Advice to Yoga Teachers, Part Two: Get Them to Practice Daily

If one task is to get people to come back to yoga class, another is to inspire them to do their yoga practice daily, if only for a short amount of time. Anyone who has truly gotten deep benefit out of yoga knows that this requires a daily practice—opening up the channels and chakras is really a lot easier with a modest, regular, daily practice. Here then are some tips for getting people to actually do a daily practice.

The local studio

It’s important to realize that every single body responds differently to different types of yoga. There are many different body and personality types, and it’s important to encourage people to find the yoga that fits them best, even if it’s not the style that you teach.

My own spiritual teacher finds that Bikram Yoga fits their needs perfectly. Personally, I have gotten a terrible migraine every single time I’ve tried to do a Bikram Yoga class. The lesson is clear: we’re all different.

And so the first way to help your students develop a daily practice is to encourage them to find a local yoga studio, and yoga teacher, which fits them best. You don’t have to worry that they’ll stop coming to you if they visit someone else—karmically, the best way to get them to come back is to encourage them to seek out the yoga that serves them best. If you really concern yourself with what’s best for your students, three more will appear for every one that leaves your studio for another teacher whom they find fits them better. And everyone will trust you more, because they know you’re more concerned about their practice habits than about your own studio’s income.

And so encourage your students to experiment, to shop around. Make sure they know not to be discouraged if the first one or two teachers they run into are not at all a good fit—they just need to keep looking.

Impress on your students that they should go to an outside class (outside their home practice) at least once or twice a week. It’s especially important for them to find a qualified teacher to guide them in poses like headstand—or actually almost every pose—so that they will be protected from injury. Attending a yoga studio nearby their home on a regular basis will help them keep up the habit of yoga, and gain its benefits.

This will also provide them a community of like-minded people with whom to practice, and these little “communities” forming around a certain studio or teacher or group of teachers is undeniably one of the best ways to get your student to make their practice a daily one.

The not-so-local studio

My first western yoga teachers were David Life, Sharon Gannon, and Lady Ruth Lauer. One of the first things they said to me was: Look, Geshe Michael. You spend a lot of time travelling. We do too. And we learned something that we want to teach you.

Every time you go to a new city, find a yoga class near the place where you’re staying, and go take it. Meet new teachers, see how they teach, watch and listen carefully. Don’t be proud, don’t refuse to learn from other teachers. Take every class you can—no matter how bad it seems to be, you will learn something.

And so over the last 15 years of yoga practice, I have taken hundreds of classes in dozens of cities. These classes have all opened my mind and taught me tremendous lessons. Encourage your students to get in the habit of looking up local studios wherever they may go—it will help them not to miss a day.

Following a Video

And so yes, I have the good fortune of spending a good amount of my year travelling around the world helping people. Sometimes there’s no local class available when I’d like to go, or we’re just too busy. The same is true when I’m at home—sometimes there’s no class that day which would fit me, or I don’t have time to go out for yoga.

In that case it’s crucial that a student learns to do their practice at home. This step in their yoga training can make or break it: they must gain the discipline and motivation to maintain a home practice. For me, 15 years later, this is still a struggle. Even if I do talk myself into doing yoga, and even if I do leave enough time (an hour or an hour and a half) to do it, it’s very difficult for me to push myself, to really work hard and improve.

And so lately I’ve discovered the joys of yoga DVD’s. I’ve actually found it a lot of fun to shop and ask around for good classes on audio or video (each has its advantage), and I’ve learned to go through the whole class and do everything the teacher asks me to do, just as if they were there in my living room. This means that I’ll do things from a DVD teacher that I wouldn’t do if I were just on my own. (Although, as I’ve said, the ability to push yourself is also a crucial skill to have.)

If you’re on the road, as I often am, with a group of people, you’ll also find it fun to try to do yoga together from a good DVD, all mushed together in a little hotel room!

Here are some of my personal favorite teachers on DVD. I’m sure there are more and I’d be thrilled if you let me know about any of them. These are just the ones that I’ve found so far:

1) Jivamukti Yoga has a nice 12-set box (some DVD, some CD), good standard series ranging from easy to upper intermediate, grouped by theme (balancing, inversions, back-bending, etc).

2) Rodney Yee: I always thought he was just sort of a nice-looking and not so serious yogi, but then I tried his DVD’s and I think they are great. Some are overly “beginner,” so try to get the tougher ones (Power Yoga Total Body and that kind of thing). I think he is a wonderful and positive teacher, and hope to see him in person some time.

3) Janet Stone: Someone gave me two of her DVD’s, called Ananda Vinyasa and Ganesha Flow; she’s from San Francisco and I didn’t know of her before that, but I really like the series; they are intermediate to advanced intermediate, and they are really well done; she also has a nice DVD series for women who have recently had a child (Radiant Mom Yoga).

4) Sean Corn: Pretty standard vinyasa but a nice change of pace sometimes.

5) Ana Forest 5-Day Intensive Course for whenever you need a really difficult session; you don’t have to actually finish them every time (2 hours each); be careful not to injure yourself, but great for a challenge and for increasing your strength etc.

The gate at the airport

There’s no need to skip your yoga if you’ve got a flight to catch that day. Encourage your students to tie their yoga mat to their backpack and use the hour or so that they are stuck sitting there at the gate. Every airport I’ve seen in the world has some spare space somewhere, often near a big nice window looking out over the runway. On really long delays I’ve even had a bunch of kids, and then their parents, walk over and follow along after a bit. Don’t be shy, you might get someone else started on a lifelong practice this way.

Practicing with a friend

An excellent way to keep up our daily practice, if we personally have a problem with self-discipline, is to invite a friend over a few times a week to do yoga together in the living room. Even if we don’t feel like doing our practice today, it’s a lot more common for them to talk us into doing yoga when they get there, than it is for us to talk them out of it when they show up!

Yoga dates

Tell your students about a great new way to get in their daily yoga: yoga dates. Instead of inviting friends out for dinner and a movie together, ask them to check online to see what classes are being held in the area in the evening or late afternoon, and invite everyone out to a class together.

Obviously it’s good to pick a class that’s not too boring or too hard for everyone. If you discover that it’s hard to find classes at a convenient time for everyone, then you might locate one or two good teachers in the area and ask them if they’d be willing to do a private class for your little dinner party—then split the cost among you.

Whatever studio they teach at will probably be willing to rent the room out for an hour or two at a reasonable price; the whole thing is much more convenient for everyone, and comes out not much more expensive than a regular class.

Once you’ve done a hard hour or so of yoga, you’ll all be starving, and you can go out to a cheap Mexican restaurant together and work off the yoga. A yoga date is a great new chance to spend time with your friends in a way that makes you all healthier and happier.

Teaching elders and others

One great way for your students to get their daily yoga in is to teach a class for other people, and do the poses themselves as they’re calling them out. This also plants great karmic seeds to achieve a really steady daily practice on their own. Anyone with yoga experience can find a chance to teach at least a beginner’s class, say at a local elderly home or community center.

Be an example

Be aware that, as a teacher, it’s pretty difficult to convince your students about the wonderful benefits of a daily yoga practice if you’re obviously not doing your own yoga every day. In the end, most students do what we as teachers do, rather than doing what we say. Being an example of a person with a good daily practice is infinitely more convincing than any other tip you can give. You owe it to your students.