Tips for Traveling Yoga Teachers

Traveling as a yoga teacher is very exciting: It gives students an opportunity to explore many new approaches to their yoga practice, and teachers a chance to reach a much larger audience. But at times it can be difficult for students. As an expat and yogi living in Chiang Mai Thailand, I’ve had to watch many yoga instructors come and go from my favorite yoga studios. Usually, these teachers are here for only a few months and then depart just as students are beginning to feel comfortable with them. Because the relationship is so brief, students can be hesitant to ask questions, give feedback, or even share existing body ailments.  This is stressful for both the students and the teachers when they don’t understand each other well or know what to expect.

Here are some tips for yoga teachers to consider implementing in their traveling practice.

Correctly title your course

Often, the title of the course is all the information students have to go on. Remember, this is one to two hours of their time, and you want them to feel relaxed and enjoy the experience.  You also want to attract students who are looking for your style of class, and can potentially attract more with proper titling.

If you teach a slow flow with mostly beginner poses or a rather challenging course with many balancing poses, let the title of the course reflect that. For example, “Slow Flow Hatha: Beginner Level” or “Vinyasa for Strength: Intermediate and Advanced” is more descriptive than just “Hatha Yoga”. You should ask the school you are teaching at to make this alteration on their website and flyers.

Stay true to the title

Once I went to a yoga class titled “Vinyasa Flow” and no sun salutations were involved. I kept waiting to flow but it just never happened! After the class, another student whispered to me, “Was that really flow?”

Another time, I was in a class called “Gentle Flow,” but we spent most of the class balancing and in plank pose! There were only three of us in the class that morning, and the teacher could see that we were not enjoying it, but only modified with child pose. At the end of the class, one of the students said to the instructor, “That wasn’t very gentle!” She was right.

It’s really important to manage students’ expectations. Stay true to the title of the class, incorporating movements and poses in line with what you would expect if you were choosing the class based on the title.

Share at the beginning of the class what you’ll be doing

Your title can say a lot about your yoga class, but you can say even more when the class starts. Say what type of poses you’ll start with, enter into, and finish with. Mention a few by name. This way the students know what to expect even if it is their first class with you. This will help them let go of any anxiety they may have.

If you want to make adjustments, consult with your students first

It’s nice when at the beginning of a class, the instructor asks if adjustments are okay with the students, letting students who don’t want adjustments raise their hands. Be sure to mention it’s important that everyone speak up, especially if they have any injuries or pain. As a student, time and again I have had teachers unaware of my existing conditions and old injuries try to adjust me according to some other standard. It’s very painful and can even cause more damage to the knees, back and other sensitive areas. Make sure you create an environment in which students feel safe to communicate any questions or concerns to you.

Let students know it is okay to modify poses, and offer modifications

Often yoga classes taught in touristic areas are comprised of students of varying levels. Naturally, you want advanced students to enjoy the class and challenge themselves, but for the real beginners (or the less flexible), it can be overwhelming. When you do a challenging pose, offer a modification or remind students they can rest in child pose. You may one day have a class with more beginners than usual, so it is best to keep a go-to back up sequence in mind for such occasions so that beginners don’t end up spending half the class in child pose. By that same token, you will want to add in some more challenging moves if your class is more advanced.

Collect feedback

You can do this verbally or with pen and paper and an empty jar. Papers can quietly be placed next to students during savasana. The advantage of verbal feedback is it’s simple and feels more natural in a yoga class; the advantage of the jar is you’ll get more honest feedback.

Sure, you do yoga for altruistic reasons, and so do your students; but the customer service element should not be ignored if student registrations and profits are important to you.

Have you had other experiences as a traveling yogi that you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear them in the comments.

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