What You Say Matters

As you probably know, I work with my fellow yoga teachers in an offering called The Science of the Private Lesson. In that work {in both the live group training and one on one mentoring} I teach them all the things that can and should differentiate a private lesson from a group class. One of the first topics we look at is how to “Create the Space.” When you are teaching yoga in an environment other than a yoga studio, there are a whole host of challenges that you must deal with in a skillful, grounded way to allow for the deepest work to be done with your private client. There is actually much more to this topic than you might realize, and the whole module usually takes at least two to three hours to go through.

While my work centers on interacting with private clients, I personally take group yoga classes regularly, and have just started teaching a few group classes again after many years. {Thank you Willow Street Yoga!} I think that the work private yoga teachers do to “Create the Space” is necessary {if to a lesser degree} in group classes as well, and I am not sure how much it is being taught in yoga teacher trainings these days. I have been seeing some very strange things around the yoga world lately.

Here is one example: I walked into the studio where the teacher was sitting slumped up against the wall complaining about how tired she was. This teacher made a few comments under her breath about how disorganized the mats and rows were, but didn’t offer any ideas of how she would prefer we set our mats up. This strange behavior continued until she began teaching, when she transformed into a confident, knowledgeable, grounded teacher. After the class she went right back to being super awkward and unwelcoming. I found the whole thing quite bizarre.

Here is another one: The teacher, a sub, sat at the front of the room in complete silence just staring at the class while we waited for her to start. She didn’t ask for anyone’s name, she did not share her own name, she literally just stared blankly and directly at the people sitting in front of her. When I went up to introduce myself and tell her about an old injury I was working with she asked no follow up questions and {not to be overly dramatic} but she just stared at me with those same cold eyes. Then when class started she was bright, engaging, almost even perky.

These examples tell me that both of these teachers are confident, knowledgeable, grounded teachers. They both have the ability to be bright and engaging. What I think caused their incredibly strange behavior was that no one had ever told them that the way they behave before and after class is incredibly important.

Well, my fellow teachers, I would like to say quite clearly:

What you say matters.

What you say, how you speak, how you carry yourself, and how you interact with your students before and after class is incredibly important. You are still in the teacher role, and it is important that you act like it.

A graduate of my program, Tracey, asks via Facebook:

  • “Is talking in the studio ok while others are mediating? As the space holder, the teacher sets the rules, but how can I be respectful without being too rigid and strict?”

This is a great question Tracey! You are right, as the teacher you are the space holder, and it is your job to make sure all the students feel welcome and comfortable. One of the best ways to set the tone in the room and make the “rules” clear is to model the kind of behavior you want your students to have.

Another fabulous graduate from the Science of the Private Lesson, Bernie, shares:

  • “It’s awkward when I don’t greet people at the beginning of class.”

Yes, absolutely Bernie! It is super important in a private session, but also incredibly useful in a group class as well, to think of the studio as your home. Welcome the students into the studio the same way you would welcome guests into your home. Your warmth and confidence will go a long way to make people feel safe and comfortable.

It is important to create an inviting and calming atmosphere so that students who are new to yoga or to your studio feel put at ease. There is enough that is strange or embarrassing about taking your first yoga class or going to a new studio without the teacher making you feel unwelcome. It is also important that you carry yourself as a professional, so that students respect and trust you.

As yoga teachers we are the ambassadors for this incredibly powerful practice. If we want to introduce the healing benefits of yoga to an increasingly sick and overstressed world, then we must carry ourselves in a warm, inviting, and professional manner. Even if you feel that you are shy and sometimes awkward {we all feel like that sometimes!}, please know that having an awareness of how your behavior affects people and the intention to make students feel comfortable will make a huge difference!

If in reading this you realize you may have been making some mistakes on this front, please don’t feel badly. We have all had our super awkward moments, me included, for sure! Please share with us…what in this post resonates with you? What might you like to change about your pre and post class behavior?

3 Responses to “What You Say Matters”

  1. Bernie

    Since noticing my sometimes cold behavior in the beginning of class I have made a point to intentionally switch into teacher mode a half hour before class before I see any students so I am grounded and available for them. I can def. tell the difference not only in the classroom but out in everyday life as well. New England has a reputation for colder, distant people but I have found the exact opposite because I greet people and genuinely care about how they are. When I am available and present and dare I say, friendly to people that is what I get 100X back.

  2. Karen

    It’s hard to be friendly without being too familiar. As the clients have come to me, I don’t think it is a good idea to share too much about my personal experiences when the conversation becomes about kids, work, and other day to day business. I try, but forget sometimes, to listen rather than talk about my story, but that is so hard because they become friends who you see each week. It’s important to focus on them the whole time. Is that right?


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