Tagsocial media

Interview: Mark Bonington’s Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

Mark Bonington is the published author of ‘How to Start Teaching Yoga‘, reiki healer, barre teacher trainee, amateur opera singer, writer, social media marketing expert– is there anything he can’t do? But first and foremost he’s a passionate yoga teacher, with a lot to say! He’s also a YogaLondon graduate, so it was lovely to catch up with him.

1. When was the light-bulb moment when you knew you wanted to be a yoga teacher?

When I went along for the month’s intensive course at YogaLondon I didn’t intend to become a full-time yoga teacher – I was thinking it might be a side gig to becoming a copywriter. I did know that I’d had enough of the job I was doing though. On the first day, the course leader Rachel Perry got us in a circle and we all had to say the reason why we were here, and suddenly it clicked that this was what I wanted to do. That was a real lightbulb moment for me.

Another lightbulb moment was when we were first practicing adjusting people in the exam sequence and it dawned on me that it was about them and not me! It sounds obvious, but it was a real epiphany.

My final lightbulb moment was when I did my first cover class at PureGym and I was terrified, but I just did it, and at the end of the class, people came up to me to say I was good at it! That was such a boost and helped me commit to teaching yoga full time.

2. How important do you think social media is for a yoga teacher?

Social Media marketing was actually my area of expertise in my previous job, so the scary side of social media marketing such as the content and paid side of things was something I was already confident with. In fact, it’s what I wanted to get away from!

Like most things, there is a positive and not-so-positive side to social media as a business tool. In terms of a digital imprint and inspiring viewers, it’s pretty essential. But when it comes to comparing yourself to others and the sexualization of yoga, it’s not that great.

There needs to be a balance. Of course, in recent weeks in the Covid-19 pandemic, I’ve found that social media has been an essential tool and through it, I’ve actually acquired new business. The thing is to make sure that it doesn’t get to the point where social media controls you, but you keep it is a tool that you control.

Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

3. What keeps you motivated as a yoga teacher?

There are three things that keep me motivated and the top one is definitely hearing feedback from my clients – just hearing that I’ve helped them feel a bit better is a massive reminder of why I do this – for that genuine connection with people.

Secondly, other teachers inspire me – Cat Meffan’s YouTube videos and musicaltheatreyogi’s guided meditations on Insta – they inspire me to take time out and be a student again.

4. You’re a yogi and a writer – do they work well together as a career?

They work really well together. Yoga is about connecting to other people through the body, writing is about connecting to others through the mind. I’m currently writing my second yoga book which will be along the lines of everything I wish I had known before I stepped into a yoga class – watch this space.

5. Does having a performance background help as a yoga teacher?

Definitely! I got into musical theatre at High School, and then at Uni up in Dundee I joined a local opera company – I loved it. It taught me how to project my voice, which when teaching in busy gyms is a real advantage. In the beginning, it also meant I could stand in front of a class of students and perform ‘being a yoga teacher’ – I wasn’t there yet, but my theatrical background gave me the confidence to command the room.

6. You’re studying Reiki, Barre, you’re a runner, a writer – what do all these extra things bring to your yoga teaching?

Barre teacher training has been great as a way of learning a new vocab about the body, as well as deepening my appreciation of the physical capacity of the body. The Reiki training has reinforced my focus on the prompts to focus on your energy and to direct it to where it’s needed. Every new thing I learn brings something else to my yoga teaching and keeps me inspired too.

7. With all your interests, courses and, jobs – what do you do to relax?

I love guided meditations. It’s a big part of what I offer to my own clients, and I love it myself. It’s great to be a student and to have a voice just telling you what to do. Especially in lockdown, I do one in the morning and one after lunch – which occasionally turns into a power nap, but I don’t tell my boyfriend that.

I would recommend The Honest Guys on YouTube– they’re so brilliant at guided visualization meditations.

8. What’s your go-to top yoga book?

I have two that I always use – [he reaches across, they’re literally right there] – they are The Heart of Yoga by T Krishnamacharya’s son, T K V Desikachar. He’s a big proponent of Viniyoga, which is an individual approach to yoga.

My other go-to book is The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark. It’s a great mixture of practical advice and spiritual discussion, as well as explaining Yin yoga, which has come more from Chinese Daoism.

9. What are your three TOP TIPs for newly qualified yoga teachers?Interview: Mark Bonington's Top Three Tips for Yoga Teachers

One, develop the right attitude – basically just get out there, throw yourself in the deep end, and get teaching!

Two, don’t work for free – people will ask you to, but stand your ground and know your worth.

Three, sign up for every cover group you can find and do them all – you’ll gain confidence quickly, attract potential clients, and rack up experience.

And a bonus top tip is to ask for feedback and reviews at the end of a class from students – it’s the best way to get noticed by employers.

10. How has yoga affected your relationships?

Yoga has deepened my relationships in a wonderful way. Yoga teaches you to become who you truly are, and not who you think you’re supposed to be. When I started my month’s intensive with YogaLondon part of that process was letting go of my old identity of PR Director and to just embrace being me.

And once you can do that it means that you learn to hold closer those that you love, and who bring you light and joy, and on the flip side, it gives you the strength to let go of relationships that aren’t good for you anymore.

11. How do you think the yoga world can attract more LGBTQ people?

The imagery that most people see of the yoga world is thin, cis, white women who can bend into gymnastic shapes, and men see that and think ‘it’s not for me’! But they’d still like to do yoga, so a 1:1 lesson means that they can have a go without feeling uncomfortable – a lot of my private clients are gay men.

There’s nothing wrong with the gymnastic side of things but it misses out on the yoga that’s more about a journey into the Self. And just doing the poses is an external, aesthetic thing that is more based on the ego. But the gay community also has a problem with the way that physical beauty is a massive issue – it’s been an issue for me personally.

Yoga has helped me to see it for what it is, as well as some great inspirations like @diaryofachubbyyogi on Instagram.

12. How has your lockdown been?

We managed to leave London and come up to my parent’s house in Fife, which really is in the middle of nowhere, so it’s been a real change. It’s also been a great way for my parents to get to know my boyfriend!

At the beginning, it was a bit bleak as I lost a lot of business and everything started to fold like a house of cards.

But it’s also meant that I’ve moved online, which was something I’d been meaning to do for a while. I started teaching lessons on Instagram’s IG TV and now I’ve got new clients from all over the world, so I’ll definitely be carrying that on going forwards. However, I will get back to in-person teaching when I can, as that personal connection and sharing of energy are so powerful.

Lockdown also meant I’ve started a newsletter, in which I interview a different yoga teacher each month – so that it’s not all about me!

13. What makes you cry?

These days it seems to be when I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the life that I now lead. Nightmares also make me cry – I have a recurring nightmare that I’m not a yoga teacher anymore but have a soulless job in an office cubicle…

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

A Yoga Teacher Marketing Toolkit: How to Promote Yourself

A Yoga Teacher Marketing Toolkit: How to Promote Yourself

Being a yoga teacher is a great job. You’re doing something you love, and teaching other people to love yoga as much as you do. But there’s a lot more to being a yoga teacher than just teaching yoga.

Students don’t just turn up by magic – sadly. In order to get students through your door, and then keep them coming, you need to do some marketing. Which for some yoga teachers is a thing they love to hate.

If you have a background in marketing then congratulations, you’ve got a big advantage! But most of us don’t, and have to learn from scratch how to keep our classes full. So here’s a basic ‘how-to’ of yoga marketing, just to get you started. And who knows, you might even start to enjoy it!

Your Yoga website

Some teachers maintain that they don’t need a website, and use Facebook and other social media to get their details out there. Others think that having a website means that there’s a more structured way that potential students can search for you and find out information. It’s up to you, but as a way of controlling and updating your ‘brand’ image, as well as coming up in Google searches, having a website is very helpful.

It’s worth bearing in mind that having a website is an extra cost, as you have to pay an annual fee for the domain name, the site, and fees for other ‘add ons’ (for example, you opt for an email address to go with your website).

Squarespace and WordPress are popular website platforms, but there are loads of well-designed platforms out there that make it easy to build and maintain your website. Wix and Mailchimp are also currently offering a free website-building service – although it’s worth noting Mailchimp’s offering is pretty basic at this stage as it’s not their core product (see Mailchimp Emails, below!).

The key is to keep it simple. Look at other yoga teacher’s websites that you admire, and take notes. Keep your home page uncluttered, clear – and don’t forget to keep it updated.

A Yoga Blog

A regular blog is a great way to keep your students engaged, and it should also mean that your website goes higher up the Google search list. The key is to keep it regular though, so once you’ve decided to write one, think about how often is realistic. For example, publishing a monthly blog can fit into most people’s schedules. It also means you’re not filling up the inboxes of your email list.

Mailchimp Emails

And talking of email lists, Mailchimp is a pretty essential marketing tool. It’s also free up to a certain amount of people. Find a way of collecting every student’s email address. For example, you could use a medical form that you give to every student who attends your classes. As part of the form you can ask for their email address, just make sure to add a clear paragraph about them agreeing to be sent information, in line with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that came in in 2018.

You could also add a landing page to your website, perhaps offering something for free in exchange for an email address. That way you can grow your mailing list from online sources.

Use your Mailchimp email list to notify students and prospective students about upcoming workshops, or send out your blog to your students before posting it on your website. Regular contact using high-quality content will keep you in mind and mean that they’re more likely to get in touch.

Taking Online Bookings

The current crisis has highlighted our reliance on the internet, and this is set to increase, especially as cash is being avoided at the moment. As up-to-date yoga teachers, it’s worth working out how to take online bookings for your classes.

In order to set up online bookings for regular lessons, you can use scheduling apps that link to your website. Many yoga studios use Mindbody as an external booking system for the classes. Or, using Paypal or Stripe, for example, you can set up a ‘products’ page on your website, so that people can pay for each class separately.

Posting on Social Media

The main social media platforms are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Each one is used in slightly different ways and attract different users.

Starting your own Facebook page is a useful way of reaching out to local people, Instagram is about the yoga community, and Twitter is more about interesting info on the subject.

Once you get into posting on social media this is when the small job of marketing can consume your every waking hour. It’s helpful to pick a platform that you feel the most comfortable on – being aware of your target market too. For example, if you’re going for slightly older students, then Facebook is probably the platform.

Once you’ve decided which one to focus on you can start to get organised, using a scheduling tool such as buffer. Due to the algorithms that these platforms are run on, you have to keep up a regular stream of posts in order to come high up in people’s news feeds.

However, there’s a balance. Some experts would have you posting twenty times a day, but personally I feel this would make me come across like some demented egomaniac. Be consistent, engage with your audience, and make sure you believe in the content that you’re putting up; quality is important.

Leaflets, Flyers, and Posters

This may not be relevant just yet, but once we’re out of lockdown, people will be out and about again and possibly desperate to get back to in-person yoga (when it’s safe to do so, and when you’re ready). This is when good old-fashioned flyers can do the trick, especially if you’re hoping to get new students in your local area.

Keep your posters, simple, colourful and with only the KEY information – don’t write an essay, no one will read it and it will distract from your eye-catching image.

To design your poster you can use apps such as Canva and Adobe Indesign in order to give your finished piece a professional look. Canva in particular is a great tool for non-designers, as it’s extremely easy to use and comes with lots of (free) templates.

Images

Before you do any of the above you’ll need to have some good images. You can, of course, buy high-resolution images (please don’t use low-res pixelated images on your marketing material) from websites such as Shutterstock (as well as some good free ones on Pexels), but having some great pictures of you in action will be worth the money.

Check out images of other yoga teachers that you like and ask them who took their photos. It’s helpful to find a photographer that specialises in yoga photography as they’ll be able to guide you on the shoot.

Have a wide range of photos taken in different outfits and with different backgrounds. If possible, having a few with a plain white background is very useful for flyers and as background pictures.

Word of Mouth

Marketing is important. But it’s also about putting the time in. Once you’ve been teaching regular classes for a few years you will find that you’ve developed a yoga community of your own. You will have regular students who tell their friends about you, and suddenly you’ll find that you haven’t had to do a hard marketing push for a while.

However, this doesn’t mean it’s time to rest on your laurels. There are always reasons why people stop coming to yoga, and you’ll always need new students coming through your doors.

Poppy Pickles