For the love of kombucha and coconuts, please stop glorifying class numbers.
I get a Drumpfian tingle when I read them– posts, yours (and mine) touting our sweaty packed classes, complete with pictures of piles of shoes, a (sizeble) group photo of those lucky workshopped faces, or endless bodies in corpse. Get those numbers recorded, man– instastory that shi….vasana, snapchat those yogi toes:
Class was packed! It was the biggest ever! Thanks to all of you who came out!
When, exactly did we yoga teachers start mimicing Donald Drumpf’s tweets? Yes, please count me among you, in my slick but unmistakably humble-braggy way, to wit: “Sometimes there are 10, Sometimes there are 40.” (Nice try, JM.) But in our collective busty numbers defense, I believe it comes from a good place. I love what I do, and when you all show up I feel a sense of wow, I am doing something right. I am getting people to come back, to practice this thing I love that has changed my life. Indeed it ain’t gotta be ego, though I’ll cop to a bit of that. My heart swells, my seventh-grade unpopularity demons trounced: They like me! They really, really like me!
Which is amazing, because I am a Mysore Martian, a vinyasa teacher coming from the world of mysore-style ashtanga, where the practice and postures are taught to students individually, to be practiced individually in a group setting. I endeavor when I teach vinyasa classes to bring a taste of that level of Mysorian individual attention. I think I give it a good try, but the honest truth is that I wish I could do what I do — and more.
Don’t get me wrong: I love a sweaty packed vinyasa class. And in those steamy, overflowing, someone else’s knee in your face-type mysore rooms, I’m your pig in sh*t. (Admittedly, even with the individual attention built into mysore-style teaching, there is still less of it to go around in the busiest of rooms). It’s an experience to be in such a booming vinyasa class — a valid, wonderful experience of being with others, sharing energy and feeling the array of possibilities represented in the busting-at-the-seams room. It is also an experience to teach one. However, as a teacher who occasionally leads some of these experiences (on the more modest side though), I have to admit that it’s just one slice of the entire teacher cake I have to offer– and not necessarily the best one. At a certain point, generalized cues and choreography designed for and administered to the nonexistent “average human” invite less from both teacher and student.
Why do I feel– after a scroll through IG, typically– like my busy, robust class defines “success” for me as a teacher in a way my sometimes 8-10 people classes do not? Why do all these breathless, big-ass class posts send me back to the mainstream myopic paradigm of huge numbers, profits, high scores and overachievement? This is a world I already know–
Isn’t yoga about changing your perspective?
I recently read a post about how Richard Freeman’s workshop at a yoga journal conference had a small number of sign ups while Rachel Brathen (“yoga girl”) was swimming in them. The words brought me back to my time at the Yoga Workshop in Boulder, where I was lucky enough to live and practice. I had no desire to start a mysore ashtanga practice. I kept going, however, because I fell in love with the time and attention the teachers gave me, how each time someone assisted me it was like a mini-private lesson– and with how I seemed to finally touch progress. I received these gifts from non-other than Mary Taylor. And yet, as I breathed through primary in that humming mysore room; the room’s contents still paled, numbers-wise in comparison to the several utterly stuffed sweaty vinyasa classes taking place in the same town.
Perhaps numbers don’t dictate your value as a teacher: You do.
I thought of this, recently, when I taught a workshop that, under common view, was a flat-out, forget-posting-this-sh&t failure:
I just barely scraped into the double digits. Ten. Seven of my regulars, three people new-ish to me.
In my busy classes oh how I wish I could press pause to converse with a student here and there — not to fix them, but to help put in place a new pattern that will take the person beyond (and maybe weed out an unhealthy looking habit or two). This workshop was that pause. For two hours that flew by– but that also held some of the hardest work I can do as a teacher — I shared all I had, worked with people individually, gave each personally-tailored cues and hopefully dispelled a few myths. I squeezed myself dry, but felt renewed– I was reaching people– and actually teaching them.
A few days after my workshop one of those magic ten stopped to say that the workshop had been “transformative.” (Warning: self-plug here; shameless.) She’d practiced Bikram for years then moved into vinyasa less than a year ago. She felt she was not progressing and somehow I’d given her a sense of how she might. The thing is I didn’t do much– I just focused exclusively on her for a moment.
That’s when I realized– this low numbers, unsexy, total loser of a workshop was, in actuality, a success. I’m not talking alternative facts, but an alternative way.
So does size matter? Sure it does — to studio owners, teachers hustling, not to mention here, in those backbends. But if you’re going to glorify class numbers, please do it in both directions: numbers matter, even — and perhaps especially —
the small ones.