It’s been a very exciting year as a yoga teacher. I’ve always dreamed about leading an advanced yoga teacher training at my studio, and this year we kicked off our first professional yoga teacher training with an amazing group of yoga teachers and students. We’ve been having some really insightful discussions on what goes into not only being a successful yoga teacher but also how to embody this practice off the mat by being of service to ourselves and others.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an immigrant who moved to the US a little over 7 years ago from India. I was a professional Bollywood dance teacher in India & also studied yoga and started to teach it. Since my move here, I have built two thriving communities. Studios on the surface, but they are so much more to me than small businesses. Let me quickly introduce my babies if you’re new around here.
Baby No. 1 – Aham Yoga. My yoga studio started with 6 students and has slowly grown into a great in-person as well as online community with our Youtube channel and blog. Today, we have hundreds, if not thousands of people who belong to the Aham Yoga community. It’s been truly a place of joy for me personally and has created a positive impact in the community at large. I have met some of the nicest people on the planet within these walls.
This community makes me feel like I belong here every single day.
Baby No. 2 – BollyWorks. This is the yin to my yang. Yoga is for my heart, but dance is for my soul. If you’re not familiar with Bollywood dance, it’s the exact opposite experience from yoga. Yoga is calming and centering, but dance is all about energy, excitement, and totally letting go. BollyWorks has a huge community of dancers out there who lead ordinary lives but when the music turns on they show the free, fun side of themselves. There is nothing that can replace the freedom that dance gives you.
I’ve come to understand a long time ago that teaching is my dharma, my life’s calling. My mission. It’s what I was placed on his planet to do. Why am I telling you this? Because I think building a rapport with your students is an integral part of your yoga teaching career. I believe that it’s been 50% talent and 50% building a personal rapport with my students that has led to my success.
I’m sharing some of my never before seen before tips about building a rock-solid rapport with your yoga students. Here are my top 5 tips. Buckle up and let’s dive right in.
The time before class starts is super valuable.
I’m referring to the time right before class starts. The 10 to 15 minute window where people check-in, settle down, maybe warm-up or catch up with their yoga friends in class. This time is pure gold. Growing up doing yoga in India, my yoga teachers were more formal. They didn’t interact much before class, in fact, they would walk in a few minutes prior and start class directly. When I moved 7 years ago, I noticed the dynamics were very different in yoga classes here. The yoga teacher and student interacted freely and more informally. This threw me off initially as I struggled to make ‘small talk’ with the class. I would attend other yoga classes and listen in keenly on what yoga teachers said. I know it sounds like a common sense thing, but for me it was not something I had come across before. It took a time to develop.
Here’s what I realized about myself at the beginning of class and maybe some of you will relate…
- Lack of confidence to randomly talk to people
- Who cares about what I have to say? They’re here for yoga, right?
- How can I find something engaging for everyone?
- I’m really not that interesting. All I know is yoga.
Sounds familiar, right? We all have the same thoughts. Believe it or not, I even made notes on what to say before class. (Yup! I have no shame in admitting it.) I understood that there were a few safe things to talk about when the class was about to begin to get them to engage. Up here in Seattle, the weather, the Seahawks, the traffic, etc are always safe topics. Over the years, interacting with classes has helped me build my communities & my businesses. It has helped me scale from being a clueless but hard-working immigrant yoga teacher of color to having a thriving community that has meaning & impact in people’s lives. Here are some of my favorite tips for engagement at the start of class.
- Start with something general & engaging
- Depending on where you live, pick a few safe topics (like weather, traffic, holiday season, etc…whatever is relevant but not political or controversial. Keep it professional at all times.
- Not everyone needs to react and converse back. Be prepared to carry the conversation forward alone.
- The first few times will be awkward. You will get used to it.
- Remember that a few interact while others won’t & that’s totally okay.
- Don’t give up after a few tries. Keep working this consistently so people feel safe and welcome.
Don’t take up the student’s time after class, but here are a few good practices that have worked for me over the years.
The end of class is the icing on the cake.
- Thank everyone for coming. Tell them you look forward to seeing them again (I get specific about the day of the week & time when the class meets again).
- Welcome questions after class about yoga or the practice.
- Tell them to catch you near the front desk or exit door. This gives you an opportunity for you to say bye to everyone personally, ask any new student or someone who had something going on if the class was okay for them. It’s a fleeting thing, but it shows that you’re there for them to support their yoga and that they can always ask you questions.
- Be quick in answering questions, but not rushed. So you don’t spend all your time on one student only.
- Smile at everyone leaving and try to make eye contact.
Moments in-between are not to be forgotten.
This is when the class is in progress. You get to sprinkle in moments of magic by doing just a few things consistently. Here’s what has worked for me in building a rapport with my yoga students
- Eye contact is key. It shows them that you’ve seen them in class and that you’ve got them taken care of in a safe and nurturing way.
- Smile when a student stops, takes a break, or goes the wrong way. Add a little humor in your classes if it comes naturally to you. Show them that it’s okay to not be 100% all the time.
- Walk around the class, especially move to the back of the class so everyone gets seen.
- While walking around, feel free to say something very quickly to a student softly. Without it hindering the class. For example – Hey, Sofia…missed you in class last week or Hey John, is your back okay in this pose? Small, personal tidbits like this will go a long way.
Learn people’s names or you’re in the wrong industry.
There is no way around this. You have to learn people’s names. It’s part of the job. Given that if you’re teaching at a gym or you’re a substitute teacher it can be harder. But please try to address at least a few people by name each class. This makes them seen, shows respect and creates a sense of belonging.
It takes effort. No doubt. But it’s not the hardest thing you’ve ever done. A person’s name is linked to their identity. Don’t take it for granted. My pet peeve is when someone doesn’t know their student’s name even after weeks and months of being in the class with them. Ugh! Just reverse roles and imagine how the student will feel. If you don’t want to learn other people’s names, you’re in the wrong industry. The more you remember names, the more people will come back to you. Trust me on this!
Be genuine. Authenticity is in.
I have to end with this. I didn’t start out with an agenda for a yoga studio or Bollywood dance studio 6 years ago. It was not something I planned. Everything I have shared and done came with some effort and slowly became more natural with time. Today when I’m grooming my new yoga teachers at the studio, the thing we’re working on is rapport building. No one teaches you this in a yoga teacher training, right?
I’ve heard this from the students themselves. They come to a certain class because there’s a personal relationship and they can see when a teacher genuinely cares and goes above and beyond for the students. To find your version of ‘authentic’ and start by doing a little at a time. It’s the small things that will eventually lead to big results. You don’t have to do all of these in all classes at once, but you can slowly start by integrating a little at a time. You’ll get comfortable and find what comes naturally to you.
I will leave you with what I tell all my yoga teacher trainees, “The world doesn’t need more yoga teachers. It just needs better ones.” So be the person who goes a little further to be of service from the heart. Good luck! Let me know in the comments if anything stood out that you want to try right away.