Yoga Teachers: How to Ensure Your Students Never Return

If you want your yoga students to return, it can be helpful to consider what you might be doing that is keeping them from coming back.

There’s a lot of questionable marketing in my newsfeed these days with tips for yoga teachers about how to make their students commit, stay, and make them filthy rich.

It’s tempting – the cotton candy of the internet – because we equate rich with happy, and committed students with abundant wealth, and again, by the magic of marketing, we believe we will need to do or change something in order to move in that direction. I get caught in this web, too, because it’s straight sugar and flavoring, and it melts in your mouth and leaves you with a moment of quiet.

This is adorable of us.

I once believed that having lots of students would make me popular, sold out classes and workshops would instill a sense of calm, but instead they fed both my ego and my insecurity. In my life these two are like the twins in The Shining – come play with us, Kari… 

I started to worry, “What if they find out I don’t actually have all of my shit together?”

They will. They do. And there’s just a bigger audience when you tumble.

Because when we count people as numbers, or dollar signs, or steps on our road towards the elusive happiness we think we want, they know it. The connection they are seeking feels vaguely transactional, which makes them wary, skeptical, and grouchy.

The bigger, deeper calm, is the experience of having a student graduate. Having learned what they needed to learn from you and your teaching, they operate a little better, tailgate less, or spend seven fewer seconds in the wormhole of Orbitz escape fantasy land. Varsity level if they uncover their adorable addictive tendencies, or some deeply instilled patterning from their childhood, or discover a millisecond of quiet mind. 

These cannot be your goals, just as they cannot be mine. Teaching & fixing are not the same thing.

You cannot fix another person, ever.

You can only address tendencies in yourself. 

So you show up, and you teach something that feels authentic to you, that is also perhaps rooted in the deep philosophical wisdom of yoga? No need to reinvent the wheel and come up with something brilliant, darling, there are plenty of volumes. Your job is to interpret the lessons, to have a foot in each world – one in deep understanding and one in modern life experience so that you can say what “action in inaction” means without sounding like a parrot, or Dr. Seuss. Your job isn’t to look good or wise or tan, it’s to be a guide to the wellspring of deeper wisdom.

If you are compelled to teach, I believe it is because there are people who are compelled to learn from you. 

If instead you’d rather rid yourself of students quickly, skip out on the deep teaching and irritate them right off the yogic path, here are six great ways to do that:
Lack of planning
End late

If this list leaves you unclear, I will give you a few examples of yog-ish things I’ve seen (and done) inspired by the death twins and not my higher Self.

Patronize: this is usually tone of voice. The teacher assumes they hold more wisdom or better understanding than the student. 

The antidote is curiosity – what are you asking me, and why?

Perform: demonstration is a wonderful teaching tool, performing is showing off.

The antidote is demonstrating the way in, not the whole enchilada.

Preach: trying to make someone believe a thing that you believe. There is a wanting, a convincing that exists with preaching that is absent from teaching.

The antidote is differentiating a statement of fact, or a direct quote, from your opinion or interpretation.

Lack of planning: I hear people brag about “winging it” or “letting the spirit move them,” which is great almost never. You needn’t teach what you had planned, but the act of planning is invaluable.

The antidote: plan! 

Indignation: Ranting. Setting fire to a person or institution from your stump at the front of the room, ick.

The antidote: identify a safe person or people with whom you can vent and dump your emotional garbage. This is never a room full of students.

Ending late: This is stealing. You are not more important than whatever else your students needed or wanted to do that evening. People have parking meters, babysitters, medications to take, and nothing erodes trust more quickly than teaching beyond the end of your time constraints. 

The antidote: End on time, or do not advertise an ending time.

I have no idea where happiness comes from, but I know how to set the stage for contentment as a teacher – it’s non-attachment to the outcomes of your actions, my friend. Gratitude for what you have, not stealing, and channeling your life force toward the greater good, rather than feeding in to a particular craving.

(There’s some yamas in there… pretty sure).

There is a lot of conversation about trauma-informed practices in yoga. If you’re curious about retention, you might like The Trauma-Informed Yoga Paradox.

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