We all know the usual drill of attending a yoga class – walk in with your mat, take off your shoes, roll out your mat, either at the back of the room if you’re shy or a beginner, or at the front of the room if you’ve been practicing a while or show up late. Then sit on your mat, maybe stretch out a bit (before you’re about to stretch out) as you wait for the teacher to begin class. Often times it’s quiet in the studio, no music, and generally students don’t speak to each other unless they already know each other outside of class.
The class commences, sometimes without the teacher getting names, the flow is guided, students follow, it all ends in a relaxing Savasana from which the teacher pulls you back into reality and everybody silently rolls up their mats, exits the studio space to slide their shoes on, and walk out the door.
Although the yoga practice itself is calming and rejuvenating, in an atmosphere of solitude and isolation on individual mats feelings such as loneliness and anxiety can also creep in as a result of slight social anxiety and students comparing their body’s abilities in poses to the rest of the class and the teacher, as teachers we have a responsibility to make everyone as comfortable and at ease as we can, which requires some effort from the teacher.
As a yoga teacher there are a few easy things that we can incorporate into our teaching to make students feel a part of a community in class.
Meet & Greet
Get names. Ask names as soon as a new student walks in, shake their hand, and give them your name. It seems a simple and polite thing to do, but I’ve been to plenty of classes as a student in which I never meet the teacher and vice versa. Also, have students introduce themselves to each other, it may feel a little forced as if it’s the first day of school (which it technically is,) but by meeting each other relationships may build over the course of the series or if returning students continue to attend.
Definitely as the teacher you should know your students’ names to greet them as they enter class, inquire about their days, and to then use their names to ask permission to make a physical adjustment. I have even attended a class in which the teacher asked us to write our names on a sticker that was put on the top edge of our mats. It was effective for the teacher to remember our names, but I don’t like to be wasteful, so would not suggest to do this unless you are hosting a large workshop.
Play music before and after class. Even if as a teacher you choose not to play music during class you should have something on as students enter and leave to break any awkwardness. Like music in a waiting room at a doctor’s office, gentle background music can lighten the mood of the room as people enter. It does not have to be elevator music, it could be yoga music or contemporary, just be sure that it is non-offensive and not too loud.
Before class begins and as you are waiting for students who are running late, introduce any upcoming events at your studio to promote and ask students if they have any events coming up. This is a great way to learn about things going on in the community and gives students to share any events that they are a part of or care about.
These are a few basic ideas of how to make your class feel more like a community. At this time of polarization and divisive fear-mongering, your yoga studio should be a safe and welcoming place, create that atmosphere as a teacher and keep spreading the love.