Build a Yoga Community
For a teacher, it's gratifying to see students grow in their yoga practice; they sit taller, hold poses longer, release more deeply in Savasana (Corpse Pose). It's equally satisfying to see them start to connect with others and move their yoga friendships outside of class.
Sometimes these relationships are spontaneous and inevitable, as when a group of like-minded people come together. Other times, they need a nudge from a teacher at the center of the activity. Either way, you can create an atmosphere that is conducive to building a yoga community, which will benefit both you and your students.
What Is a Yoga Community?
In its most basic definition, a community is a group of people interacting in the same location—for example, people taking a yoga class together. But a yoga community quickly becomes much more than that.
"When people start yoga, they don't really know what they're getting into," says Rama Berch, founder of the Master Yoga Foundation and the founding president of Yoga Alliance. "But it has such a powerful effect on their minds, bodies, and hearts that they want to link up with other people who are having similar experiences, so they begin to chat before class or go out for tea afterward. People choose to cultivate relationships in a yoga community in a different way than they choose their other relationships."
Creating Community and Helping It Grow
A teacher can have a special role in these developing relationships. Depending on the studio and your teaching style, you can encourage your students to get to know each other before class.
"I think it helps to know your students—to recognize them and know their names," says Ashley Peterson, a vinyasa instructor in Orange Park, Florida. She suggests leading the conversation that occurs before class from your mat, at the front of the room. This way everyone in the class can participate and even new people will feel included.
By getting to know students a bit better, you can develop classes that address their needs and interests. As yoga becomes a part of their everyday routine, they will look forward to practicing with a group of like-minded (or -bodied) individuals.
Sally Knight, a co-owner of Yoga One Studio in Charlotte, North Carolina, says, "I try to create programs to extend yoga to more and more different groups: people with eating disorders, athletes, men, teens." Knight also offers community classes once a week, free classes available to anyone and taught by a teacher trainee, as a way to introduce yoga to the larger population. As students find classes that resonate with them, they become more engaged with their fellow yogis and begin to build relationships.