As a yoga teacher it can be difficult to face the challenge of marketing yourself and building a following of students. This challenge can be exacerbated by the desire not to sell out or commercialize our commitment to yoga. But yoga teachers do not have to fear the process of building successful careers if the methods used to build them are amenable to the philosophies of their personal yogic practices.
A potential barrier to success that many teachers face in marketing a spiritual practice is the balance between the desire to give and the practicalities of living in an economically driven world. Often, a fear of receiving money for sharing yoga interferes with the ability to build on the knowledge base that already exists as a resource. Earning money is not a bad thing – and possessing an unrecognized or underlying belief that it is can sabotage spiritual practitioners as they struggle to build their reputations.
One way to address this is to realize that what we get paid for our services as a yoga teacher is an exchange of energy that recognizes and honors the knowledge that has been shared in each class. By seeing money as a method of exchange that provides balance to our relationships with students as opposed to perceiving ourselves as selling out or sinking into consumerism, we become more comfortable with the idea that we are worthy of receiving financial abundance. The techniques used in building any yoga business can be applied to the art of teaching yoga with just a few minor adjustments and focusing on the intention behind them. If the teacher is clear that the purpose behind using marketing tools is to share the wealth of knowledge found in yoga, then many highly successful relationships can be created.
One of the most basic techniques for building any yoga business is getting to know your customers. As a yoga teacher our customers are our students, who come to us to receive the benefits of our training. One of the most basic ways to build a better relationship is to get to know the names of your students. It seems like a simple idea but there is great power in the impact students feel when hearing that a teacher knows their names. It helps to personalize the relationship between student and teacher as well as encourage students to feel that they are each special members of the class. This requires a commitment from the teacher to put energy into learning names and connecting with individual students.
This process can be accelerated by another technique, which is to arrive a few minutes early and greet students as they sign in for class. Two things can be accomplished by doing this. First, you get to greet people as they arrive and see what their energy is like before they enter class. Second, you can glance at the sign-in sheet to remind yourself of names you are still learning. Taking the time to welcome your students builds a group rapport that allows them to deepen their connection to the teacher but also feel encouraged to attend class in a friendly environment.
Arriving early also gives you the chance to introduce yourself to new students, which is another important way to build relationships. As you greet new students you can find out a little about their yoga experience and also inquire about any injuries that might affect their practice. This simple connection before the start of class allows the new students to feel they are a part of the group and may relieve nervousness, especially if it is their first time attending your class.
As you begin to learn more names, start to use them in class to provide instruction and encouragement. This name recognition allows students to personalize their experience in class. One phenomenon that occurs when you begin to use names is that when the class hears a personalized instruction, they often internalize it more readily for themselves and feel that they have received more direct contact with the teacher.
Adjustments are another way to build relationships with students while customizing their experience and making them want to come back for more. Responsibly and appropriately administered adjustments are a very important component for any teaching modality and as you physically connect with students, you create a one-on-one bond that deepens the student teacher alliance. Just as it is important to arrive early to greet students at the beginning of class, it is equally important to make yourself available after class. This is a time when you can once again connect with students, perhaps answering questions about class, discussing yoga in general, or even just chatting about life and the weather. This availability after class is another tool that personalizes the experience for the students while also creating a space to expand on the ideas of yoga.
Related to the topic of sharing with students after class is the very personal decision of how much of yourself you share as a teacher. For some teachers, socializing with students, going to parties, having dinners together and similar activities work well. For others, a strong boundary of availability helps them maintain appropriate objectivity and detachment. If you feel that you can fraternize with students and still maintain a professional persona, by all means enjoy the sharing. If on the other hand your privacy is of great value to you, be personable but know how much you are willing to share. Trust your own intuition and find the balance that is right for you. And whatever that balance is, be consistent in your treatment of all students.
Two final techniques that can encourage student retention have to do with each individual’s self-awareness as a teacher. First, an honest assessment of how much energy you are willing to spend on teaching each class and cultivating your following is imperative. Burn-out and boredom are like specters that can sneak up on you and rob you of your passion and love for teaching. By remaining present while you teach and avoiding letting your classes become routine, you can keep your classes fresh and inspired for both you and your students. Students know when a teacher is not present and if you find that this is consistently happening, it may be time for a little quiet reflection as to where you teaching career is headed.
A second technique for fostering teacher self-awareness is committing to your own personal education. How often do you take workshops and trainings? Being inspired by another teacher can help you to further your own teaching abilities. Taking a workshop can refresh your spirit as well as avail you of new techniques to apply to your own teaching style. As you stay fresh, your students perceive that energy and will recommit their practice and learn from you.
As you try some of these techniques for yourself, you will see which ones match best with your personality and which ones align with your personal mission as a teacher. Trust your intuition as you connect with students on a deeper level and watch the results as they become more and more loyal to the practice of yoga. And in the process of helping your students build their practices, watch your class sizes and student retention grow.