I recently read an article that talked about yoga teachers and the differentiators between them.
According to the piece, the only real differentiator between teachers was personality, the way he or she spoke during a class.
Is that true?
As a yoga teacher myself, I think about this question a lot. If you want to stand out in the crowd that is the yoga industry, how do you do it?
I firmly believe that the quality of the class you teach will determine if you are able to sustain yourself as a teacher.
I also believe that you must be authentic in your teaching and expression of yoga. If you’re trying to mimic another teacher in an effort to fill your classes with people, you will fail.
This kind of “personality charade” is impossible to keep up for long.
However, there are things you can do to help stand out from the crowd without compromising who you are as a person.
There are also some things I’ve observed with other teachers that, I believe, help them stand out among their peers. These things can be used alone or in combination:
Use of music
When I began teaching in 2002, the use of music in class was minimal, with the exception of a song during shavasana in an advanced class. These days, there are song lists shared on Facebook, classes advertised for their use of songs by a particular artist or in a particular style of music and classes on schedules noted as “with music.”
If you’re a music buff, this can be a great way to share your love of music and yoga. If you’re a fan of singing, you can even weave singing (you or you AND your students) into class as well. The one caveat: if you’re going to use music, know the equipment in the studio so you can weave the songs seamlessly into the class without technical difficulties.
As a general rule, I don’t use music but on the occasion I do, I’ve purchased a Bluetooth wireless speaker from Brookstone. It charges at home, is small, has great sound and volume and it allows me to use my i phone and i tunes on the phone for music. As you can carry the phone around with you, or place it anywhere in the room (where it’s easily accessed) you can switch tunes easily, without having to go back to a main control to make a switch.
Use of silence
Just as using music can be a differentiator, using silence can be one as well. This isn’t reserved for restorative classes; if you’re a Power Yoga teacher, you can also use silence as a way to give people a chance to hear their breath, relax and tap into how they are feeling.
Getting to know your students
While this might seem a commonsense thing that all teachers would do, there are different degrees of “knowing” your students and different ways you can interact with them. You may teach and leave, saying hello to people as they check in or get to know each person by name and ask questions regularly to learn more about them in terms of their practice, work life, family life and social life.
You can set up in the classroom and greet students as they come in or stay after class to answer questions and get to know people a bit more. In any event, this can be a differentiator because your students will see you as engaged, interested and caring about who they are, both on and off the mat.
Use of humor
This is another one where you might read it and think, “Well, isn’t that obvious?” But keep in mind that many teachers approach yoga from a very serious perspective and their classes are very academic in nature.
Humor is often an integral part of showing your personality; it can be seen in your ability to laugh at mistakes or funny things you might say while teaching or it can be seen in the stories you tell during class that might bring a smile to the faces of your students. Sharing humor shows that you’re down to earth and are willing to take a chance to make people smile.
Integration of challenging poses
While you may always integrate Crow or Shoulder Stand into your teaching, there are many other arm balances and other postures that are considered more challenging than some of the more essential yoga poses (although it can be very hard for students to stay in Warrior 1 for a few minutes of focused breathing).
If you like teaching and doing these kinds of postures, you may create sequences that build up to a particular set of arm balances or come to class with a theme in mind, such as arm binds or hip openers. Your students will come to depend on your classes to provide the basics as well as a chance to learn something new.
Creation of a yoga hybrid
More and more, there are classes that blend yoga with another discipline: pilates, weights and dance are just a few. Blended classes can help you stand out from the crowd by offering something unique that is attractive to both markets- the yoga market and the other market for the other discipline you’ve added into the mix.
Consistent weaving of yoga philosophy into the asana practice
The blending of yoga philosophy into class varies depending on the style of class you attend and the teacher’s background and knowledge. This can be done by keeping consistent to the content and presenting it at face value, as in talking about the yamas and niyamas, or it can be done by speaking to a theme in class and weaving contemporary examples in with classic yoga philosophy as a way to help people recognize the incredible applicability that these ancient principles have to modern day life.
Sharing personal stories
This happens to some degree in many classes but there are many teachers that stick to the sequence and to speaking to alignment only. By the same token, you can probably recall being in a class with someone who really opened up and shared personal stories in a way that wasn’t so much to speak about him or her, but more to draw lessons from their experiences as a way to inspire and educate.
The bottom line for all of us as yoga teachers is to have the courage and faith to share information and inspiration from our hearts and minds, both on an intellectual level but also thoughts and ideas that speak to the heart. Always be yourself, as this has always proven to be the best differentiator to help you stand out from among the crowd.