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Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn’t about Asanas

Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn't about Asanas

Growing up in India, Dr. Deepti Sastry started yoga at the tender age of eight. She is a deeply intelligent person, and self-proclaimed ‘philosophy junkie’, whose commitment to yoga and yoga philosophy pervade her whole life.

We are lucky enough to have her as the 500-hour Philosophy Module teacher here at YogaLondon, but that is just a small part of her achievements. Working full-time in the International Development sector, she is also mum to an almost three-year-old – but she always finds time for meditation.

1. What was it like learning yoga as a child in India?

I primarily did it because I didn’t want to go for a run in the mornings! At 6 am in the morning at the boarding school I went to we’d get kicked out of bed, and you’d either go for a run or you’d do yoga, and yoga seemed the lesser of the two evils. It was very pared back –  the concept of a yoga mat didn’t exist, there was a big carpet and you brought a towel or a sheet and you sat yourself down.

The emphasis of the yoga was focused on cleansing the immune system and we also did the Sat Karmas [yogic cleansing rituals] and the six kriyas. As part of this immune-boosting yoga, we would also be expected to take cold showers and walk barefoot on the dewy grass on winter mornings, all things to build immunity. I loved it. I was eight when I started so we would also do fun things, more like gymnastics as well as performances of yoga, and at that point, it was just fun.

2. Did yoga teaching come naturally to you?

No! I never intended to be a yoga teacher.

In India, you’re either too skinny or too ‘plumpy’ and all my life my sister was the skinny one and I was the plumpy one. So when I was in my twenties I got into yoga largely because it helped make me feel good about my body, so I would do a lot of dynamic vinyasa flow. And that’s where I met Rebecca [Ffrench, Co-founder of YogaLondon] – at one of these classes. I loved her classes and hanging out with her. At that time, in 2009, she was setting up YogaLondon, and there weren’t that many teacher training schools around. She asked me if I wanted to train as a yoga teacher. I was interested because I felt I’d plateaued in my practice and, even growing up in India, I hadn’t been taught any theory.

So I signed up because I was curious, wanted to know more, and to grow my own practice. I was in the very first batch of YogaLondon graduates.

3. What did you do when you qualified?

Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn't about Asanas

At the end of my yoga teacher training, Rebecca asked me if I wanted to become an apprentice, which I did for a year, then I quit my job and started teaching full time. I did that for another year and then realised I didn’t enjoy teaching full time, so I went back to my job, but was still teaching yoga every weekend.

After a while, I realised working and teaching non-stop was ridiculous, so I stopped doing that. Now I teach 3 weekends, twice a year. I’ve finally got the balance right.

4. How does your knowledge of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali inform your practice?

My practice is completely based on the sutras – there is nothing outside of it. Most yoga teacher training, especially at the 200-hour level, is fundamentally about teaching asana health and safety. And while that’s important, that is really not yoga.

I think a year after I finished training I really wanted to know more. So in 2010, I went to study at the school of T Krishnamacharya and I did a month-long course on the sutras with them. And apart from this year, I go back at least once a year to study with them. For me, there is no yoga outside the sutras.

5. What’s the most rewarding thing about teaching the Philosophy Module for YogaLondon?

The most rewarding thing is when people have that ‘AHA!’ moment. When they realise why it is that they wanted to become a yoga teacher in the first place. It’s because you want to deal with the neurotic human condition, and you learn how to lead a peaceful human life – through yoga.

In his audiobook The Yoga Matrix Richard Freeman says it beautifully. To paraphrase – you’ve probably tried everything, from drugs through to therapy, and you’ve come to this room because you know something’s not complete. And that’s the bit that I find rewarding, when people acknowledge that.

6. How has yoga helped you cope during lockdown?

My yoga practice is a jigsaw puzzle, so my asana and pranayama practice have come from the Krishnamacharya tradition and the Bihar school of yoga, and my meditation practice is from Insight meditation and Buddhist practices.

However, during lockdown, I have stripped back everything because I have a full-time job and a young child at home, and something’s got to give! What’s been essential for me to keep me sane, and to keep my brain from getting anxious and busy, is my meditation practice. Normally I’ll do 40 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes last thing at night.

Interview: Deepti Sastry on Cultural Appropriation and why Yoga isn't about Asanas7. Do you have a pose that you love to hate?

I love to hate Utthita Hasta Padangustasana A, B, C, and D. I like it, but I don’t like it. I feel like it’s one of those poses, I never know how it’s going to come out. I suppose that’s the point of this pose that it’s a bit of a curve-ball, and throws you off balance.

8. Who are your yoga inspirations?

There’s a teacher of mine in the school in India where I go to study called Sangeetha. She’s this tiny, wiry, petite woman, who glows. I remember I was there doing a chanting course, and you get so caught up in the ‘doing’ – the meter, the rhythm, the precise pronunciation, that you forget why you’re doing it. And one day we were going into class and she looked at me and said, ‘Stop. Feel it.’ That’s the point, ‘feel it’, and it just helped to shift my perception – so I partly adore her, and am partly frightened of her.

I also absolutely love my meditation teachers –Martin Aylward, he’s been teaching an online sangha sitting every day since the lockdown started. Chris Cullen, a mindfulness-based cognitive therapist and he’s just unbelievable. And Martine Batchelor, who was a Zen Buddhist monk who disrobed and re-joined society.

9. How does yoga inform your views on politics and social justice?

Everyone just needs to calm the f**k down! I just feel like people get so caught up in their own view and what they think is right that there is no room for a conversation anymore. And honestly, there are no easy answers to any of this [what’s going wrong in the world] but at least you can have an empathetic conversation, which we are sorely lacking at the moment.

We need to start acknowledging that none of us is correct and that there is no correct. I think that’s why Utthita Hasta Padangustasana kicks my ass because every day there is a different way to do it.

10. Do you have a view on whether the West has culturally appropriated yoga?

If we have to think in terms of the binaries of East and West, then, yes, there is cultural appropriation, but I don’t necessarily find it problematic. I just think it’s strange that people find solace in things they don’t necessarily understand. However, I’m perfectly happy with people taking mantras and chanting and doing crazy things with it. If it brings you peace and you’re not hurting anyone else, then who cares?

However, one thing that the West has done with yoga is to make it much more physical, which I do have a problem with. With the West’s preoccupation with the body looking a certain way, I can understand why yoga has been re-framed to fit that narrative, but it’s not helpful, and hopefully, we’ll come out of it.

11. What advice would you give to a newly qualified yoga teacher?

Slow things right down. Take time to understand your body and your mind better, and then figure out what you want to emphasise in your practice. I know I didn’t! I went straight from qualifying to apprenticeship, to teaching full time, and then it’s taken me almost ten years to strip it back. I still find myself reaching for the next course, the next challenge, and it’s just not helpful.

12. What’s the essence of yoga for you?

If everyone can just stop for two minutes a day, and watch their breath, then that’s already amazing. Yoga is not about quantity, it is purely about intentionality. You don’t need to do four hours of kriyas and asanas and pranayama and meditation all in one day, nobody has four hours!

Poppy Pickles

Yoga Classes in a Post-Covid World

Yoga Classes in a Post-Covid World

We’ve all seen the photos of the re-opened gyms in Hong Kong with perspex screens between each running machine. There have also been yoga classes with each student confined inside a plastic sheeting cocoon. It looks futuristic, other-worldly – and bleak.

On Tuesday, the government announced measures to further ease the lockdown from Saturday 4th of July – aptly Independence day in the States. There will still be social distancing measures in place, but these will now be reduced to ‘one-metre plus’ where two metres is not possible, and with the addition of face coverings, additional hygiene, and altered layout for indoor public spaces. However, gyms, swimming pools, and by default – yoga studios  – are not included in the businesses allowed to open from the 4th.

As disappointing as this will be for many, there is a (yet unconfirmed) rumour that mid-July is now set as the date. At some point, in-person classes will return. So let’s take a look at how yoga classes can operate NOW under the current guidelines – and IN THE FUTURE when the restrictions are lifted.

Ways You Can Teach Yoga NOW

Teaching Outside

With the ongoing uncertainty around indoor yoga teaching, outdoor classes could be an option.

Currently, the limit to any group gathering outdoors is up to six people from different households. This is with the proviso that you observe the two metre rule unless that person is from your own household or within your support bubble.

However, there are rules and regulations for teaching in a public park too (of course). If your class is free you won’t need to worry about that. But if you’re charging then you’ll need to get a license to teach. There are no standardised regulations for outdoor exercise licenses, so you’ll need to check your local council’s website for more information on their licensing rules.

It will of course be weather-dependent, and with the great British weather being what it is, it will be worth building in some backup plans in case you need to cancel. Make sure every attendee gives you a contact number so you can cancel at short notice. You’ll also need to have an online booking and payment system (this one, for example) to ensure that you don’t exceed the current regulation of six people and to avoid any cash transactions.

Teaching Online

Many yoga teachers made the move online within the first few weeks of the lockdown. Since then there’s been a steep learning curve as the technophobes among us have got to grips with new technology  – as well as some not-so-new technology! Both teachers and students have begun to adapt to the ‘new normal’, and some interesting advantages have emerged.

  • Classes can be flexible – with no venue to worry about, time slots can be changed as needed.
  • Students are learning to be more responsible for their own bodies as they get to grips with practicing at home.
  • Many more students have made space in their homes for yoga practice.
  • Many students have invested in yoga equipment, meaning that they can practice at home.
  • Teachers have enjoyed saving both time and energy spent on rushing to venues.
  • Apart from subscribing to online platforms, there are very few costs involved.
  • Your students don’t have to be local!

So, for now, there is plenty to enjoy about teaching online. However, there is also a lot that yoga teachers miss about the in-person experience. Some students haven’t made the leap to online classes and for them, knowing when we can teach in-person again is paramount.

How We Can Teach Yoga in the FUTURE

Practical Measures

Sticking to Legal Requirements – Guidelines are changing week by week, and the first thing to do before planning any move back to is to keep up to date with government and local council guidelines. You can sign up to get email alerts when the government puts any update on Coronavirus onto the Gov.uk website. Remember that in order to comply with your PLI (Public Liability Insurance), you will need to stick to the government’s social distancing policy and all other guidelines.

Pre and Post-Class Cleaning – If you own your own yoga studio, even if it’s a small cabin in the back garden, you will be responsible for adequate cleaning of the space before and after each class. Stock up on plenty of cleaning supplies and think about having a cleaning plan, such as focusing on high contact areas such as door handles. You should also keep a record of this cleaning, especially if you’re a studio owner. Students should bring their own yoga equipment wherever possible. Shared facilities such as toilets should also be cleaned as regularly as possible.

Class Hygiene – Both you and your students will need to practice increased hygiene measures, including washing hands before and after classes. You could also consider providing antibacterial wipes for students to clean their own areas. Hand sanitiser should be freely available throughout the studio/your class space. The movement of students during the class should also be reduced to avoid cross-contamination.

Social Distancing – Class sizes will need to be reduced to adhere to social distancing guidelines, which will involve pre-booked classes only. Once inside the class, you might want to think about marking out mat spaces using tape on the floor where this is possible. Physical adjustment of students is also not allowed due to the social distancing measures. You could consider getting the students to do their own physical corrections through demonstration.

Make sure you leave enough time between classes to reduce congestion in waiting areas. You might also want to have signs to indicate a socially-distanced queue system to enter classes, or if space allows, a one-way system of movement through the building – such as most shops have now introduced. Consider asking your students to arrive already changed to avoid excess time spent in the building.

Ventilation – While the weather is still warm it would be preferable to have windows open, as the use of air conditioning can re-circulate air, which could lead to the spread of infection. On this note, singing in enclosed public spaces is also prohibited as it poses a particular threat of spreading the virus. If you usually chant in your classes, then you could encourage students to sing silently in their heads, or you could play a pre-recorded version.

Face coverings also help to reduce the spread of airborne virus particles, and where possible, these should be provided. If you’re going to use these, they need to be put on before class, and not taken off till the class is finished.

Symptom Checker – The government slogan is currently ‘Stay alert’, which means that as a yoga teacher or studio owner you’d need to stay alert to the threat of infected students attending your classes. Make sure you remind students not to attend if they have any symptoms, or if anyone in their household (or extended bubble) has symptoms either. If possible, check students’ temperatures at the door using a remote thermometer.

Keep a record of everyone who attends classes so that you can comply with the track & trace system. Make sure you have up-to-date contact details for all students in case you need to cancel classes at late notice due to any risk of infection.

Think about Online AND In-Person Classes

When in-person classes can start up again there will be no guarantees that students will be ready to return to in-person classes. For many teachers and studios, an online and in-person hybrid will be the best business model until the new measures are normalised.

This means that you should be able to maximise the number of students able to attend. Consider offering bespoke smaller classes in-person, to be offered on top of your current online timetable. This means that those students who’ve been unable to do online yoga will be able to return to classes.

A Disclaimer

These are suggestions for how you might manage face-to-face yoga classes, but as mentioned quite a few times, guidelines are changing all the time. It might be that the social distancing measures are relaxed, on the other hand, we could end up heading back into full lockdown.

This situation has taught us that everything that we thought of as being normal life can change – and fast. So while we can do our best to plan for the future, it might also be wise to take it things week by week.

Poppy Pickles

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

One of our own – Peter Ogazi – trained with YogaLondon back in 2011. Currently a secondary school teacher as well, he’s taught a wide range of students since then through his business ‘yogazi’. He is a fighter for social justice, deeply chilled, strong, and, by his own admission, a private person. So we appreciate his chatting to us about all things yoga even more.

1. How did you get into yoga?

I’ve been a practitioner of yoga for a good twenty-odd years. I got into yoga because I was originally into martial arts and kickboxing, and someone from that world told me that yoga would improve my practice.  So I went along to the Buddhist center in Manchester city centre and I found that not only did it improve my martial arts practice quite considerably, it also enhanced other aspect of my life too. So I started going quite regularly, till I noticed that I was more relaxed and that I had got rid of a hell of a lot of anger.

2. What prompted you to become a yoga teacher?

Encouraged by this I trained to become a teacher with YogaLondon in 2011. I think another thing that prompted me to become a teacher was that I felt there was a need for yoga in Afro-Caribbean and working communities. There’s a stereotypical idea of a yoga teacher that can put some people off. Personally, it’s never bothered me that on most occasions I’m the only person of colour at yoga events – it’s never made me feel uncomfortable. But there is a need for it to be spread out wider, so that’s maybe why I became a yoga teacher.

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

3. How has yoga changed you as a person?

Yoga has changed me quite considerably. I used to be quite an anxious person socially, but it helped me to chill out more and to be more comfortable in my own skin. When you’ve done yoga regularly for a long time and then you don’t do it, you realise that you’re missing it, and that’s when you know it’s having a positive effect.

4. What’s your home practice like?

My home practice is quite good. I’m quite regular with it. But, these days I don’t go at it like I did when I first qualified as a teacher. Back then I was doing it twice a day – I almost became a perfectionist. But it got to the point when I did have to cool down a little because I was becoming very, very tired. I still practice, but now it’s three or four times a week and not twice a day.

5. What type of yoga do you practice?

Recently I’ve been doing a lot of yin yoga and I’m really feeling the benefits of adding it to my practice. I’ve done a little bit of Iyengar, and from there I started doing Ashtanga yoga and that became my favourite, along with Vinyasa flow. I’ve done a little bit of hot yoga as well but I didn’t really take to that.

6. What would you still like to do with your yoga teaching?

Three years ago I set up a community interest company with the aim of spreading yoga to hard-to-reach groups, which I ran for about two years. Through this CIC I collaborated with the Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust and ran yoga classes for people with varying degrees of mental health problems, such as clinical depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. I also worked with disadvantaged young people who were on the verge of social exclusion. Plus the Greater Manchester Fire Service as well. I also worked for Christie’s Hospital here in Manchester and taught yoga to people with various types of cancer.

I’m thinking of doing this again and sticking to it. In the last couple of years, I’ve been working at a secondary school and that’s taken up a lot of my time and I’ve had to cut down on my yoga classes and I knock CIC on the head. In the future, I can see myself going down that route again, and making it a lot more sustainable.

7. What are your yoga goals?

I’ve wanted to do a retreat for a while, but the only thing that’s put me off is that I’m quite a private person –  I need my own space. I imagine being on a yoga retreat you’re around people 24/7 and you’re the centre of attention all the time. I could collaborate with other yoga teachers to make it work.

8. You’ve taught a wide range of students. How do you adapt your classes for less able students?

As soon as you walk into a room you get the energy. I’ve taught various groups, so for instance with a group of young people with learning difficulties I’m not going to be teaching an experienced ashtanga class, I’ll teach them some chair yoga, basic moves, and basic breath exercises.

When I teach boxers and martial artists they want more dynamic stuff and to keep on moving, I wouldn’t go in there and start singing Oms. You have to adapt each class to their particular needs.

9. What would your advice be to someone who’s thinking about becoming a yoga teacher?

To be very, very open-minded. To be clear and concise when you’re teaching, and not to make assumptions. Avoid what I call flimmy flammy language and make yourself understood. I also avoid music in classes because music is such a personal choice and can be quite off-putting.

And it can be quite hard and challenging. It’s not the stereotype of what a yoga teacher is, almost a permanent holiday with a smile on your face. But the rewards definitely outweigh the negatives.

Interview: Peter Ogazi, on how yoga changed his life

10. How important is humour in yoga?

You have to have a sense of humour, most definitely! There’s a time and a place for things to be serious. It’s very, very important to have a sense of humour sometimes and not take things too seriously, particularly when you’re in an intimate space with people and everything’s quiet and then all of sudden maybe someone farts!

11. In your opinion, how can the yoga industry improve the representation of POC, both as teachers and students?

We need to show that it’s not just middle-class white women that do this. In magazines and general media, it would be very, very beneficial to have more representation out there as that attracts more people. As I’ve said before, just the fact that I’m teaching yoga attracts people. When I started teaching in a community centre up here I got a wide range of clients – not just people of colour, but from white working-class backgrounds – just the simple fact that I was a little bit different, and didn’t fit into the stereotype of what a yoga teacher should be, gave them the confidence to come to the class.

As well as that, we need more men doing yoga. A lot of men assume that yoga is just for women and I’ve had to break that stereotype down. When I taught male boxers and martial artists they thought was just going to be a ‘little stretch’ and after 20 minutes, I kid you not, they’re all crying and making all sorts of noises because they’re working muscles and ligaments that they’ve never worked before!

Also, a lot of men these days of a certain age don’t know where they are, and how they fit into the world. They’re quite angry as well, and yoga can be very, very beneficial in calming them down. A yoga class can offer them not only a sense of community but also offers balance and a way to chill out.

12. Describe what yoga means to you in three words.

It’s such an all-encompassing part of my life that it’s hard to think of three, but definitely relaxation, profound and chilled.

Check out Peter’s website at Yogazi

Poppy Pickles

What 2020 Has Taught Us To Do More Of

What 2020 Has Taught Us To Do More Of

2020 has been quite a year so far, and we’re only halfway through.

The year we thought we were going to have has not materialised, and we’ve entered into a strange new world.

As well as the global pandemic that will have far-reaching effects for decades to come, there has been the recent unrest in the States, catalysed by the murder of George Floyd by a cop.

In response to this, there have been social media blackouts, under #blackouttuesday and mass peaceful protests across America, and around the entire world. The scourge of racism, as Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau called it, is being called out. In London thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square, in Lewisham and Brixton, chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘I can’t breathe’ – Floyd’s last words.

But is 2020 a write-off? Or can we turn an annus horribilis (as 1992 was for the Queen) into an annus mirabilis, through the sometimes painful lessons this year has taught us?

Take Five More

We’re told to take five when we need to step back from a situation, and lockdown has given us this time. Even if we’re busier than ever working from home, we’re not rushing about anymore – apart from those key workers, who we offer our humble thanks to.

You might not want to admit it, but it might be that these past two months have been a relief. For those with kids, the work, school, social life, extra-curricular balancing act has ground to a halt, and we have found ourselves with our families at home. For those who have been furloughed, it has provided time for self-reflection. Is the life that we’re living the one we actually want? Do we want to rush back to an office job we don’t enjoy? Perhaps it’s time to do something we love – like become a yoga teacher??

We will never spend as much time with our close families again – until the next lockdown anyway! And there has been a simple joy to just being with the ones we love the most. As well as sometimes being driven up the wall, but that’s all part of the fun.

Enjoy nature more

One thing this ‘eased lockdown’ has given us is the pure joy of meeting up with friends in parks, green spaces, gardens and in the countryside. Why weren’t we doing this more before? What could be better than simply walking and talking in nature, or sitting with a picnic in our beautiful London parks? This is something we will definitely keep doing.

Plus all the frantic traveling we’re not doing anymore is making a huge difference to the environment. We can hear birdsong again, the skies over London aren’t clogged with smog, and our children can breathe more freely as we walk the streets.

Let’s remember this before we jump back into our cars and rush back to booking multiple foreign holidays. Do we NEED to use polluting forms of transport? Let’s stop and think.

Love our Local area more

Who has found parts of their local area they never knew existed? Discovered beautiful front gardens, little private roads, local woods? In the height of lockdown, we had only our daily walk to explore the outside world, and it has led us to really get to know and appreciate the detail and depth of our local areas.

Being More Kind

From the outset, the temptation has been to judge others while excusing our own behaviour – “Did you see those people in the park sunbathing?” We gossip about other people flaunting lockdown, but at the same time make excuses for our own slight deviations from the rules.

But it doesn’t help to judge others. We might not understand the context and even if we do it’s only our own behaviour we can change.

Value the sense of Touch more

The sense of touch is an underrated sense. We rely so much on sight and hearing, that the earthy senses of smell, taste, and touch are relegated.

But now we are experiencing a world outside the confines of our home and local park without these three senses. We conduct zoom meetings, virtual art gallery tours, whatsapp video chats. It’s great that we can connect, but we can’t really experience being together.

When we meet up with friends or family for our socially distanced walks we still can’t hug them. For those of us living alone, this is a painful separation. It makes us realise how important that physical connection is. It makes us feel loved.

Be Yourself More

If we can take one thing from 2020 it’s that we’ve learnt to be happier with who we really are. We’ve stopped bothering to wax, wear clothes with tight waistlines – care what other people think. These small steps can be translated into bigger ones.

We don’t have to hide who we are. We can be ourselves. We can tell our stories, share our pain, share our joys without worrying about what people think.

Learn More

We may not be able to physically travel the globe, but we have learnt over these last few months that we are one world, going through one pandemic. Learn about other cultures, other histories to understand the rich tapestry that makes up our brilliant suffering world. With knowledge comes understanding, with understanding comes acceptance.

In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have learnt to examine our own behaviour. Have we always done the right thing? Have we owned up to racist behaviour, whether conscious or not? It’s time to own up to not doing enough, and to do the work to be a better person. And if you’re looking to support emerging black artists, thinkers and change-makers, here is a list of US organisations that need your help.

Listen More

We’ve all had enough of zoom, that’s FOR SURE. Socialising on Zoom is not the easiest, nor is it doing anything else for that matter, but it’s a darn sight better than nothing.

But what Zoom has taught us is how to listen more. You can’t interrupt without the software glitching and due to the slight lag, you end up talking at the same time as someone else. But instead, we’ve all gradually learnt to take turns. Not to interrupt but to simply listen to what others have to say. And we’re learning a lot.

Change More

Lockdown has levelised the human race. We are all susceptible, but we’re not all dying at the same rate. The coronavirus is more serious for BAME people and we need to find out why. It is time to change society so that we all have the same potential and opportunities. In the yoga world, we’re not always innocent. Let us become the change we want to see. To quote the poem, ‘What if 2020 isn’t Cancelled’ by Leslie Dwight:

Declare change. Work for change. Become the change.

A year we finally band together, instead of pushing each other further apart.

2020 isn’t cancelled, but rather the most important year of them all.

 

Poppy Pickles

How to Build a Yoga Community

How to Build a Yoga Community

One of the worst things about this current crisis and the lockdown, is the loneliness.

Loneliness is one of the number ONE factors in deciding life expectancy and can shorten a person’s life span by around 15 years. This extraordinary fact shows how social interactions are not only pleasurable but essential for life.

Part of our job as yoga teachers is to offer a regular place for people to come together with others who are like-minded; to feel part of a supportive community. And, during this crisis, this role is more important than ever.

Why yoga teachers are well-placed to build community

As we become established yoga teachers, we notice the effect that it has on our yoga students. Hopefully, they will start to cultivate their own home yoga practice. You can see the instructions you give them going deeper, making sense in their bodies and not just their minds.

It also starts to become a more and more important part of their life, as they realise the benefits it brings. They see their yoga classes as a sanctuary, a place where they can be themselves and spend time with like-minded people.

This sense of community is a valuable and beautiful thing to cultivate, and as yoga teachers we are perfectly placed to add a real sense of belonging to our students’ lives.

What is a yoga community?

A community is a group of people that have the same beliefs and needs, or a unified body of individuals. This last definition is a great one, as yoga literally means to join, to unify – and of course, the body is how we do that.

As a yoga teacher there’s a lot we can do to encourage a sense of community and it has many benefits. And while it has many benefits for your students, it is also beneficial to you, because if your students feel like they belong to a community, they’re much more likely to be loyal to you and your class. Building brand loyalty is one of those marketing holy grails!

Practical ways to build community

Let’s start with the basics, the first thing is to know all your students’ names! This can be a real stumbling block for some, but there are memory games you can use to help if you struggle to remember names. And at the moment if you’re teaching on Zoom, you should be able to see everyone’s names on the screen. It might be worth reminding them to make sure they log in with their names, and not ‘iPad’.

When we get back to in-person teaching, there are lots of ways to encourage community. You can encourage students to come to class a little earlier and start a conversation from the front of the class – making sure you include everybody, and drawing everyone in.

This can be applied to online live-stream teaching too. Make sure you’re online in the meeting space in plenty of time and encourage students to be in gallery mode with the microphones on if they want to chat (not if they’re just banging around and ejecting the cat).

Do things together – Karma yoga

This applies more once lockdown is finished and we can get back to in-person teaching. But even then, we don’t know how yoga teaching is going to be. It may well be that we won’t be able to teach in a small space for quite a while. But there are other ways to get together to build your yoga community.

Karma yoga is the yoga of selfless actions. Encourage a sense of giving and shared community within your student body. If you run a yoga studio get them involved in the upkeep of the building, in return for a nice lunch or free lessons.

While we’re still social distancing you could suggest a yoga lesson outside, where it’s safer. You could even suggest a mindfulness ‘yoga walk’ once we’re allowed to meet in larger groups.

Be generous!

There are a lot of yoga teachers out there, and if you want to keep your yoga students loyal to you it’s worth going above and beyond. Plus the more you give, the more you get – that’s just a good old fact of life.

So, what about giving out bespoke home practice sequences to your students? Write a regular blog to help them establish a home practice, and ask them to let you know how their home practice is going.

If you’re confident enough to teach workshops, ask them what workshops they’d like to do, so that they feel included in your decision-making process and to highlight the fact that you’re there to guide them on their yoga journey.

Keep in touch with them over email and if they’re usually a regular student, check in if they miss classes to make sure they’re ok.

Create a supportive community for yourself too

As a yoga teacher you also need a support structure! So make the effort to keep in touch with your own teachers, as well as spend time with other yoga teachers. This is such a great way to discuss issues that you might be struggling with.

Practice with other teachers and make the effort to go to other teacher’s classes, you’ll be surprised at what you might learn. At the moment this could be done on Zoom, or just by practicing at the same time and then having a chat afterwards to share how it went. Did we mention we’re running free Saturday and Sunday sessions at the moment?

Use your social media accounts wisely, follow other yoga teachers who inspire you (but don’t make you feel rubbish about yourself), and reach out online to create a sense of belonging to the wider yoga community.

However…

Remember that there’s a fine line between being someone’s teacher and someone’s friend. Yes, it’s fine to have friends in your classes. But when you’re teaching, you’re the teacher and they’re the student. They come to class to be taught, not to be your friend.

It’s also tempting to give too much as a teacher. You are not their therapist or carer, the primary focus is to be their guide on their path to yoga.

Poppy Pickles