Building community through student connection is one of the most important things that you can do as a yoga instructor. It is a way that you can deeply connect with your students, build trust and rapport between yourself and your class, as well as create a fun and safe yoga environment for all. After 8 years of teaching yoga I have found that deep connection with students is not only essential, but one of the most rewarding parts of teaching yoga. But the question is- how do you do that? It might surprise you to know that some of the best ways to build connections and trust are simple and free.
Getting to know all your students and calling them by their preferred name and pronouns is one of the best ways to connect with your students. No one wants to feel like another number or nameless face in the class so greeting each student as they walk in the door by name will not only show your students that you care about them, but will make them feel like a part of your yoga community. If you struggle with names try keeping a sign in sheet at the check in desk and run check in yourself so that as people sign their names you can be reminded of what they’re called. When you’re teaching in class make sure to address them by name as well. If you’re teaching online this will be easier as you will see everyone’s name as they sign in for class, and their name will probably be on your screen throughout class. Bonus-Introduce yourself to all new students and at the beginning of each class because they may have a hard time remembering your name too!
Your students could go anywhere for their practice. They could go to a different studio, check out a new YouTube channel or just practice at home on their own. But they didn’t. They chose to practice with you, so it’s important to express gratitude for their presence and make them feel known and important by looking them in the eye when you’re speaking to them. Eye contact is extremely powerful and meaningful, use it in abundance. Other ways to show your gratitude for your student’s presence is to thank your students at the end of each class if you haven’t seen someone in a while make note of their absence by letting them know that you missed seeing them in class and you’re happy they’re back and thank them for joining you today.
Nothing takes away trust and connection faster than uninvited touch, even if it is given with the best intentions. To avoid this, and also build trust with your students, always ask for permission before you use hands on your students. Allowing your students to opt in and out of hands on adjustments before each class is a way to empower your students and let them have autonomy over their bodies, and build trust. Make sure you’re creating a pressure free environment where students know they can choose not to be touched without judgement, or question and you honor and celebrate them regardless of if they prefer to be taught with hands on or hands off. Yoga is a practice that empowers students to explore and express with their body in a safe way, and creating a space in which they can trust you to not touch without consent is one of the best way to build a strong connection with your students and also build an inclusive yoga community. For more information about yoga and consent check out this article on the subject.
This might be one of the best tips that I give new teachers that want to connect with their students and as a bonus it’s also super fun to get to know yours students in their way. All you need to do, usually after you learn your student’s name, is to get to know one thing about them that is not yoga related so when you see them before or after class you can ask about their life. Find out if your students have kids, if they have any new travel plans, or other exciting news in life. Ask them what’s coming up in their day, or what’s new with them so you can learn about what your students are passionate about and what they have on their mind outside of the studio. Then, each time you see that student at check in or even just around in your community you can ask how their kids are doing, or ask them about that thing you learned about them earlier to show that you don’t just care about their yoga practice, but you care about them as a person.
Students that come to you with injuries or special needs, like pregnancy modifications, tight hamstrings, or maybe this is their very first class are probably feeling a bit vulnerable and are worried that they won’t be able to keep up or stick out in class. Put their minds at ease by familiarizing yourself with what’s going on in their bodies, assuming they are already under the care of a doctor and have been cleared for exercise, and aim to understand how you can best help your students and teach them about props and modifications that are specific to their needs. Celebrate your students for still making it to the mat and assure them that they are still welcome regardless of how their body is feeling. Anticipate where in class your student might need a modification or a prop and either bring that prop over to their mat, or let them know what they may need before class. Creating this safe environment, and one that is supportive of all bodies and skill levels is essential to build trust and connection with your student, it will also challenge you as the teacher to brush up on your knowledge of how to make your practice accessible for many and not just those that come to class without any physical limitations or strain.