When Good Themes Go Bad

The Yogi Muse In general, I believe that any attempt to theme a yoga class and bring in some tidbit of inspiration is going to work out better than if a teacher made no attempt whatsoever.This is the “no effort is ever wasted” theory. But even though an effort will be a growth opportunity, it is not true that every attempt to theme a yoga class will end successfully.Perhaps I am picky, but I have been subject to some really icky yoga themes lately. Here are examples:The Ugly Theme

  • “My friend had an aneurysm and is dying, and will leave behind two little girls. But everything is going to be okay.” Really? In my experience, everything is not always, okay.
  • “I hate my mother. However, yoga teaches that I am free to choose how to react when she is around.” Bravo for you, you silly, selfish, ungrateful little beast, and I speak on behalf of mothers everywhere.
  • “Drop into your heart space and love everyone.” This one is trickier to explain why it is awful, but it has to do with psychologically manipulating the class out of discernment. We have the right to choose. Love is not a BOGO free sort of thing, unless you participate in very different relationships than I’ve had. The practice of yoga should not, under any circumstances, talk you out of your common sense.
  • “Ganesh teaches us that we can overcome obstacles, and right now my life is falling apart.” I’m truly, very sorry, but please try to not open a vein and bleed out on your students.

And so it goes. I have come to realize that we yoga teachers make these common mistakes in choosing our themes from some very common misconceptions about teaching yoga.Misconception #1We are supposed to be “authentic” at all times. Well, yes and no. I believe that being real and transparent in the room will create a connection with your students. I say in the book Theme Weaver that if our themes come from this place of honesty we will be more successful in our teaching.HOWEVER, we also have a responsibility to show up for our students. And if we cannot show up for ourselves, then how can we guide our students? Our students are our first priority. If you are sobbing and hysterical, then please get a sub (if possible). You owe this to your students.Let me put it this way: You need to be so prepared and professional, that if you had a car accident on the way to teach, you could still walk in the room and lead the class with a smile on your face.Misconception #2The realer the better.A teacher is going through something poignant. It undeniably makes a great theme. But, the teacher has not yet put it into perspective. The end result is rather than be uplifted, we just want to take a Vicodin.I will never forget the time a teacher asked how everyone was feeling, and a woman responded “I was feeling pretty good until I came to yoga.”If you cannot be inspiring about your subject, then do not speak about it in a class. Save it for your friends and whine with wine. A theme is ready when you can provide:

  • Experience, which made you better.
  • Strength, you can offer to your students.
  • Hope, to inspire others.

A good rule of thumb is that until you can laugh about it, or be grateful for having had that experience, you are not yet ready to talk about it.Mistake # 3Yoga is about love.Well, actually, yoga is about practice. It’s about many things including discipline, breath, devotion and following the Eight-Limbed Path. I have studied nearly every yogic text, and not one says I have to love everyone, all the time, without intelligence or discernment.I don’t necessarily mind themes about love as they are much better than say, war or hate. But this is the thing, be very careful if you tell people that they are not yogic if they don’t love everyone. I was once physically attacked, threatened by a psychotic stalker, and deeply betrayed by an ex-husband. I feel entirely justified if I don’t love those people.Mistake # 4We Agree on Absolutes Beware of absolutes. Rarely is life that easy, where one thing is “bad” and another good. Even the truth has three sides: Her side, his side, and the place in-between. The phrase “Just let go” is also problematic. Let go of what? My house? My responsibilities? Yoga?Spend some time contemplating, what happens if we have too much of this thing? What happens if we have too little? That will help you create a better-rounded theme.Everything Is Going To Be Okay!I believe with all my heart that attempts to bring in some inspiration will not be wasted. Either you will have a very successful class, or you will learn from the experience. Please do not let me discourage you!If you are unsure of a theme, run it by a friend and ask, “How did that make you feel?” The answer may just make you a more inspiring teacher.Michelle Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist and the author of Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga. You can find her writing on Elephant Journal, Mantra Yoga and Health Magazine, and Sports Illustrated.