Amani Eke is the Founder of Project Yogi – a not-for-profit organisation that teaches yoga and mindfulness to children in schools and youth groups in London. She is an inspirational person who saw how the health and well-being benefits of yoga would help the children she worked with, and actually did something about it. (more…)
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.
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.
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.
During the lockdown, we’re all allowed one walk, run, or cycle a day to get our daily exercise. This precious time of being outdoors is invaluable, especially for those that live in built-up urban areas.
While on your walk, there are lots of ways that we can practice yoga, through the way that we interact with others, by practicing mindfulness or simply by being present.
Here’s a variety of ways to keep doing yoga, even when we’re off our mats.
Using apps such as Headspace we can enter a state of walking meditation. Instead of the focus being the breath, which is traditional for seated forms of meditation, the focus becomes the rhythm of our gait.
There are various steps that you can take, even without the app.
- First, notice how your body feels.
- Then begin to observe your gait, how your weight shifts from foot to foot, for example.
- Then tune in to what’s going on around you, but without any layers of judgement.
- Become sensitive to your senses, noticing smells, sounds, and physical sensations such as the breeze or temperature.
- Once you’ve tuned in to all these things, keep your attention in the present by focusing on the rhythm of your gait, which keeps your mind from wandering.
Through these steps, you’ll learn to bring your mind into your body, which is just what we’re trying to do on our yoga mat. It will also help tame that chattering monkey mind.
I’ve always been one to stop and smell the roses – too much, according to my family – but now it seems more important than ever to enjoy the senses when out on your walk.
Even if you haven’t got a park in walking-distance (which I find hard to believe in our green capital), then there’s loads of nature doing its glorious spring thing in front gardens, on the trees lining the pavement, even growing out of cracks in walls.
Heading outside every day means that we will start to tune in much more to the seasons; now the blossom is starting to fade and the lilacs are blooming and throwing their scent into the air.
It’s also a great reminder that we are part of the dance of Nature. Just as nature has its seasons, and cycles of renewal and change, so do we. As B K S Iyengar says in ‘Light on Life’:
We too are part of Nature, therefore constantly changing, so we are always looking at Nature from a different viewpoint.
Yamas and Niyamas
Before we even get to our mats, the first limb of yoga is the yamas and niyamas – the moral codes of conduct for our actions towards ourselves and others.
Our daily walk is the perfect place to practice these qualities, for example:
Ahimsa – non-violence
The new considerate when out walking is to stick to small groups, or ideally just one at a time so that it’s easier to keep two meters from anyone else. When my two children and myself go out for a walk, we slip into single file when we see someone else coming, like a mama duck and her ducklings…
Aparigraha – non-hoarding
This is a weird one, but I think it’s easy to take more than we need in any situation. We’re being asked to take one walk for exercise, and if we take more than that, or stay sitting in the sun on benches for too long, then we’re taking up space in the park that others might need.
Santosha – contentment
There is a lot to be sad about at the moment. We can’t hug our friends, do our jobs, go on the holidays we’d booked. But there is also so much to be content about. Our health, spending time with our family units, enjoying our homes and gardens if we’re lucky enough to have one, appreciating nature. Remind yourself that we still have so much to be content about.
Svadhyaya – self-study
Our daily walk is the perfect time to reflect on yourself. Sometimes it’s not a comfortable exercise. Notice your thoughts as you walk. Are you leaping to judge and criticise others? Are you criticising yourself? Self-study doesn’t mean self-criticism, but self-awareness.
Device – FREE
Try doing your daily walk without a device. Our phones are pretty much grafted to our hands these days, and although we’re more grateful for online communication at the moment than ever, there’s only so many online Zoom meetings a person can take.
Make your daily lockdown walk a time to literally switch off from social media, messages, taking pictures or chatting, and take it as a time to be with yourself.
Although most of the time we’re fine, there’s a low-lying anxiety underpinning this whole situation. Our lives and the lives of the people we love are at risk, and although that risk is very small, it’s still there.
Our phones are outward-looking, constantly deflecting our attention from one thing to the next. When we put them down we give our minds and hearts a chance to turn inwards (just as we do in yoga) and start to heal.
Nothing was more obvious as to how much of a business yoga is, than at this year’s Om Yoga Show in London. It tied in with the Mind, Body, Soul Show, buy one ticket and go to both exhibitions. It felt like one enormous, never-ending circus, everyone vying for your attention and selling their soul.
Every possible item you can imagine is for sale from the obvious such as mats, clothes to the less obvious shamanic witchcraft and food dice. (Which literally is what it says: a set of dice with food names on it)
Ayurveda is like a secret doorway that has been in front of you the entire time. It’s been guiding you, expanding you, and restricting you without you necessarily being aware of it. It constantly shows you where you need more balance and if you are listening, it shows you how to receive it. Conscious awareness is just one of the ways Ayurveda can change your life.
To understand how Ayurveda impacts you on an individual basis, it’s helpful to get a sense of your Ayurvedic dosha. If you’re unfamiliar with your dosha, that’s okay, Ayurveda is already in your life! Here’s how… (more…)