How to help create and maintain a supportive studio community.
Over the past few years teaching in a studio, I have learned so much. I’ve learned about myself as a teacher, about human bodies, about serving students, about the yoga business, and about the yoga community. While teaching yoga is technically a job, it has never felt like that to me – a feeling I consider myself lucky to finally have.
The current landscape for yoga studios is delicate. Many physical locations have closed, unable to sustain business. Others are trying to adjust to serving clients safely, while still being able to pay bills and their teachers—all while being at reduced class sizes. If you have taught or practiced in a studio you have likely experienced this shift. I feel so incredibly lucky to teach at a beautiful studio that has shifted with the times to continue bringing the community a path to wellness that many depend upon. This is especially important right now as we all are experiencing a huge change in our work and living routines.
By nature, the yoga community is compassionate and understanding (I’m generalizing here—I know this is sadly not everyone’s experience), and we can tend to assume good intent or practice non-attachment when faced with problems. However, in a studio setting, it is a business and to continue serving the community, it must be maintained. As both a yoga student and teacher, there are things I’ve noticed over the years that help create and keep community in a studio.
Show up on time. And by on time, that is at least five minutes before class begins. While traffic accidents and life understandably happen, arriving late or at the class start time takes time away from the students that did show up on time. With reduced staff at studios, the teacher might have to wait to lock the door before they can start class, or worse, have a student walk in late and disrupt the opening meditation. Can’t show up? Understand that many studios have no-show fees due to reduced class size and require at least two hours cancellation notice. A spot was being held and when someone doesn’t show, that robs another student the opportunity to come to class and costs the studio money.
Practice asteya. The third yama of the Eight Limbs meaning non-stealing. While simply it can mean not taking things, it also asks us to not take away from the practice—for yourself or others. Turn your phone off and leave it outside the classroom. Leave the gossip outside the studio. Before class, contribute to the community by helping set a positive and peaceful space for everyone.
Practice saucha. The first niyama in the Eight Limbs meaning cleanliness. Practicing next to someone that interrupts your sense of smell during class can be distracting and unpleasant. Respect yourself and others by coming to class clean and in clean clothes. This also means NO perfume or strong fragrances. While subtle essential oils are great because they tend to stay within your own mat bubble, skip the cologne or perfume.
Help maintain community space. If you use a prop, clean it and put it in its place. If you leave a mess, clean it up. Instructors often stay late after class having to restack blocks and refold blankets on top of the extra cleaning they do—time they don’t get paid for.
Honor your practice and journey. Remember, your practice is your own journey, not the instructor’s. While the instructor offers guidance and cues, ultimately, it is up to you to decide what to practice during class time. Skip the chaturangas, take different variations, use or don’t use props. Yoga is for everybody and every body, and it is important for you to be a co-creator of your experience. Tell that ego to pipe down and be truthful about what you might really need.
Practice where you teach. What better way to support your community than to practice alongside your students, as well as support your fellow teachers. Practicing where you teach gives the opportunity for students to see you on your journey rather than at the front of the class. If you are teaching about letting go of the ego during your classes, be sure to practice it yourself as well. Honor your own practice and don’t put on a performance.
Be involved with the community. Teach workshops and take them. Volunteer. Take time to get to know your students and community. Be an active participant in the events at the studio when you can.
Hold space for ALL students. Yoga should be accessible. This is created through the instructor’s presence and language. In your teaching, use props, show variations, and roll with your mistakes. In your language, take out hierarchies (advanced, leveled)—use variations, options, and choices. Offering assists? Ask for consent at the beginning of class.
Practice satya. The second yama of the Eight Limbs meaning truthfulness. If you don’t know something, be honest with your students. You are not disappointing them by not knowing why something is tweaking out in their body. Most instructors do not have the education or qualifications to offer medical advice. Still want to help? Great! You can! Encourage them to keep exploring, practicing, and refer them to seek professional care when it is beyond the scope of yoga instruction.
Contributing to our yoga community can be shown in the ways we carry ourselves on and off the mat. Yoga isn’t just a workout for our bodies (asana – just ONE limb of yoga), it is a blueprint for everyday life. Think about why you are drawn to yoga and what keeps you coming back. While these points that I’ve shared might be helpful, it’s also good to recognize that none of us are perfect—but that’s why we call it a practice, right?