I have been teaching yoga full-time since 2001.
Since then, many students have come and gone. Some try a class once and don’t resonate with my style; other first-timers decide it was the yoga that didn’t work and they never come back.
This is not about the one-time yogi; this is a commentary on the psychology behind a student who stays with a yoga teacher for a while, seems to genuinely dig the yoga and then decides to to move on.
Often, they move on quietly. They move on swiftly. They stop showing up.
It is unusual (and awkward) for a student to tell you why they are switching from you to someone else—they may not even be able to put it in words. So, it is very possible a yoga teacher will never know why a student chose to leave.
On the teacher’s end, any communication beyond a quick note stating your observation that Joe or Nancy haven’t been to class lately and you hope all is well, would be poor form. It is crossing the student’s right to privacy. If a consumer (and yoga students are consumers) choose not to practice yoga with a specific teacher anymore, they have the right to do so, without informing the teacher of their decision.
The lack of knowing why a student no longer practices with us and has happily plunked down her mat in someone else’s classroom can be hard stuff.
Depending on our conditioning, we might invent stories that the student who has left us has a personal issue with us or that we are inadequate and not good enough. Not personalizing about students leaving can be especially challenging, when most yoga studios require attendance minimums in order for classes to remain on the schedule.
One glossy, sexy yoga studio near me requires teachers to have a minimum of 30 students in each class or else they will lose the time slot to the next rising star. In my own studio, not quite so glossy or sexy, we ask for a minimum of seven students or we cut the class.
I once heard a charismatic yoga teacher, whose classes were always packed, claim that yoga students voted with their feet. To those of us who teach in environments where attendance matters, losing students can have a impact on our paychecks as well as our egos.
When our yoga students seek out different teachers, we have to trust that this was meant to be and is not a reflection of the good and bad of our teaching. We have to believe that we have given the student the knowledge that he or she needed to learn during the time they were with us and are now moving on to explore a new and different way.
We would never expect to stay with our first crush for the rest of our lives; it is the same with yoga teachers. Moving on to new relationships creates healthy growth and learning opportunities. Plus, learning and experiencing yoga is not linear.
There have been times I felt I had out-grown my own teachers and left. It wasn’t until years later, when I had matured in my own yoga, that I would come to understand the message of what they were offering. In these aha! moments, my student-heart would burst wide open for the wisdom they had imparted so long ago. When this type of non-linear learning happens, it is like being right back in their classroom and my whole viewpoint of their teaching shifts once again.
Here are some valid reasons why a yoga student will leave a teacher’s class for another. (Let’s assume price, proximity and studio vibe are all held equal.) As you will see, none of these reasons are to be taken personally:
1. The student is craving growth and a new perspective. They feel ready to expand their knowledge of yoga. They will never know what they are or are not missing, if they don’t branch out.
2. The student wants more or less asana, pranayama, meditation, physical assists, history, psychology, philosophy etc. Everyone resonates to the teachings of yoga differently. A wise teacher gets that a student needs to explore what aligns best with them.
3. They are seeking a class more or less community based. Some students love classes where everyone chats it up before class, while others prefer a quiet and more reflective space. As teachers, we create the atmosphere. We cannot make both chatty and quiet happen at the same time, so we usually lean towards one or the other.
4. Some students prefer classes where they are seen, either by the teacher or other students. The teacher that cultivates this type of connectivity will usually call people out by name, use students as models for challenging poses and create a community of “we are all in this together.” Other teachers create classes which are quieter and more self-explorative. They will encourage their students to go inside, close their eyes and not look around.
5. Some teachers instruct from a place where they are the driving force behind the yoga experience. Others believe it is the cultivation of an inner teacher central to the yogic experience. These two teaching philosophies vary greatly in their approach; one is more extrinsic and coach-like and the other more intrinsic and experiential.
6. Some teachers use music, some use breath, some use a lot of verbal instruction and some use silence. Students have their own degree of comfort level with each.
7. Some yoga teachers purposely create churning. Churning is when students come up against their belief systems and self-limiting stories and do practices such as long-holds of poses and pranayama that raise energy, so high a student begins to see and experience themselves differently. This type of teaching allows for growth and change, but can also cause a student to feel vulnerable. Other teachers stay away from churning and create an environment where students can step out of their busy lives. They teach to release stress and burn off daily pressures. The end result of this type of teaching is a feeling of goodness, peace and deep relaxation. Both of these styles create freedom from suffering but they are very different in approach.
If, as a yoga teacher, you are experiencing flux, change, or low numbers in your attendance, here are some things you can do:
1. Don’t take it personally.
2. Keep teaching the most passionate connected yoga class you can.
3. Do your own yoga practice.
4. Don’t talk smack about other yoga teachers. Ever.
5. Don’t talk smack about the yoga students that moved on to other teachers. (They may come back and when they do don’t ask them where they’ve been. Greet them with grace and genuine appreciation.)
6. Don’t try to please everyone or be everything, to everybody.
7. Trust that you have something to offer and offer it. Be yourself. Be creative. Branch out. Try teaching yoga workshops that you have only previously dreamed about—reach for your full potential.
Most of all, appreciate the yoga students that are on the yoga mats, right in front of you. Don’t make it about the ones who are gone. Don’t make it about you.
In Sanskrit, there is the word attiti which translates to,” Each person before you is divine.” Each person in your class is a guest and a gift…let us not forget.
Ed: Bryonie Wise
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