiveness into your heart. I try my hardest to find themes that either relate to things I am going through or poses that challenge my students. Often I will scrap an idea for a class if the students are giving off a drastically different vibe than the one I had planned. Reading the energy of the room is important to connecting to a theme.
There are a couple key points that will help you connect to a teacher’s theme. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with you if you aren’t able to connect with the suggested theme. As with anything, some ideas translate better than others.
- Keep an open mind – maybe the teacher is asking you to breathe into your toenails. Teachers may use absurd or funny cues to take you out of your comfort zone or open up the way you see things. If you do come across one of these phrases, try to hear what the teacher is trying to communicate even if they are using ideas that don’t translate well. What would it feel like if you could breathe all the way down into your toenails?
- Don’t get hung up on the details. The teacher is really trying to communicate and connect you with an overall idea, rather than an individual detail. Themes can be delivered through visual images, feeling through movement, and other mindfulness techniques. If you are closing your mind because of one bad phrase or an idea that doesn’t immediately register with you, you are missing out on the bigger picture.
- Let go of Judgement. Maybe the teacher is asking you to explore how to forgive someone who has hurt you or allow yourself to be selfish. Themes, especially useful ones, are not easy to wrap our minds around. It could strike you as universally wrong that anyone would ask you to forgive someone who has hurt you. For the little time that you are in the class, take a moment to explore the idea of forgiving this person. If it is wrong to you, then really evaluate why it is wrong – what value does it contradict. If it makes you angry, explore that anger and where it resides both in the mind and the body. Just as a physical stretch can be uncomfortable, mental stretches can be uncomfortable as well.
- When all else fails – find your own focus. There are times I have stepped onto my mat only to fail to connect with what the teacher is saying. Maybe it is because I’m already dealing with something when I showed up to class. Maybe it is because I don’t relate to the theme. There is nothing saying that you HAVE to do what the teacher says. Just as child’s pose is always an option during an asana practice. Your own focus is always an available theme for the mental aspect of yoga.
So, next time you step onto your mat (whether it is at your own home or at a studio), take a moment to identify the purpose of your practice that day. It can be a purpose of your own making or it can be a theme that is well laid out by the instructor. Try to identify how you can incorporate the ideas of the theme into your practice for that class. Often the teacher will give you ideas. Other times you come up with your own connections. Try out both ways… see what gives you a better practice. Identify what types of themes enhance your practice (physical focus, mental focus, social issues focus, etc.) and see how bringing the mind into your practice through a theme can deepen your understanding of yourself and the world around you.