Forming Good Professional Relationships: An Excerpt from The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga

As a long term blogger, I often get requests to review yoga books.  I almost always decline.  I couldn’t resist this one, though.  Books on the business of teaching yoga are few and far between.  This one has tips on all aspects of the business of teaching  yoga.  This chapter below on relationships in yoga especially spoke to me.  Enjoy!  If you’re interested in exploring it further, check it out at this link.

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As yoga teachers, we are in a relationship business. To be successful, we must embrace relationship building on many different levels. It’s especially important for us to see our students not as devotees who should serve their teacher or guru but as paying clients deserving of nurturing care and attention.

There are seven primary kinds of relationships that are important to yoga teaching:

  1. Relationship with the divine
  2. Relationship with oneself
  3. Relationships with family and friends
  4. Relationships with individual students
  5. Relationships with staff and colleagues
  6. Online relationships
  7. Relationships with classes and community

For your own personal growth and for the good of your teaching, it’s important to assess each of these types of relationships in your life and ask yourself whether any of them need more attention. This may seem repetitive, but self-inquiry and growth are a huge part of being a yogi.

Let’s consider some of these relationships in more detail.

Relationship with the Divine

When we are connected to the divine, we feel more inspired, and thus we teach at our best. But this relationship often gets put on hold when we get busy. Today, with all the distractions of electronic devices and social media, it has become more and more challenging to unplug and find a moment of quiet. When I feel cut off from spirit, I increase my meditation and mantra repetition, get outside, put my bare feet in the grass, light a candle, or write in a gratitude journal. It does not take much to revive the dialogue.

Relationship with Oneself

Yoga teachers are taught to model self-care, but they’re often not consistent about following through. Being more stressed than your students is not a basis for good teaching. One of our graduates reported that after she consciously increased her self-care and spent more time unplugged, her teaching improved dramatically. Her students noticed and responded very positively to the difference.

Relationships with Family and Friends

According to the author and actor Ben Stein, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.” Your closest friends, loved ones, and family are vital to your growth and ability to stay inspired as a yoga teacher. When these relationships are nurtured, you also model the importance of personal relationships to your students.

To make sure you’re devoting time to tending these relationships, schedule a regular date night with your partner, put regular hang-out time with your kids on your calendar, keep in touch with out-of-town family more consistently, or set up frequent get-togethers with friends.

Relationships with Individual Students

Early in my career, more than a decade ago, I taught a weekly class in a basement room to sixty-five wholehearted New Yorkers at Crunch Fitness in Manhattan. Little did I know that the relationships I formed in that gym would lead to meaningful lifelong connections.

Every week, I came to class early and stayed after to talk with students, work on their therapeutic issues and injuries, answer their questions — and just hang out and gab. Some people sat around talking for an hour afterward. Most nights after class I brought students with me upstairs to Jivamukti Yoga Center to catch the tail end of Krishna Das’s weekly New York kirtans. We’d sing and sway, do puja, and delight in the fruit salad Prasad.

I am still in touch with many students from that time. Some of them went on to travel with me to new and beautiful places on retreat, and some became master yoga instructors in their own right.

These kinds of students can become loyal supporters who spread the word about your classes and help build a loving community of people around a common interest: yoga.

Relationships with Staff and Colleagues

Do you make a habit of being kind and speaking respectfully to gym and studio staff? I don’t claim to be any kind of saint, but I do my best to be friendly and considerate to these colleagues. Not only is this important to my sense of myself, but it makes for easier and more collegial working relationships, which make for better teaching.

Stories abound of yoga teachers at fitness gyms who act entitled, elitist, and pretentious, brusquely demanding specific conditions for their classes and acting as if the other gym staff are ignorant about yoga in general. How much cooperation do you think these teachers are likely to receive?

Because yogis often practice in community, we have a tendency to develop what I call yoga tunnel vision. Yoga, like anything else, can be taken to fanatical levels, to the point where practitioners can’t relate to non-yogis! And isn’t yoga supposed to be about connection?

Good manners, curiosity, kindness, helpfulness, generosity, enthusiasm, and sensitivity go a long way to demonstrate the spiritual and emotional benefits of yoga, as well as the physical ones, and help yoga continue to grow in the mainstream. Here are some specific ways to nurture relationships with colleagues at a gym or studio.

  • Get to know other teachers at the gym or studio and take their classes. Learning from other yoga teachers is a vital part of a yoga practice. Taking fitness classes at the gym can boost other aspects of your physical health as well as help you develop good relationships with the other instructors.
  • Attend all meetings and social functions of the gym or studio. Showing up for meetings and gatherings where you work, even if you are busy, does two very important things: it helps you know and be a part of the team, and it increases your visibility among managers and students. Managers who see you getting involved with the gym or studio are more likely to give your name when a student asks what class to take or is looking for a teacher to work at a special function, like a wedding party. Attending studio functions lets you get to know current students and gets your name out among potential new students.
  • Keep lines of communication open with colleagues and staff. Whether you’re a studio owner/manager or an employee, touch base regularly with the people you work alongside. Share your needs, goals, visions, feedback, and even grievances. Don’t let ill-feeling fester to the point where neither party is willing to try to resolve a problem.
  • Maintain good communication by establishing it before there’s a problem. If you teach at a studio, for example, chat with the studio owners about getting classes covered, or share with them how you handled a difficult student. By establishing a dialogue when nothing is wrong, you will have a good channel of communication in place if you need to bring up a touchy subject.
  • Be friendly with teachers of other styles of yoga. It’s simply unattractive when a yoga teacher says something negative about another teacher or style of yoga. Don’t do it. You’re the one who ends up looking bad. Instead, use differences in opinion as an opportunity to see and learn from another perspective.
  • When you don’t like something, offer a solution. If you are upset about something going on where you work, go directly to the source or the person in charge, state the problem, and then offer to find a solution. This way you won’t be seen as a gossiper or complainer.
  • Be a “go-giver,” not a “go-getter.” A go-getter comes in, teaches a class, and leaves. A go-giver comes in, sees what he can do to pitch in, and asks what announcements need to be made for upcoming events. After class, he folds blankets, puts away props, blows out candles, and picks up water bottles and Kleenex left behind.

Never think that you are above these tasks. Making this effort increases the feeling of goodwill in the studio, and studio managers who see you pitching in will be more apt to give you prime teaching slots when they open up.

Amy_Taro2-BlueAmy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD are the authors of The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga and founders of the online school 90 Monkeys, which has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in over 40 countries. Amy is known for bringing yoga to modern-day life in a genuine way and has been featured on the covers of Yoga Journal and Fit Yoga Magazine. Taro is the Chief Content Officer at Yoga Glo and has over two decades of experience developing yoga, medical, and wellness enterprises. They both live in Boulder, Colorado. Visit them online at www.90monkeys.com and www.AmyIppoliti.com.

Excerpted from the book The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga: The Yoga Professional’s Guide to a Fulfilling Career. Copyright © 2016 by Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD. Reprinted with permission from New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com

PS–all three books in Tracy Weber’s Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at http://tracyweberauthor.com.  Thanks for reading!

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