Q: Why do we use themes in Anusara Yoga?
A: Teaching with a theme is just easier.

Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking. “What do you mean, easier? Themes are the most challenging part of my teaching and the hardest part to improve!” I hear this a lot from teachers I mentor. If that’s you, I totally understand. Developing, delivering, and wielding a good theme is the most challenging part of my teaching too.

I think of a theme as a complex instrument that can either be used crudely or with great refinement. I’ve delivered meaningful, moving, beautiful themes at the beginning of class and then found myself utterly unable to render them effectively during asana. On those days, it’s as if I’ve carved a very elaborate, refined sculpture and then picked it up by the base and used it as a club.

On rare days, I simply do not have a theme: I didn’t plan ahead, I’m uninspired, and I got nothin’. Those days…are rough. Sometimes I bring in a great theme, but I haven’t fully considered it and it falls flat. There are times when I put a great deal of thought and effort into a theme that does not mesh well with either the sequence, or the students, or my mood. On the other hand, sometimes what I think is a lame duck theme transforms, swan-like, into an amazing inspiration in the context of the class.

I recently tweeted, “A good theme connects the dots between an easily-relatable anecdote and the highest, subtlest virtues of the Universe. Or vice versa.” That’s a tall order! And you have maybe five minutes to set it up at the beginning of your class!

It’s a challenge, but consider this: the presentation of a theme is one of your first opportunities to help your students Open to Grace. Open to Grace is Anusara Yoga’s First Principle, and it contains all other Principles within it. When you’re truly O2G, your foundation is strong and resilient, your inner body is bright, and your outer body is soft. If the theme is rich with meaning and you deliver it effectively, the students’ inner bodies naturally expand with joy, wonder, strength, faith, and love. Because their inner bodies are bright, their form is effortlessly in alignment with the flow of Life. You don’t need a lot of alignment instructions. Your words will have created First Principle in your students without you teaching a single pose.

Without a theme to help create an Opening to Grace, our elegant alignment principles are brittle, wooden. It takes a flood of very detailed alignment principles to even come close to what happens when a Being Opens to Grace. On the few occasions in my teaching career that I’ve taught without a theme, I’ve been utterly exhausted by the end of class. I just can’t give enough instructions to make up for the lack of inspiration.

Yes, good theming is hard. And in my opinion, it’s not hard like math or social studies is hard. It’s hard like finding your life’s purpose is hard. Or having faith in a time of darkness is hard. Or loving a person who is driving you crazy is hard. However, while it may be hard to know your life’s purpose, it’s even harder to live a purposeless life. It may be hard to have faith in a time of darkness, but it’s harder to navigate darkness without faith. It’s hard to love people who drive us crazy, but it’s crazy to live without love. Themes are challenging, but we use them because they channel the blazing mystery at the heart of Life. That mystery is the source of yoga’s transformative, alchemical power.

You get me now? Teaching with a theme is just easier.