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Studio managers and students told me I was a great teacher, yet I was losing all of my classes. Were people just “being nice” when they thanked me after class?
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST JESSICA LESLEY
Most of us have routines set up in our lives. As a teacher I see a lot of it in the asana room, rolling out the mat, gathering props, spraying water onto towels so we don’t slip. Most people are even very particular as to where they place their mat in the room.
What is more intriguing is how even the most subtle changes throw some of us off track. When the front row is full and a yogi who is clearly a front row practitioner walks in, there is a moment of confusion as they look around the room trying to accept that their row is full.
We know and deliberately work with subtle changes in the body that have a profound impact on our practice – keeping the core active, engaging mula bandha, or relaxing the shoulders. Habits such as where we are in the room and small postural movements can completely change the way we feel when we practice.
Lately life has mirrored the subtle changes in the asana room in a less than subtle way outside the studio. Unexpected changes have put my practice to the test off the mat. Just when I found myself in a comfortable routine of teaching weekly classes everything changed.
Hindsight and hard lessons
In my overzealous efforts to find teaching gigs, I ended up with 17 classes per week. I paid no mind to how far the drive, how high the gas prices, or how exhausting the commute alone would all be, let alone holding space and teaching classes in so many different places. All that mattered was that I was doing what I set out to do – teaching!
In hindsight this was all very ego and fear driven. It felt good to be teaching at so many studios and I was (and still am) terrified of not getting the bills paid each month. Speaking of hindsight, I can also say I was quite careless with the work that I accepted; this may sound odd given the high rate of unemployment (especially here in California) but let me explain.
Being a new teacher in a town wall-to-wall in yoga teachers, many of who are very well known and grace magazine covers can be challenging to say the least. I operated in such a state of fear and desperation that I took time slots that I knew would be difficult to fill. I revisited the hour long commute that I despised during my corporate days, driving two hours round trip for a 50 minute class.
Business began to slow down at one of the first places I was hired, a physical therapy clinic, so my 3 classes were dropped. Shortly before that I signed on at a second physical therapy clinic. The space was small and they seemed to be struggling to find/keep clientele. So like many other studios, the owners decided to join forces with one of those online daily deal sites. You know the ones: One month unlimited yoga for the price of one class!
This sounds great as a consumer but I always wonder how it fares for the business. Well I found out.
A real “crash course” in studio economics
First, frantic emails were sent out to teachers to immediately cut our class rates. Then even more frantic request to not cash paychecks until the following week. Finally a “going out of business” email arrived. About 5 weeks after I started, an email went out notifying all employees that the business was closing.
One line from that email still stays with me: Please pick up your check tomorrow morning and cash it – immediately. This was bad. In addition, just as studios and clinics where I was teaching were falling victim to the economy, class attendance in tough time slots began to run low, too. In my rush to fill up my schedule, I gave no real thought to how many people would be off work at those hours or who would leave work to attend a class.
I had studio managers and students tell me they thought I was a great teacher, yet I was losing all of my classes. Were people just “being nice” when they thanked me after class? Losing classes and low attendance triggered insecurities. I started to pick every aspect of my teaching style a part.
Was my sequence challenging enough? My playlist too risqué?
Out of touch with the personal connection
Maybe I seemed to lack personality since I never hung out to chat with students since I always had to rush off to my next class. I feel it would be a bit careless of me now not to consider how this may have come across to my students.
We all want to be seen. I’ve become friends with many of my own teachers through after class chats and giggles, and I’ve begun to recognize how important that is. I regret not planning in time to interact with people who came to my classes. Unfortunately I put myself in a situation where that interaction was nearly impossible.
Each employer who dropped a class I taught went out of their way to explain why it was happening, but I couldn’t take it in. All I could hear was “Get OUT we don’t like you!” In a matter of weeks I went from teaching 17 classes a week to teaching one. Things got very dark for a few days as my anxiety and self-criticism began to take over my logical thinking.
In sync with new energy and renewed vision
After a few emotional venting sessions and pity parties, I have been able to pull back from beating on myself to learn, and to find new wisdom in this situation. Just as we have to adjust to what happens in the asana room, I had to step back and find out where I could accept change and where I could simply modify.
I am slowly adding classes back to my schedule but not in the same rushed and fear driven method as before. Navigating my career path has now become a practice in mindfulness. I’m learning now to push past my own fears, and to really focus on the people that show up. I’m trusting that if I set my intention and do the work, “all is coming.”
Super sweet and super smart, Jessica is quadruple certified in yoga and in fitness! Trained in anatomy, asana and positive practice, she’s experienced in supporting her students as they get present to their challenges with compassion and courage. When you visit her website jessicalesley.com be sure to read her surprising and powerful personal journey. Watch for Jessica’s adventures in teaching column monthly in The Magazine of Yoga!
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.