Creating Community In Yoga Classes
Take a moment to think about why you go to a yoga class. Why practice with a teacher, in a room full of people, when you could stay home and pop in a DVD or scroll through YouTube for a practice? Well, for me there are so many reasons, including personalized instructions, feedback, hands-on support for your practice, spontaneous exploration, and, a this is a big one, being part of a community.
So, if one of the reasons people attend yoga classes is to be part of a community of practitioners; to spend time with others in the study and practice of yoga, then as teachers it is part of our role to thoughtfully create a friendly, supportive, compassionate, and caring culture, whether we teach in a community hall, studio, workplace, or in people’s homes.
How do we do that?
To me the key to creating community is to see people. I mean, really see them. The people you share yoga with, as a student or teacher, aren’t just class numbers, or students, or clients, or bodies on the mat. They are unique, awesome, powerful, vulnerable, wise and multi-faceted beings. Each unique person contributes so much to the community of the class. For community to happen, each unique individual needs to be recognized.
To be seen, heard, and held in a safe space is profound, and can be profoundly healing.
Nikki, a new yoga teacher, was just sharing with me a few ideas that she has implemented in her country yoga class, including sending out a class email with the upcoming class theme and flow, and – I love this – the dam level at her property (that’s water level for the non-Aussies reading this) and this helps her connect with students and engage with them as people, not just ‘clients’ and acknowledges the seasons and the land as a part of the class ecology.
Also, key to creating community is to recognize that it’s an environment of exchange. So, the teacher might be the leader or guide, giving instruction and holding the space, but each individual has something to share. Creating opportunities for exchange of ideas, wisdom, preferences, needs, and goals is a great way to create a vibrant community.
Below I’ve shared a few ideas for creating community, but, in that spirit of exchange, I’d love for you to share your ideas for creating community in your movement classes, whether you are a student or a teacher, your insights are most welcome. Join in the discussion at our new Yoga Trinity Discussion Group for a dynamic exchange of ideas.
- Know peoples’ names and use them. If you have busier classes or lots of drop-ins, a class sign-in can help you in learning everyone’s names and having a moment to connect prior to class.
- Get to know people’s needs and preferences, for example props, modifications, variations, or sense/space needs and try to anticipate them ahead of time.
- Introduce them to each other, for instance ask them to turn to the person on their right and say hi, or tell them their favourite pose or animal etc.
- Invite your students to share their voices, ideas, wisdom, and aims. For example, have a board where people can post their aim or intention for the month, or post something that they love about yoga, or their body, or the community of yoga class.
- Do an activity like picking cards (Yama and Niyama cards are great), or set aims/intentions, or have them bring in a favourite quote or reading to share
- Have students ‘customize’ your props by writing a word or drawing a picture on each brick – perhaps an intention or focus like peace, or calm, or strong.
- Have social gatherings – you don’t have to organize a big event, you might just have a monthly post-class hang-out where you can serve tea or fruit, or even have people bring one of their own favourite post-yoga snacks.
- Organize exchanges – a book exchange is a good option where people can bring in any books they wish to share, and exchange them for a new one.
Social Media Community
Especially if you teach in hired venues or multiple locations, your social media platforms become a space for your yoga community to come together. Get your students engaged with you and each other by inviting participation on your social media page(s), here are a few suggestions to get started:
- Offer half of a joke, riddle, or quote in class and tell students to put their solutions on your social media page – and tell them you will solve it by x date.
- Pose Invention – Invite students to create and/or name a new pose, transition, or variation they have enjoyed in class. The name with the most votes wins.
- Invite participants to help to create a music playlist, sequence, or theme for the next class. Let them know they can post their ideas on your wall (in line with your suggestions) so you can plan the next class, theme, or playlist together.
- Do a prop challenge – let them know that in the next class you will theme the class around a prop (brick, ball, chair, bands, wall, strap, bolster etc) and that the prop with the most votes wins.
- Take a class picture (with everyone’s permission) and tell participants to tag themselves and post something they enjoyed or learned in your class.
- Have students share photos of themselves doing yoga at home, with the kids or pets, at work or in their travels. This not only invites community but encourages home practice!
A Few Considerations:
Remember your class ‘contract’
When bringing new community ideas into class, be sure that they don’t cause the class to lose focus on what you have promised to deliver. If your 60-minute dynamic Vinyasa Flow class becomes 30 minutes of talking and 30 minutes of Savasana, you have not delivered on your agreed-upon activity. Be sure that community time integrates into the practice in a way that doesn’t cause students to lose out on what they were promised.
Key to creating community is to respect people’s boundaries. With things like partner yoga, group yoga, use of touch, or taking photos, be sure that everyone has been informed prior and has consented. Try not to put people on the spot to consent in the moment, give them an easy option to decline. Better yet, make joining in on group activities or photos an opt-in choice rather than an opt-out. Rather than ‘if you don’t want…sit out’ try to use ‘if you do want…step in’. For example, if you are taking a group photo, invite people into the photo rather than telling them if they don’t want to be in it to step out. “I’d love to have a photo of the class, anyone who wishes to be in the photo come and stand together here. It’s okay if you don’t want to be photographed today, though, or you have to get somewhere.”
You might find that some teachers are hanging out for coffee after class, or taking field trips, or giving big hugs to every student as they arrive. If this isn’t authentic for you, or doesn’t meet your energetic, scheduling, or personal needs, then don’t do it. There are lots of other ways to create community that will be more comfortable and authentic for you. You don’t have to be everything to everyone or do what anyone/everyone else is doing. Trust yourself and create a community space that is comfortable and safe for you to hold.
If you teach for someone else – a studio, workplace wellness program, or community program – respect and follow their guidelines around what happens in and around classes. Some spaces have guidelines around devotional practices, touch, music, food, social media, or professional boundaries, and these need to be honoured. If you would like to do something different within or outside of class hours, it’s important to have a discussion with management prior to arranging an activity or event that is outside of the agreed-upon class schedule/outline.
I hope this gives you some ideas for creating community, but I know you have some great ideas to share! Join in the discussion at our new Yoga Trinity Discussion Group for a dynamic exchange of ideas.