Toss the scale: how this yoga teacher learned to ditch an obsession with class size numbers

Only once in my entire experience teaching yoga has a student been turned away due to class size. It was about five years ago and I remember it well. Dude! I thought at the time. I packed the room!! My ego rejoiced. So what if the room was the size of a walk-in closet? That class gave this then-fragile teacher a jolt of joy that validated everything I thought mattered in my decision to become a yoga teacher.

And therein began the obsession with numbers. It’s not unlike a fixation with the scale, this obsession with class size numbers. Three pounds lighter? Pass the dessert! Twenty yogis already pre-registered for tomorrow’s AM flow? Hot damn I’m a rock star!

But oh, the delusion.

at YogaSoul, Princeton, NJ 2014

Teachers know better than to use their class numbers to validate their teaching worth. We know other circumstances factor in. Students stuck in traffic. The newly opened competing studio around the corner. The crappy time slot (8 PM on a Friday night anyone?). The weather and time of year (hot power flow on an even hotter, humid day? Right…).

Except we don’t. Class numbers can mess with even the most grounded, experienced yoga teacher. The amount of time, energy, investment, and focus put into teaching just one class can make facing three students feel like an ugly crash landing out of handstand. It hurts. Especially when it’s part of an ongoing downward slide, putting the class itself at risk of getting cut from the schedule. Ouch.

I’ve taught packed rooms with 30-40 students doing their best not to kick each other in the face, and hour and a half classes where I could cartwheel around the room without touching a mat. Some days I get a bonanza. Others a drought. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Anything we cling to causes a maintenance problem for us,” – Deborah Adele, author

  • Aparigraha, fragile yogi. The oh-so-important guiding principle in the Yoga Sutras reminds us the dangers associated with attachment, possessiveness. I love how Deborah Adele, author of The Yamas & Niyamas, Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, describes it. Clinging to anything – the number of students who show up, the verbal acknowledgements after class of how great it was, the positive Yelp reviews, creates an unrealistic expectation to maintain. I’ve learned to let that shit go, lighten up, and stop looking to others to validate my worth as a teacher.
  • Class size has zero to do with Connection. I’ve taught giant classes and been off on an island far, far away from the yogi two inches away. Yes, there’s a built-in energy that comes pre-loaded with a packed room of eager yogis, but that doesn’t guarantee Connection. I’ve since committed to connecting to every student in the room instead of caving to an ego seeking out the biggest bang for it’s insecure buck.
  • It’s harder, and often more rewarding to teach a small class. One studio I teach in can hold 80 yogis. This morning it held 12. Twelve who showed up for me, and their well-being. It’s an absolute privilege as a teacher to have the time and space to touch every one of my students in single class and learn about what the practice means to them. One student didn’t sleep last night but left feeling more connected to her body. Another was working through a cranky hip flexor muscle. Yet another declared she experienced a transformation she didn’t expect. I don’t get this kind of intimate feedback at the end of a packed class.
  • It’s not about me. It’s about THEM. All three students. Or thirty. Or three hundred. Teaching big classes is fun, who am I kidding. But it requires an iron commitment to making it about the students, not the ego. Trying to impress and wow a big group with clever cues and fancy transitions can lead to disaster quickly. Been there done that. In Baptiste Yoga we practice teaching through one body using a Look, Listen, and Give Tools approach. When I direct my energy and focus directly on one student, give them what they need in the moment, regardless how many students are in the room, magic happens.

Can’t wait for my next class. I welcome you. All three or three hundred of you! Join me at Down Under Yoga.

 

 

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