Why Your Yoga Students Need You
A few months ago, I had a conversation with a yoga teacher (I’ll call her Kay) who told me she was seriously thinking about throwing in the towel and getting a “real” job. She said that during COVID her students disappeared and she felt abandoned, like everyone was just happy to do “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube, and forget about her classes. She wanted to go back to teaching but was feeling pessimistic.
I get it. This has been a crazy time for yoga teachers (and everyone of course). Still, I encouraged her not to give up. She’s a good teacher and there are many people out there who need what she offers. She just needed a better strategy for connecting with them.
I gave her a simple piece of advice: “Your students need YOU, not Adriene.”
The reality is that it doesn’t matter if you’re not that athletic, or haven’t been teaching very long, or don’t know everything about anatomy, or you’re not very flexible. What matters is that you are sincere, you are dedicated, you keep studying, and basically, you keep being authentically you. That’s all.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not throwing Adriene under the bus. She has helped many people gain access to yoga. She’s done a ton of service, and she uses her fame ethically. She’s a trained actor and her skills have served her quite well in her role. Kay said to me, “How can I possibly compete with a trained actor?”
Well, you can’t. And there’s no reason to. Because you have something with your students that Adriene doesn’t have—a relationship. And relationships, especially in the wake of COVID are so important, they are the most sought-after, human gift you can offer.
Why Relationship is Important—in Yoga and in Life
Any serious, and even most casual yoga students, eventually figure out that they need a relationship with a teacher. In fact, it lies at the heart of any successful practice. Yoga is about developing clearer and healthier relationships with yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, your community, and your higher power. When you have a relationship with your students, you offer them something completely unique, something that they can’t get from anyone else.
There are lots of creative and productive ways to have relationships with your students—in person, online, one on one, in groups. And here, it’s worth remembering that good relationships work when there are healthy boundaries.
As a teacher, meeting with students regularly either in person or online is an important way to help them improve their understanding and practice of yoga. But you don’t have to invite them to dinner every week, or talk to them on the phone every day, or act as their therapist. That’s not your role. Your role is to give yoga guidance within a mutually agreed upon, healthy relationship.
3 Keys to Fostering Relationships with Your Yoga Students
So how do you foster these relationships in a way that supports both of you and is healthy?
Here are 3 keys:
1. Get Email Addresses
Make sure you have your students’ email addresses, as well as their phone numbers and physical addresses if possible.
Before COVID, Kay never thought much about collecting email addresses. She had some regulars and they had a good relationship, but she didn’t have a plan for keeping in touch with them when COVID hit.
Wherever you teach, this is rule number one: make sure you can always contact your students. Then you can send them simple emails or more elaborate newsletters with ideas, quotes, photos, articles, videos, and yoga tips. You can also let them know where and when you are teaching.
This is the first step in having a healthy relationship with your students. When you have their email, you can keep in touch with them and let them know that you care about them and want them to be healthy and happy, even for the weeks (or months in the case of COVID) that you won’t see them.
2. Define Yourself and Your Teaching
People need to know who you are and what happened on your life’s journey that brought you to yoga. Kay had depression as a young person and used yoga to lift herself out of it. That’s huge, powerful, and interesting. When people feel a connection with you and can relate to your experience, then they begin to value your skills.
Kay did not define herself or her offerings and this was a part of her problem. When I asked her who she likes to teach she said, “Oh I just teach yoga for everybody.” While I truly believe in the power of yoga to help and transform all of humanity, putting “Yoga for Everybody” on your website, newsletter, or flyer, is basically the same thing as offering “Yoga for Nobody.” It doesn’t speak to anyone.
You need a stake in the ground that tells people, “Look! This is what I do! And isn’t it wonderful? And don’t you want to do this with me?” That stake also tells folks, or at least implies, “And this is what I don’t do.”
It can take a while to get there. I spent many years toodling around, teaching here and there, not really clear about who I was as a teacher and what I wanted to share. I was just going with the flow and trying to emulate other teachers I saw who were successful. It was fine at the time. But eventually, I began to understand that I needed to put my stake down.
When I started to clarify my vision back in 2003 and 2004, things began to shift for me. I realized that I wanted to work with folks on improving their mental health and later, the health of their brain and nervous system. I also love working with folks with chronic conditions. As I started to get clearer, I found the appropriate trainings, and my teaching improved.
Slowly, I began to feel really good about what I was doing. And I stopped feeling jealous of other teachers. In fact, I started feeling happy for them and their successes. I realized that what they did was filling a certain niche and thank goddess I don’t have to fill that niche or be everyone’s yoga teacher. What a relief!
As I got clearer about what I offer, students felt more confident about working with me and my business grew.
3. Purpose (Dharma) and Faith (Śraddhā)
There are lots of ways to make a living, but if you are called to teach, if you think it’s part of your dharma, then you have been given a rare and precious gift. The work is in developing ways to share your dharma that doesn’t burn you out, destroy your self-esteem or relationships, or prevent you from earning a decent living.
When you work on having faith in the process, faith in yourself, and faith in your higher power, everything gets less stressful. If you want to teach but also need to earn a living, then you need good guidance and appropriate business skills. The tools to reach people are out there. Seek them out and learn to use them. Have faith in your path and faith in the people who sincerely wish to help you.
Faith also helps you look at setbacks as learning experiences rather than failures, and that is huge! I can’t even begin to catalog all the ways I’ve screwed up over the years, but I kept getting back up on that darn horse—with more skills each time.
Kay didn’t quit, she’s out there teaching and getting clearer about her work. Her students are slowly finding her and she now actively reaches out to them with regular emails.
She told me that she made a major shift in her thinking. “I’m not thinking about myself and how I don’t have many students anymore. Instead, I’m focused on how much joy I get from teaching and how much I love them and am grateful for them. The funny thing is now that I’ve let go of the crazy idea that “Yoga with Adriene” destroyed my teaching, more people are starting to come back. I can’t blame Adriene, I can only follow my own path.”