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Ancient yoga philosophy.

What makes many teachers jump for joy as they lovingly clutch their favorite copy of the Yoga Sutras can lead many students to feel lost or out of place in a yoga class that they went to for the physical benefits or a weekly self-care ritual.

It is no secret to yoga teachers that many students are drawn to yoga because they want to gain strength and flexibility in their bodies, and possibly master a new yoga pose, but focusing solely on the asanas and physical side of yoga can leave classes feeling hollow, or that they are lacking the all encompassing practice of yoga that extends beyond asana.

Many teachers decide that they want to take the leap from student to teacher because they have a desire to share the non-physical elements of the practice.

But the question is how do you share the magic and wisdom of the ancient philosophy that this practice is built on in a way that is appealing and relevant to students.

The idea of incorporating the teachings of Patanjali, or The Bhagavad Gita can seem intimidating or a daunting task for some teachers, but it doesn't have to be. 

Here are 5 ways to seamlessly incorporate philosophy into your yoga classes in a way that is authentic and relevant. 

Five Tips for Incorporating Ancient Yoga Philosophy Into Your Class 

1. Share What You Love

The first step in introducing your students to ancient philosophies is to reflect on what parts of the ancient wisdom you personally love.

If your aim is to share these little nuggets of wisdom in your classes, then make sure to share what it is that you love to avoid coming across as forced, dry or inauthentic.

If it is shared from the heart, that will speak volumes to your students. Share the parts of philosophy that truly speak to you, and inspire you during your practice.

Is there a certain message, passage, or element of the practice that you love?

Maybe you adore the Yamas and Niyamas, or you have a favorite passage from the Yoga Sutras.

Whatever it is that you love, share that.

The Ancient theories are so rich, and nuanced that even sprinkling some small elements into your classes through cues, quotes, themes, or into the poses themselves will give your students something to think about, and introduce them to a new idea or concept. 

Old Scroll Reads Spiritual Evolution

2. Dive Into the Other 7 Limbs

Most students come to yoga for the poses.

We have been conditioned to equate yoga with the flashy and bendy poses that we see on Instagram. 

But don’t forget there are 7 other limbs that make up the full practice of yoga.

Yamas, Niyamas, breath, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and union with the divine (samadhi) are all equally important in the practice of yoga. Take time to look at your classes and see where you could begin to sprinkle other limbs into your practice. 

Perhaps you begin to incorporate some pranayama into your classes at the beginning or the end, or maybe you incorporate some elements of meditation during or after savasana.

 Maybe you want to explain to your students how they can live ethically and harmoniously with themselves and the world around them by introducing the Yamas and Niyamas.

Often, we overlook concentration (dharana), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara) and union with the divine (samadhi) in our yoga classes as these can be challenging concepts to explore in a physical posture class.

Consider educating your students on the other limbs, and encourage them to increase their concentration by staying present during the practice, and with their physical bodies or help them practice pratyahara by keeping their awareness within themselves, instead of taking in what is happening in the room.

Incorporating the language of the other limbs, and making note of their existence and importance can help students to familiarize themselves with these concepts, and begin thinking of yoga as more than just poses. 

3. Tell the Story of Your Peak Pose

Many of our favorite peak poses have a story to tell.

Take, for example, Hanumanasana or monkey pose that is named after Hanuman and his giant leap to rescue his friend Ram’s wife who had been kidnapped by an evil demon.

 Instead of just having your students practice a version of this pose, tell them the story, highlight the significance of this shape in the body by sharing the philosophical origin of the pose.

Often, your peak pose will be a great time to do this as many of the most common peak poses have a story to tell.

In fact, there has been an entire book, Myths of the Asanas that is dedicated to telling these stories that inspired asanas.

Storytelling can be a great tool to utilize when sharing ancient wisdom. 

4. Use Your Theme to Incorporate Philosophy

A strong theme in a yoga class can be the glue that holds the poses together, and an element that can take a good yoga class to a great yoga class.

Picking a theme that is rooted in yoga philosophy, such as any of the Yamas or Niyamas, or perhaps your entire class is framed around a pose with a story, or your favorite quote from the Gita or Yoga Sutras. 

Choosing a theme that is rooted in the history and wisdom of yoga will give you a clear entry into sharing these concepts with your students.

You can choose how deep you go with these topics, but even if you have a light hand and just begin to introduce some of the ancient elements of yoga through your class theme you will surely get your students thinking differently about the practice and also get them to expand their knowledge of yoga. 

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5. Consider Hosting a Workshop 

Some elements of yoga are just too deep and complex to share in a regular class.

If there is a topic or concept that you truly love, and want to dive deep into, why not consider holding a workshop or a specialty class?

Taking dedicated time to explore a topic that you are passionate about can help students dive deep into this element of ancient yoga philosophy with you, and share your excitement. It will also give you more time to share the complexities that often come with this part of the practice.

Make sure to choose something that you truly love and could talk about for hours (because you will!) and create an experience that is relevant to your student’s lives and share your passion with them. 

Kelly Smith
Kelly Smith
Kelly is the founder of Yoga For You, and the host of the Mindful in Minutes podcast. She is an E-RYT 500, YACEP, and a location independent yoga and meditation teacher. She spends her days traveling globally offering trainings in restorative yoga, meditation, yoga nidra, writing blogs for beYogi, and recording meditations from her closet.