Saturday, July 16, 2016

Building Community as Yoga Instructors

building community as yoga instructors
By Kathryn Boland

Have you noticed the positive effects of students feeling a sense of community with those whom they practice? Have you thought about how you might be able to encourage that to emerge as a yoga instructor? I personally started to think about this topic more seriously as I joined a yoga studio, as a member. I had previously taken a few classes here, a few classes there - all enjoyable, but lacking in truly meaningful connections with my teachers and fellow students.

Socializing certainly isn't the primary goal of yoga practice - but feeling part of a welcoming, like minded community can be one of its many positive effects. It can enhance practice itself through encouraging consistency, as well as increased joyfulness through camaraderie. Our practice communities can be there to offer support in the hard times, and share in celebration in the good times - those both in practice and in our lives off our mats.

I first entered my present studio on a free trial week. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. All teachers introduced themselves at the beginning of their classes. They did so again at the end, and also offered to chat about any questions anyone might have. Many even said something to the effect of "Even if you don't have any questions, if we haven't met, I'd love to meet you - so please introduce yourself!"

I'm typically somewhat shy and reserved with those I’ve just met. These open invitations, however, led me to do just that – to walk right up, extend my hand for a shake, introduce myself, and sincerely thank them for class. On the several occasions that I did this, I also told each teacher that I myself am a teacher, and that a certain commendable aspect of their teaching was inspiring and informative for me. Only the truth! It seemed like all of these teachers really meant it when they said they would love to meet any new students (including me at that time). They were genuinely warm and kind, truly present and gracious as we spoke.

I proceeded to network with these teachers through social media. The ethical questions of student/teacher relationships and yoga moving with the shift to online life is a big topic, maybe in question here but which I'll get into in another article. More relevant to my topic now, I want to point out that these teachers were just as welcoming online. I stay connected with these teachers to this day, online and in the studio, and I take many of their classes frequently. 

On social media, they post reminders about their public classes as well as inspirational quotes/memes/photos/et cetera. Some students respond with things like "Thanks, I needed that reminder/inspiration/support". I personally have said "See you at that class later!", and some will respond "Great!", "Can't wait!" to a reminder about an upcoming class. In classes themselves, most of my favorite teachers remind us students that we've done a lot just showing up for class, and that being mindfully present is enough.

Their kind, welcoming online comments and actions reinforce that message. Thus, teachers can encourage students to practice more consistently - to just show up, and that already means a lot. More people present is the first step to building true community. Connecting with teachers then led me to more concretely connect with fellow students, both online and in-studio (the latter of which will always be more meaningful, of course!). 

As stated, the other students at the studio are just as warm and welcoming as the teachers. I've wondered how much it's the chicken, and how much the egg - how much the students are open and friendly because the teachers are, and how much the teachers are that way because of the positive  atmosphere that happy, friendly students naturally create. It seems like a great feedback loop, where everyone's positivity reinforces everyone else's.

The question of where it started aside, I know that I feel that positivity every time I come into the studio. It's one of the things that keeps me coming back. Us teachers can do a lot for creating and maintaining such positive atmospheres in yoga practice locations. That includes encouraging students to introduce themselves, as well expressing our appreciation for their presence and dedication. Everyone has bad days, and we're all human, including us yoga instructors. But we can do our best to leave our personal issues out of our teaching lives.

When we can bring positivity to our teaching in these ways, we can encourage students to come back to their practices more often - into studios/classes in other locations, or to their home practices (which might even bring warm feelings through associations with practicing in community). We can also lead all of our students to be more open and friendly with, and supportive of, one another. It takes a village to become our better selves through practice - supporting each other as we undergo challenges, and celebrating as we reach new milestones. That's part of the union of yoga. And it can start with us instructors!

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