I remember the first time I ever broke up with a yoga teacher. She was the first teacher I ever had.
For close to two years, I was a regular in her Friday evening class, and I learned so much more than mere physical asana. I learned about mediation and saw first hand how the mind and body were truly connected.
In the two years I studied with her, I survived a painful break-up and the loss of my first real job. I said more often than once that without her class, I would have gone insane.
I was not exaggerating.
She taught the evening Ashtanga class after the one I attended. I was always amazed at the number of people that class attracted. I was also intrigued by how she always turned up the heat beforehand.
Curiosity got the better of me, so one night I decided to attend that class in lieu of my usual one. Pretty soon I was hooked. I always meant to return to my other class, but months passed and it never happened.
One day, I ran into my former teacher at the supermarket. She asked how I was and said she missed me. I sheepishly admitted that I was now practicing Ashtanga, and she took the news with good grace. She sincerely wished me the best of luck, and we parted ways.
As someone who has been teaching yoga for close to three years now, I know that my experience is very typical.
In the short amount of time I have been teaching, I’ve had students move away, change jobs, have babies or had undergo some other sort of life change which causes them to drop my class. However, while that is to be expected, I must say that it does feel different when students choose to leave me for another instructor, especially if that instructor teaches the same style of yoga that I do.
While I believe there are several good reasons to break-up with a yoga teacher, including wanting to study a different style of yoga, feeling that you have gone as far as you can with this teacher and want to go further, or simply feeling that the two of you are not a good fit, like most break-ups, there is a right and wrong way to approach this.
As a teacher and a student, I feel it is far more beneficial to both if you break-up using the following tips:
1. Tell your teacher that you are moving on.
It isn’t essential to do this, but I think it is much more courteous than simply breaking off cold turkey. You need not go into long detail. Mentioning to the teacher, in person or via a simple email—”This is going to be my last class. Thanks,”—is usually enough.
Most yoga teachers are veterans of the business and probably have lost students before. They aren’t going to take it personally or if they do, then that is all the more reason that the break-up is for the best.
2. If you chose to share why you are leaving them, then be specific.
As an instructor, I find both negative and positive feedback to be a godsend. However, if I had to pick, I would say the negative has been far more useful in helping me evolve as teacher.
In most cases, if someone is taking the time and energy to express some failing or flaw they see in your teaching, there is usually some truth to it.
Even the best instructor in the world cannot be all and everything to every student who walks into a yoga student. A good teacher can and should be able to differentiate for different populations of students, but there are limits. For example, some instructors are great at teaching beginners, but no so good when it comes to advanced practitioners. Therefore, if they are aware of that, they may be able to suggest to their students when it is time to move on to a new teacher.
If the reason has to do their personality or overall vibe, you may wish to share that as well. The key words, though, are respectful and specific. Just saying, “I don’t like you”, probably won’t do anything except create bad blood. (One thing to keep in mind is that most yoga communities are small, and most instructors do talk to each other.)
3. Ask your instructor for an assessment of your practice including your strengths and weaknesses.
Of course, this up to the discretion of the instructor, but most including myself are more than happy to do this. If you are starting with a brand new instructor, it’s good to know what your strengths are and what areas need improvement.
While it is true that you know your body better than anyone else, having a second set of eyes asses you—especially a trained yoga instructor’s eyes—can be helpful. For example, I was unaware until recently I tend to sag quite a lot in plank pose or that even after all these years on the mat, I still lock my elbows. However, one of my pluses are that I tend to be very flexible in my lower back.
Of course, your new instructor will (hopefully) pick up on these things after a few practices, it is nice to start off letting them know these things from the start.
Breaking up with a yoga instructor does not have to be uncomfortable. In many cases, it may actually end up be rewarding for both you and your former instructor.
It’s the exception rather than the rule that a long-term yoga practitioner study with the same teacher for their entire yoga journey. Also, you may some day return to your old teacher so if possible, keep that bridge open rather rather than burning it.
Lastly, if you wish to thank your former teacher for their support and instruction over the period of time that you knew each other, than now is the time to do it.
I don’t expect compliments from any of my students former or current, but getting a sincere thank you is truly one of the best rewards of being a yoga instructor.
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Ed: Catherine Monkman