This summer I made the decision to drop my Friday morning yoga class in favor of an evening class. There were logistical reasons behind the change and my teaching style felt better suited to a later time slot. Nevertheless, I was still dreading the change. I had taught the Friday morning class for over a year so I had a regular group of students that I was afraid I would lose. Students had already found their rhythms and weekly routines, and for students who used to practice with me in the mornings, I doubted if they would make their own shift to evening practicing.
In many ways, this fear was valid. During my first few weeks teaching my new Thursday night class, only a small handful of students showed up. A few from my old morning class made the switch, but mostly it was new names of students who stumbled upon the new class on the schedule.
For many weeks, the class stayed fairly small. I was used to teaching a larger class so the change was a bit jarring for me. All of those familiar thoughts of doubt crept into my mind: Was I a good teacher? Did people like my class?
Even still, week after week, I persisted in my new class slot. Doing my best to teach a great class and attempting to create connections. Now, many months later, my Thursday evening class feels more like a community of regulars than any other class I’ve taught. I think this might be because from the very start I put in a dedicated effort to build the class up.
So if you’re a yoga teacher and you are working on your class attendance, firstly, have patience! These things always take time and you're not alone. However, if you’d like to speed the process of growing your class up, here are a few thoughts that might help you. Keep in mind that these tips are just as effective for virtual classes as they are for in-person classes. They are simple, but powerful.
#1. Connect with your students.
When building a community of yoga students, the first rule of thumb is to know who those students are. In the moments before and after class, do what you can to chat with your students and learn what you can about them. Over time, your connection with your students will grow naturally, but to start, make sure you know their name. Ask about how they’re doing and maybe about their plans for the weekend. Be sure that you remember what you learn about them, so that when they return you can greet them by name and follow-up to ask how something in their life is going. Some teachers have been known to create simple spreadsheets to track the names of the students who show up regularly so they make sure they don’t miss anyone! Whatever your strategy, remember that nothing feels better as a student than having your teacher recognize you and your commitment to their classes. Bonus points for a teacher who actually listens to what you are saying and remembers your name! This is one of the surest ways to build community.
#2. Be authentically you.
I used to struggle early in my teaching days by trying to teach a class that catered to every single person. The struggle with that is there is such a wide range of needs and desires in the yoga practice that it’s almost impossible to address them all. By trying to do so, you more often teach a class that it disjointed, rather than a class that is widely loved. There was a flip that switched for me when I decided to teach a class that was authentic to who I was as a yogi. Though I always make adaptations for my students based on their needs, the class I teach now represents my authentic style. In my teaching I like to incorporate themes, flow fluidly, and get creative with my transitions. Not everyone will love it, some will like to move more slowly or stick to classic shapes, but those students will likely find what they need with other yoga teachers. For the ones who do love your class, however, they will keep coming back. When you find your authentic teaching style, not only do you reach the right students for you, but your confidence and joy shines through in your teaching. Not only that, but by teaching in your own authentic style, students will know what to expect from your class and experience consistency with you as a teacher, encouraging them to come back time and again. You will teach a better class if you teach from the heart, and your students will come back because your class will be consistently you.
#3. Give it your best shot each and every time.
One the days when class attendance is low, it’s sometimes easy to get bummed out. Many yoga teachers want to teach classes with high attendance because it’s a good indicator that you are teaching a class that people like. But as I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are many things that factor into class attendance besides who you are as a teacher. When you only have a handful of students in your class, rather than giving your teaching only a handful of your effort, be sure to show up to teach that class with as much enthusiasm and heart as you would a sold out session. That handful of students, still deserves a wonderful yoga experience, and one of those students could turn into your next regular. Over time, even if you’re teaching small classes, if you’re teaching great classes those students will return. Your classes will get bigger and your student base will get stronger.
Building class attendance can be a tricky thing to talk about, because it sounds like something that is all about ego. But it’s much more than that. For some yoga teachers, class attendance is a key factor in their livelihood. But most of all, the intention to build up a solid class attendance represents a desire to create community. By cultivating a group of students who appreciate a similar class experience, you create a group of people who come together regularly and form connections that have the ability to reach out beyond the studio. How special is that?