There’s a lot of questionable marketing in my newsfeed these days with tips for yoga teachers about how to make their students commit, stay, and make them filthy rich.
It’s tempting - the cotton candy of the internet - because we equate rich with happy, and committed students with abundant wealth, and again, by the magic of marketing, we believe we will need to do or change something in order to move in that direction. I get caught in this web, too, because it’s straight sugar and flavoring, and it melts in your mouth and leaves you with a moment of quiet.
This is adorable of us.
I once believed that having lots of students would make me popular, sold out classes and workshops would instill a sense of calm, but instead they fed both my ego and my insecurity. In my life these two are like the twins in The Shining - come play with us, Kari…
I started to worry, “What if they find out I don’t actually have all of my shit together?”
They will. They do. And there’s just a bigger audience when you tumble.
Because when we count people as numbers, or dollar signs, or steps on our road towards the elusive happiness we think we want, they know it. The connection they are seeking feels vaguely transactional, which makes them wary, skeptical, and grouchy.
The bigger, deeper calm, is the experience of having a student graduate. Having learned what they needed to learn from you and your teaching, they operate a little better, tailgate less, or spend seven fewer seconds in the wormhole of Orbitz escape fantasy land. Varsity level if they uncover their adorable addictive tendencies, or some deeply instilled patterning from their childhood, or discover a millisecond of quiet mind.
These cannot be your goals, just as they cannot be mine. Teaching & fixing are not the same thing.
You cannot fix another person, ever.
You can only address tendencies in yourself.
So you show up, and you teach something that feels authentic to you, that is also perhaps rooted in the deep philosophical wisdom of yoga? No need to reinvent the wheel and come up with something brilliant, darling, there are plenty of volumes. Your job is to interpret the lessons, to have a foot in each world - one in deep understanding and one in modern life experience so that you can say what “action in inaction” means without sounding like a parrot, or Dr. Seuss. Your job isn’t to look good or wise or tan, it’s to be a guide to the wellspring of deeper wisdom.
If you are compelled to teach, I believe it is because there are people who are compelled to learn from you.
If instead you’d rather rid yourself of students quickly, skip out on the deep teaching and irritate them right off the yogic path, here are six great ways to do that:
Lack of planning
If this list leaves you unclear, I will give you a few examples of yog-ish things I’ve seen (and done) inspired by the death twins and not my higher Self.
Patronize: this is usually tone of voice. The teacher assumes they hold more wisdom or better understanding than the student.
The antidote is curiosity - what are you asking me, and why?
Perform: demonstration is a wonderful teaching tool, performing is showing off.
The antidote is demonstrating the way in, not the whole enchilada.
Preach: trying to make someone believe a thing that you believe. There is a wanting, a convincing that exists with preaching that is absent from teaching.
The antidote is differentiating a statement of fact, or a direct quote, from your opinion or interpretation.
Lack of planning: I hear people brag about “winging it” or “letting the spirit move them,” which is great almost never. You needn’t teach what you had planned, but the act of planning is invaluable.
The antidote: plan!
Indignation: Ranting. Setting fire to a person or institution from your stump at the front of the room, ick.
The antidote: identify a safe person or people with whom you can vent and dump your emotional garbage. This is never a room full of students.
Ending late: This is stealing. You are not more important than whatever else your students needed or wanted to do that evening. People have parking meters, babysitters, medications to take, and nothing erodes trust more quickly than teaching beyond the end of your time constraints.
The antidote: End on time, or do not advertise an ending time.
I have no idea where happiness comes from, but I know how to set the stage for contentment as a teacher - it’s non-attachment to the outcomes of your actions, my friend. Gratitude for what you have, not stealing, and channeling your life force toward the greater good, rather than feeding in to a particular craving.
(There’s some yamas in there… pretty sure).
What is feedback?
Feedback is helpful. It is perspective from another person, letting us know what went well and what didn't. It might inform what we keep or toss from our teaching, or allow us to develop a new skill. It might be opinion or fact, but it isn't criticism or commentary on your character.
Some feedback is direct – you have spinach in your teeth.
Other feedback is less direct – can you tell me the name of the savasana song?
Both of these are helpful – you know that something isn't going as planned, and that someone likes your music.
Why do you want feedback?
Many of us resist feedback – we brace, anticipating a personal attack, or information we do not want to hear. It takes courage to offer and to receive genuine feedback.
Few yoga teacher trainings include this essential teaching. Many don't teach how to give feedback, aside from the “shit sandwich” of early 90's office culture: say something nice, say what you mean, end with something nice.
This technique doesn't work. In the best of worlds, you miss the genuine nice things someone has said to you. In a worser world, someone sandwiches their shit between two lies or disingenuous offerings, which feels even worse than the feedback itself.
"Sally, your savasana music was incredible. Your touch is creepy. But I think your voice is soothing."
Poor Sally. What is she to feel?
How does this land on you?
In writing, it feels so bizarre. Right?
If you've trained with me, you know how I suggest giving feedback. If not, train with me and you'll learn – it has become part of every lecture.
(Sorry, I cannot give away the cow, as they say).
Most students will not offer feedback unless something has gone very, very wrong. They leave in yoga brain, because very likely even if you did many things less-than-perfectly, you still taught a decent class and they feel better than they did when they arrived.
If you ask, “Do you have any feedback?”
They often reply, “That was great!”
(This is not feedback)
Occasionally someone will try to offer a criticism, particularly if you push.
“I don't like half moon pose!” or, “Gregorian chants are not my jam,” or, “That hot yoga class sure felt hot!”
(This is also not feedback)
And, if you're really lucky, someone who has been hired to critique you will barrage you will all sorts of criticism, after a class where you knew you were being evaluated and likely made all sorts of mistakes you would never otherwise make. Things I have been told:
“You say the word 'forward' too much.”
“You didn't teach anything about the bandhas.”
“Your alignment in Warrior 1 didn't look good.”
(This is also not feedback)
How to Accept Feedback
No matter what comes your way, you can do a few things:
1. Say thank you... and then shut up. Clap your hand over your mouth if necessary.
(I often find this necessary.)
2. Take a breath.
3. Determine the validity of the feedback. Is it actually criticism? Is it opinion? Is there a seed of truth? Is it confusing?
4. Then, if desired, ask a clarifying question.
Feedback: The music was too loud.
Clarifying question: was it all of the music, or one song in particular?
Clarifying question: where were you in the room?
Clarifying question: was it too loud overall, or did you have a hard time hearing my voice?
Now you have something you can work with.
Feedback: Your touch felt creepy.
Clarifying question: can you remind me which pose I was assisting?
Clarifying question: can you tell me more about what felt creepy?
Clarifying question: do you know you can opt out of hands-on at any time?
If you keep hearing the same feedback AND the feedback is relevant to your teaching, take note. No one likes half-moon pose. It is a stupid pose. That's the point, dear students, deal with it.
If several people tell you that your music is too loud, it's because it is too loud. Turn it down. Ask for specific feedback in this area.
If several people tell you that they don't like your pants, you can tell them that what they're offering isn't feedback, it's criticism, opinion, and generally unkind. You can teach about the kleshas and help them understand why they hate your pants (spoiler – it's aversion or “misdirected rage”).
If several people tell you that the class was too complicated, it is.
If they don't follow your direction, you're not giving good direction.
If they “never seem to understand you,” that's on you, beauty.
How NOT to Receive Feedback
This is so tempting. You want to tell the student why you had loud music, why you assisted them in a certain way, and fundamentally, why you are not wrong. This is not helpful. If they have given you a factual observation – like you have spinach in your teeth – denying it makes everyone look insane. If they offered you an opinion, even if it was bizarre, it is valid. It is theirs. It isn't yours. Let them have it, and let them go home.
Deny what happened
This is called gaslighting, and is a form of manipulation. Didn't know yoga teachers are capable of being lying, manipulative critters? We sure are! Even if we're not aware of it or doing it purposefully. Just because they offer something does not mean you need to make a change, so there is no use in denying it. You don't need to accept it as fact, simply receive it, say thank you, move on.
This is ugly and gross. I have done it, and I'm trying to help you avoid it. Someone offers a critique of you, and instead of receiving it, you launch back with some stored up angst about a shitty teaching they offered one time. You think my music is too loud? Your music is always too loud...
Opinions are Like Assholes
(everyone has one)
Places where you don't need to ask for more clarification: opinion.
If someone says they don't like your music, your pants, a particular pose, a particular style, the tone of your voice, etc., clarity is not important. You are simply not their teacher, or they are fishing for something and trying to be helpful, because no one ever taught them how to give feedback and they're just doing their best.
Some People are Assholes
Misdirected rage is a Thing. People assert this using the internet, and if your studio accepts online reviews, then May The Odds Be Ever in Your Favor. Sites like Yelp allow criticism and opinions out into the world sans discernment. When someone is actually upset with something that is painful to address directly, they may launch it in your direction.
These people need more yoga, not less. The yoga has gotten in, and they are not sure how to deal with their ruffled feathers, or the debris in their snow globe. They need a timeout, but someone gave them the internet instead.
Disregard this entirely. Never read it. Ever. Amen.
Public shaming is less effective for behavior modification than positive reinforcement. This is science, from the field of developmental psychology. Shame is a useful emotion, because it lets us know when we have made an error. But it is not your job TO SHAME OTHERS. Positive reinforcement says tell the person when they do something that you like. (Also, tell them when there is spinach in their teeth). But shame is a personal attack, it speaks to character, and should be reserved for cases of gross and inappropriate conduct. Shame on you for pulling the dog's tail. YES. Shame on you for forgetting the left side. NO.
Your opinion is sacred. It is valid. It belongs to you, like your anus, darling, and you can choose to flaunt it on the internet, but do so with extreme caution, mindfulness, and an awareness that your grandchildren will be able to see what you say, and may not have the cultural context you intended.
If and when you are tempted to rage electronically, pause. Clap your hand over your mouth.
At minimum, it will force you to type one handed.
BONUS: Be the Change
All signs point to us being in the Kali Yuga – the dark epoch of greed and disintegration. The Vedas say so, and while the internet tries to bring us together, it just cannot help itself.
But you can.
I encourage you – implore you – to begin to notice the good in the world, not just in the microcosm of the yoga studio. When someone provides great service at the book store, the mechanic, the coffee shop, say so. Directly to them and on the internet. You can Yelp or Google review, or post it to your own social media. If you want to receive information about when you are doing something great, you must offer it as well. This is not my understanding of karma, but it is still A Good Idea.
“Shout out to my barista Kenny, who always remembers I want a real mug.”
“Thanks to Vicky for not only fixing my brakes, but also telling me how to check them myself.”
The darkness is all around.
You are made of light.