A guide to planning your yoga classes: what is your style? + the benefits of class planning & a behind the scenes look at how I plan my own classes.
If you’re a yoga teacher, you know how much time and energy goes into planning a yoga class. The planning process can include any or all of these components:
Watching yoga videos to get ideas
Practicing the class on your own mat
A yoga class isn’t just the 60, 75 or 90 minutes that happen in the studio with students present; it’s arriving early to set up the space, checking students in, fielding questions from students, marketing your classes, cleaning the space post class, commuting to and from the studio.
A question I get often from teachers is, “how much should I plan my classes?” and my answer is: find your own sweet spot between spontaneity & structure.
Spontaneity & Structure: where do you land?
Both qualities are great to have as a teacher but we want to find where our own sweet spot. That way, we don’t become too spontaneous or too structured.
What happens if we’re too structured?
If we become too structured as teachers - meaning we strictly stick to our class plan - we could develop blind spots, meaning we don’t see our classroom or our students as clearly. If our eyes are glued to our sequence, we probably won’t leave our mat, which means we demo the whole class. I was taught to move around the classroom while teaching so I can observe the students and the flow of class. This is something that I believe has enhanced my teaching and how I relate to my students. Taking moments to step away from our mat and piece of paper encourages us, as teachers, to truly see our students; to spot a valuable assisting moment; to notice if we should adjust the pace or rhythm of class based on our students that day; to make eye contact with a student and share a connecting moment. If we become too structured, we become too rigid and less adaptable as teachers.
What happens if we’re too spontaneous?
If we’re too spontaneous as teachers - meaning we go in with no class plan and just wing it - we can get stuck or deliver a class that feels non cohesive. The times I’ve gone to teach and just made it up as I went, I felt ungrounded and nervous, which acted as a slight distraction from my teaching. For me, having some sort of class plan offers me peace of mind. Having no plan at all can lead to moments of feeling stuck, lack of clarity, and no common thread for me or my students to follow. Too much spontaneity can direct too much attention toward coming up with a sequence, which steals attention from all of the other components of a yoga class. If we’re so focused on coming up with what’s next, we can lose being in the moment with our students and catching spontaneous moments. Which is funny - too much spontaneity takes away from spontaneous moments.
What type of teacher are you?
There are different kinds of yoga teachers. I’m not knocking you if you’re the type who doesn’t plan as extensively. If that works for you, that’s great.
I, personally, have become the type of teacher who likes to introduce some sort of theme, whether heart-centered or physical; the kind of teacher who wants their students to walk away with a more open and strong body, yes, but also a deeper understanding of their movement patterns and important alignment points. I like to bridge the gap between mat and world - whether that means speaking to an emotional quality that can support us in life or speaking to a movement pattern in the practice that can help us function better in the world. I like to think of my students as people who could one day attend a yoga teacher training, meaning they have some sort of desire to dig deeper into the practice. Whether that’s true or not, it helps me plan my classes and maintain my consistency as a teacher. It’s similar to creating your “ideal client” if you’ve been in the business world. Envisioning who you want to serve can help you build your classes and your bigger offerings. It helps orient students in their own practice as well as let them know what they can expect from you as a teacher. If you want to embody one or all of these qualities too, then you should consider planning your classes.
Benefits of planning classes ahead of time:
You can build an archive of classes to pull from in the future. What I like to call the teacher workbook. A place to refine, revise & revisit sequences.
You can focus your classes on a particular point (an alignment action, peak pose, muscle, heart quality, class of asana) and continue to build it from there, almost like a series.
You have a seed that you can go back to if you get lost during class.
You have a hard copy of the sequence if you ever want to share pieces of it.
It shows your level of care and attention to your classes, which then inspires a level of trust between you and your students.
It provides a framework within which you can improvise.
It places you in the seat of the teacher and helps you stand out.
It builds confidence. Even the act of writing out a class plan can shift how you view yourself and improve your sense of worth, confidence, and credibility.
Believe in yourself.
I hope that you can start to see yourself as not just a yoga teacher, but a yoga educator. Think of yourself as a professor. Professors have class plans, a syllabus, grading techniques. They don’t just wing it. They’ve studied the subject extensively and know what and how they want to teach their students. You may not be teaching a typical academic subject but you’re still teaching a subject - and not just any subject. Yoga is a subject rich with history, textured with philosophy, brimming with lineage, full of endless lessons and contemplations that can drastically enhance someone’s life. This is not to be taken lightly. This is pretty epic stuff. And you, as a teacher, are blessed to share that with others! Yoga is neverending in its way of imparting knowledge and revelation. It yearns to keep giving to you, and as a teacher, you should give back to it - by treating the practice seriously and by treating yourself seriously. There is so much growth potential as a yoga teacher and class planning is one of the ways you can step into this potential as a teacher.
Behind the scenes: how I plan my classes.
Start with a seed
Something that acts as the nucleus to which you build your class around. It could be a muscle group you want to focus on strengthening and/or stretching, a class of asana or peak pose, an alignment action (shoulders back, ribs in, for example). You could use a Sanskrit word as your themes (which I often do) and weave its meaning into your class.
Build on it/write it down.
I like to do this in two parts. First, I brainstorm a list of poses I want to include in class that align with my theme or seed. Second draft, I string them together in the right order and make it more cohesive so I can follow it while I teach.
I like to watch yoga videos (yogaglo.com is my go to) to gain inspiration for sequencing, get a feel for pacing, and see if there are any alignment cues that I resonate with or that aptly explain how I experience a pose. I also call on certain yogic texts (Spanda-karikas are my jam right now) to inspire heart themes, revisit my anatomy books to reacquaint with certain muscles, etc.
Move through your sequence on your mat so you can become more intimate with the poses, the way the poses flow, alignment cues that come up for you in those poses & transitions. Feel the practice in your own body so you can more seamlessly convey it to your students. If I have an opening theme or centering that I feel really jazzed about, I’ll even record myself on the memo app of my phone. This helps me make the opening dharma talk more concise, so I don’t end up taking the first 10 minutes of class talking. It allows me to keep it under 3 minutes and also helps me refine my language so I can teach the theme in a way that is at once accessible, easy to understand, and precise. You could lose your audience if you branch off or go on too long.