It’s Sexy to Teach to Three

Via Sean Conley
on Apr 20, 2011
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Surfing the Web the other day, or maybe I was on Facebook. . I can’t quite remember. Anyway. A yoga advertisement caught my eye:  “Teach Yoga to Overflowing Classes!”

A LOT of importance seems to be placed on teaching busy classes these days. Teach to a lot of people and you must be doing things right. At the same time,  people want to quit their day jobs and jump right into teaching yoga full-time or open up a studio asap, with the assumption that it will work….immediately.

Yet we never know how many students will show up at our classes in the beginning, or who we will be aligned with as teachers.  (Which is why this move can prove fatal. Rather than teaching yoga, you end up saying to yourself:  I need more students so I can make more money!) The truth is, when we let our egos get the best of us, when we make business decisions out of fear of competition or desperation for money, things never turn out the way we hoped. Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for large classes, for teaching to the masses to spread the yoga word–but should overflowing classes be our ultimate goal?

At our studio, I’ve seen packed classes: men, women, young, old, experienced and new students alike. I’ve also seen a class with just 15 students, all women in their mid-50s.  The packed class was fun, exciting.  But in that smaller class something special was happening too.

This is possible, in large part, because at our studio we pay teachers a flat rate. Pay is determined by experience and training, but also showing up with joy and enthusiasm (easy if you love to teach), and most importantly, teamwork. Class attendance factors very little into what an individual takes home. Sure, packed classes happen for some. But with this system, competition between teachers for “prime” time slots is minimized.   Those who are better suited to teach a more sparsely attended 6:30am class can know they are contributing just  as much as those who teach a full 5:45p.m. class.  They know the early birds appreciate their yoga just as much as the after work crowd.

What gets lost in the desire to teach to BIG classes is the fact that some students thrive in a smaller, more intimate space.  As teachers, it’s easy for us to get caught up in our pride, to feel a false sense of success, or inadequacy, when we focus on attendance.

The truth is, teachers teach best to the students they align with at that moment in their lives and their teaching. Just as it is beautiful for students to practice being content and grateful, the practice for teachers is the same! Not trying to get somewhere but instead sucking the juice out of that singular moment in their teaching lives. Right now, there may be 100 people in your room or three, but those three might not be doing yoga at all if it was not for your unique approach.

In the long run, far more important than attendance is a passion for teaching, patience, dedication, commitment, and a willingness to share your enthusiasm and joy. The numbers will be what they are meant to be….

Making mistakes and taking risks is an essential element of the yoga teaching ride. Where things get dicey is when we let our egos and money influence and put pressure into our classes. By minimizing the money and pride factors, we can enjoy a patient journey through our teaching lives.

So if you’re teaching to three, remember: you’re still sexy!


About Sean Conley

Sean Conley, along with his wife Karen, founded the Amazing Yoga Studios in Pittsburgh, PA. They are co-authors of Amazing Yoga: A Practical Guide to Strength, Wellness, and Spirit. They lead Power Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Trainings in Mexico and Costa Rica. They have 4 kids who sometimes tag along with them to these amazing places. Sean bounced around in the NFL for 4 years. But after injuries and getting cut by a number of teams, he moved on and luckily stumbled into yoga. He believes yoga is an incredible way for all of us to practice healing ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And at the same time, we can help heal the planet. Yoga can change the way we think, eat, talk, and interact with others. Website: Facebook: SeanFacebook Twitter: @Sean_Conley_


10 Responses to “It’s Sexy to Teach to Three”

  1. Emily says:

    Nicely said; I much prefer small classes (like 8 or less). In fact I will work to avoid big classes.

  2. Judging from the following Facebook comments, you've struck a chord here, Sean!

    Shanna Small It is not just about ego. The studio closes down if the teacher doesn't have big numbers. It is just business.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Emelie Rota sad when quantity is the basis for validation… internal compass and quality engagement with students should be the guide.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Nathaniel Wolfe I've had classes of one…one, or one hundred, it's all the same to me.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Jessica Bennett Espinoza OH BOY!!! This is a great article!I was just discussing this very fact with my mother the other day. I am a intermediate-ish yogi. My mother is an instructor (teaching beginning and advanced classes), so I mostly go to her classes. However, I have been expanding out and going to some other studios, just out of curiosity. So far, I have not been thrilled. The main reasons being:

    1. The studios cram SO many people into a room that you literally cannot move your arms without hitting the person next to you. The last class I went to had 16 people in it, yet the room was only big enough to comfortably fit 8 people. The teacher (and owner of the studio) told me, after I commented on it, that she normally fits 20 people in there. Are you kidding me? I think that type of environment fosters more stress than relaxation.

    2. Of the 5 teachers I've had recently (mother not included), only 1 of them has really paid attention to the form and posture of their students in the poses and/or offered any modifications for those who are not quite there yet (myself included). Most of them just pace back and forth and rattle out pose after pose like a drill sargent and just expect all of us to do it perfectly and keep up. And I'm taking gentle and beginning Asana classes – it's not like I'm taking advanced level classes.

    Maybe I'm spoiled because the studio my mom teaches at is huge and has lots of room to spread out, even if it's a crowded class AND she is a stickler on form, so she is constantly watching and correcting and showing us modifications. I know she's my mom and I'm biased, but she's a great teacher. I think some people are more gifted than others when it comes to teaching.

    I hope to one day become a yoga instructor too and this experience so far has really shown me the kind of teacher I would like to be. Thanks for posting this article. This is just my thoughts on the subject! 🙂
    about an hour ago · Like · 1 person

    Kris Myers personally, as a teacher, I enjoy the energy of a large class, but I also love the personal attention I can offer small classes. I think if we let go of the expectations of the size, and remember the experience, every class will be great.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Mountain Pose Yoga Festival Thank you for this! There are benefits to both – the energy of a large group focused on peace, balance and breathing can be very powerful. But so can the intimacy and human connection of a small class. We are excited to be offering both, with class size limits of 25 to 250!
    about an hour ago · Like

    Mark Heiland As a teacher, I love the attention to students that a small class can offer.
    57 minutes ago · Like

    Jennifer Newsome Yarter There's a yoga studio I started going to locally simply BECAUSE it has smaller classes and more individualized attention. I thrive so much more in the smaller classes than in the mass large classes.
    41 minutes ago · Like

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    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

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  5. Linda-Sama says:

    one reason I stopped teaching at studios was that the owners pay by the student, $5 or $6/each. after teaching for almost 10 years and 5 trips to India to study, I don't teach a 90 min. class for $10 anymore. sorry. I have to buy food and fill my car with gas just like the next person.

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  7. jj says:

    Lovely. Thank you.

  8. Yogini5 says:

    When the student is ready, the REAL teacher appears, and chances are he or she is teaching an uncrowded class. List price for a walk-in for a 75-minute class I took with only 4 students in it, is $22. (Later I bought in small class card quantity) This class, even though it had been milder than my home practice, was so alignment-oriented it undid almost a year and a half worth of bad habits picked up at the hands of "happening" classes with yoga teachers to the future yoga rock stars …

  9. linda says:

    I hear what you're saying. I did not want to make it appear I'm snobby and only want to teach to filled classes. Far from it. I have taught to one or two students in other venues other than in studios. And I volunteer teach in a DV shelter — if I was told I could only teach one class, that is the class I would teach — for free.

  10. Yogini5 says:

    I live in New York City, and I will compromise on style for a much smaller class. Many times, even go-go-go types of teachers, will radically tone down the class' pace or difficulty with a small class (less "energy received from the room"), and grant more concessions with a student who needs to be where they are that day. I shouldn't even have had to have written those last few words, by the way. I miss old-school yoga sometimes.