Seven years ago, if I asked the average yoga student whether they were interested in supplementing their local yoga classes with a yearly yoga retreat abroad, a big yoga conference, or a summer festival, the answer would have been a resounding “HELL, YEAH!”
Fast forward to 2018, and I’m certain that if I asked that same question to an average yoga student, I’d get a puzzled look, followed by a “No, probably not. If I taught yoga, maybe I would?”
Increasingly it seems that yoga events like weekend workshops, retreats, festivals, and conferences, which offer more in-depth opportunities to study and practice than ongoing classes, are much more highly attended by yoga teachers than yoga students.
Have you noticed this trend too?
As someone who loved attending workshops before I became a teacher, and who has witnessed non-teaching students radically change their lives after being on retreat or attending a conference, it saddens me that such a large percentage of our yoga students are not attending supplemental yoga events.
And it begs the question: why?
Let me be frank with my theory on this:
- Only a small minority of yoga teachers convey to their students that yoga is a practice rather than an activity.
- The majority are not doing this. A lot of well-meaning teachers are leading exercise classes with occasional sprinkles of feel-good, self-help sound bites, not yoga. (Before you jump on me and say that "yoga is anything you make it", please keep reading...)
- The majority of yoga teachers are not teaching their students how to embody their practice on the mat in their day-to-day lives.
I know I’m generalizing, but if this is the majority, would a student value traveling abroad to deepen their practice by doing five hours of yoga a day? Would they schlep to a ski resort in order to learn from senior teachers and keep company with other students on the spiritual path?
Yoga teachers, on the other hand, value supplemental yoga because their teacher trainers have taught them that yoga is more than just sweating and stretching.
Yoga teachers also know how different and incredible it is to practice yoga for more than 60 minutes - sometimes up to 3 hours on the mat.
So, how is this message not getting to our students? And why are we depriving them of this experience?
Let me be frank again.
I think it has a lot to do with the messaging propagated by well-intentioned yoga teachers on social media.
There are far too many posting things along the lines of “Yoga is anything you want it to be.” or “Yoga is what you make it".
So. much. NO.
Yoga has a history, a timeline, a lineage, and yoga is connected to a vast body of knowledge. It's way more than 'what you make it'. It's grounded and rooted in something much larger.
That doesn't mean we can't live our own version of yoga, but my hope is that we honor yoga's roots, study hard, and get time with its elders whenever we can.
And while 60 minutes is enough time to drop the occasional yoga bomb here or there (and please do!), it is not long enough to impart the depth and breadth of yoga.
So if you teach yoga, please step up and start telling people what yoga is. It’s your dharma (duty)!
Here are 4 Things You Can Do to Instantly Be a Better Yoga Teacher:
- Define yoga and share the definition at the beginning of class. Refer to the definition throughout the class. A simple way to define yoga to your students is to translate the word yoga which comes from the root “yuj” - to connect, to unite, to bring together. Then, having contemplated the definition, share what that means to you personally. Does it mean being more conscious and aware of our interconnection with nature and other beings? Does it mean being more responsible or present in our relationships? How does the practice on the mat relate to that? Can you make a link between how we place our feet on the mat to the sensitivity we bring to our relationships with loved ones?
- Share the yoga teachings! Give your classes themes. Tell your yoga students about the Yamas and Niyamas. Describe the five elements and how they are part of the microcosm of the body as a reflection of the macrocosm (Dude, whoa). Break down a sutra from Patanjali. Talk about “beginner's mind.” Om with them. Translate a mantra and chant it. Discuss what it means to be present or aware. Articulate how stunning and beautiful it is that we exist (I mean, consider the breath!). Get them thinking about how we are part of something as vast as this universe - and because we know this, now we get to choose what we're going to do about that! How do we want to live a life of meaning?
Teach them how to be a great yoga student - Help them cultivate curiosity and a sense of wonder. Encourage them to ask questions. Pause every now and then to help them pay attention to how their body feels right after a pose. Ask them to feel. Make it safe for them to challenge you so they learn it’s OK to think for themselves. Ask them how they feel so they will be seen and heard, and then do the same for others! When they come with questions, be there for them 100% so they are rewarded for their curiosity.
- Show them how to take their yoga off the mat - Invite them to bring what they are learning about themselves on the mat as a training camp for the real world! Invite them into a self-reflective process. Who are they when faced with challenging poses, or when they fall out of an arm balance? Do they laugh at themselves or engage in negative self-talk when they stumble? Does resistance arise for them with certain poses? When they have a breakthrough moment, are they ready to channel that success into their lives? Chances are the way they are on the mat is how they might be off the mat - do they want to work on that?
It's our responsibility as yoga teachers to convey that yoga is more than just a physical activity and that it’s more than just “what you make it”. Yoga is an embodiment of what we do on the mat, brought into a life of meaning, service, and skillful offering.
Teach this and change the world.