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How to Theme your Yin Class

by Sarah Manning, 10-Feb-2020

Yin Yoga teaching is very different.  Recall how we cue each Hatha yoga posture.  We attend to the warm-up of muscles, then the placement and alignment of feet, hands, spine, knees, pelvis, shoulders; then the activation of muscles – lengthening, pressing, rotation, tucking; all the while cuing their breath in a controlled way.  We do this to optimise the safety, depth or opportunity within the pose.

In Yin Yoga we find the general shape of the pose, explore the “Edge” and release into it – and that is it. Our biggest challenge is if a student has injuries/pain and we need to tailor modifications or alternatives.

Hatha teaching feels like a continuous stream of instructions and as teachers, we are constantly talking. Yin Yoga gives us time, space and peace. And then, even more so, in that, students will hold postures for around 5 minutes – so we can go on an inward focused adventure, exploring, observing the breath, a breathing pattern or technique, the mind, a focal point, a visualisation, an awareness of energy, mudra, emotion, feeling or space -all while students are in the pose.

So, themes and planning a class becomes a creative opportunity to take your students on a journey deeper into their practice. We choose a theme and then weave the breathing and the mindfulness into the poses – coming to a “pinnacle” mental state or awareness for the class.

Below are some ideas of class themes using the Chinese Meridian Theory. I have found this to be my easiest and quickest route to a class plan – but there are 100’s of themes that you could use – from the body, to a poem, to the weather……

Meridians and Five elements

The meridians are pathways for energy (qi) to flow and together with the Chinese Five Element theory, they are a fabulous way to align your classes.

Five Elements – the five Chinese elements are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. Each element has two meridians associated with it – an internal one (yin) and an external one (yang). Each element aligns with a season. So, you can either take one posture from each of the elements for a wholistic class, or choose a season and focus on that element/pair of meridians. For example, for Spring you would focus on Wood and the Liver and Gallbladder meridians, and chose poses that work along those energy lines such as butterfly, dragonfly, happy baby, square, sleeping swan and shoelace. Or go even more focused – and chose one meridian as your theme.

Each element also has a related colour, time and dominant/vulnerable organ. So, you could focus a class on releasing anger and irritability (Wood). Or considering the Chinese clock highlights different elements according to the time of day, so if your class is at 5pm - the time of the Kidney meridian energy then you can focus on poses for the Kidney, Urinary Bladder and Water element.







Liver/Gall bladder

11pm – 3am



Heart/Small intestine

11am – 3pm


light yellow/brown


7am – 11am



Lung/Large intestine

3am – 7am



Kidney/Urinary bladder

3pm – 7pm

Once you have identified the physical postures and the order or flow of the poses – then we start to add the icing on the cake – the breathing and the mindfulness that are related to the theme. For example, I use a qigong Water breath and the Ocean breath (Ujjayi) when working with Water, Kidney or Urinary Bladder. The Water element is a cascading, descending energy – totally soft and yielding – and yet powerful in how it affects the whole environment. The natural cycle of water – from rain to ocean to sky; or just dancing with dolphins… there is a wealth of imagery and visualisations to play with.

The cherry is that delicious moment when the class is poised at its deepest state of calm and peace. And that is when you totally shut up – and let them “marinate” in the pose.

Learn more ways to theme classes when Sarah Manning delivers our fabulous 2-day Yin: Flow, Themes and Pre-existing conditions on 4-5 April 2020 in Sydney.

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