Breaking up with Your Yoga Teacher: The Yoga Teacher’s Point of View.

Via Anne Falkowski
on Nov 24, 2012
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photo: flickr/Olga Kruglova

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.

Source: via Mandy on Pinterest

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.

Source: via Lasting Light on Pinterest

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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About Anne Falkowski

Anne Falkowski has been teaching and practicing yoga for over 15 years. Currently she is obsessed with Forrest Yoga and can't possibly relax her neck enough. She writes for her blog and owns a yoga studio in Connecticut. Contact her by email


13 Responses to “Breaking up with Your Yoga Teacher: The Yoga Teacher’s Point of View.”

  1. Tracie says:

    It took about 5 years of teaching yoga before I stopped taking every student not coming back personally. And it was the best thing I could have done. (It rarely is personal, btw.) I realized at about year 6 or 7 of teaching that I never aspired to be the Pied Piper of yoga teachers. Just as I have found the “right” teacher at the “right” time and then moved on when I needed something different, so do my students. I always encourage my students to try different teachers and different styles. As I offer forth what is true and honest in my heart, as far as teaching yoga goes, I need to trust that it is enough. Enough to bring those folks to class who need it, enough to hold those there that it resonates with, and enough to let go of any worry on my part that my “enough” won’t be enough.

  2. Joe Sparks says:

    Another perspective would be that some students stop taking classes because of their personal situation, like money, moving,time commitment or yoga is not the answer for them. If a yoga teacher takes it personally, has feelings about, is normal and it is a good opportunity to explore and feel those feelings. We all take stuff personally, especially when we put our heart and soul into something we love. To me if you want to evolve and grow you need to deal with those feelings. Yoga is like a family growing together. It is ok to miss them when they go on with there lives. But they are never really gone, because you can't erase those memories. We all have a powerful impact on each others lives, it is time to notice.

  3. Anne says:

    Joe. I totally agree with you that when a student moves on we,as yoga teachers, experience a sense of loss and need to acknowledge it or else we push our feelings down and they will only come back in a possibly unhealthy way. My intention in this article was to speak to teachers like myself who spend (in my case years) their energy in over personalizing the loss and not understanding that a students decision to move on, when not based on cost,time,location etc is an ok thing and that as teachers it doesn’t mean we need to change our own teaching style or blame in or out. Some of us get caught in trying to take care of everyone including our students or we want every one to like us. We were taught somewhere down the road to please others to be worthy. But I do want to add that you make an excellent point that we do feel the loss and need to process it. I am an over processer so strategies for moving forward with grace and without blame help me. Thanks for your comment. If I ever rewrite this article I will make sure to acknowledge how important it is to feel the loss and reach out to other yoga teachers to help process.

  4. Anne says:

    THanks for the reminder that we are all enough

  5. @YogaTrail says:

    Just want to say: nice article!

  6. Jade Doherty says:

    I think you've gotta remember how subjective what people do and don't like is, and that as long as you feel happy about what and how you are teaching you shouldn't change.

    I'm an English Teacher and at the end of every week I get assessed by the students (we have 15 new students each week). So since April I've taught, and been assessed by over 300 students. Obviously not all of them will like me. I've been told I'm the best teacher someone's ever had, and then been told I should reconsider my teaching style.

    Obviously if EVERYONE hated my teaching style I'd reevaluate it, but given that 95% are happy, I'll keep on as I am.

    You really can't please all the people all the time, and whether or not a student does or doesn't come to your class says more about them than it does about you.

  7. Vision_Quest2 says:

    "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."

    Thank you for acknowledging that we are consumers first–and this is so as long as worldly emoluments change hands at the going (or mildly negotiated) rate–and not out of being fast friends, so to speak …

    But I will not hesitate to remind the teacher–"hey, with your actions, you pushed me out. I now go to XYZ studio. The condescension I received from you, the (current) owner and the other students that I have mostly a home practice [and the implication that I am only there in your class to take up space and pick your brains … about 60% true, by the way] is visible to anyone within earshot."

    In effect, I am telling them: "It isn't about your style, or your lineage, or the studio environs, or your class schedule.

    "BE insulted. Once the hipsters leave yoga, and your pricing becomes sane, I still won't be around to return. You can't take away my ability to have learned from you and to apply it on my own …"

    XYZ studio was not exactly suitable to me. They were throwback mild–mellow pre-yoga-boom Hatha.

    But they acknowledge that primarily home yoga practitioners have a right to be treated well.

  8. Vision_Quest2 says:

    "says more about them than it does about you. "

    … yes and no.

    A teacher/studio owner can be manipulative in the process of teaching class, to shake money out of the pocket, if they think the student has not been buying enough services from the studio. I am pretty sure this happens even at the more advanced intermediate student level than I – to convert the student into teacher trainees …

    The deep-pocketed hipsters helped make this problem morally acceptable. This attitude is NOT acceptable, and probably not even to the deep-pocketed, but it hurts them LESS … and even might give them a fallback second-career option to use if they should find themselves between day jobs that they probably would not give up for a long time, if ever ..

  9. Yoga India says:

    Hey buddy its such a nice article.You are among information available here. Thanks to share this post.

  10. Dearbhla says:

    Great article, thank you.

  11. Tobie says:

    When you have the best yoga teachers, and the teacher moves on for various reasons it is hard to find a replacement, and not just any yoga teacher will do. I am very picky about my yoga teachers. My time on the mat is precious, and I am a spoiled yogi. I admit I have tried other classes and other studios, but it is hard to find that magical yoga teacher that takes you to places you never imagined you can go, that touches your spirit. So, not only do students move on, but teachers do too.(And, at times, the student feels a small sense of abandonment.) Nothing stays the same, change happens, but I feel lucky for my experience with my yoga teacher. It is something I take with me wherever I go and wherever I practice my yoga. I am one of the lucky ones!

  12. RE: Breaking up with your yoga teacher
    At our Yoga school we have a long standing practice of an open door and no guilt. This enables the student that searches out other methods or schools to not be to embarrassed to come back if they find out the grass was not greener or to just check in for an occasional visit. In fact we have found a student may disappear for years even say 15 years and then come back and truly ready to commit to the yoga and the body.
    This keeps guilt and embarrassment from blocking there return and or to encourage them in the practice of yoga where ever they go. Yes you still get the student that tries to kill mommy or daddy by blaming the teacher for the departure and yes that can hurt. You can also not expect to never come into conflict with a student. That can be part of life. But being guilt free and an open door both ways truly helps
    Sam Weinstein Home of Yoga Mosman Park Western Australia

  13. patty says:

    thanks so much for sharing this 🙂