The best class I ever taught…nobody came

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Originally posted on

First floor studio at In The Moment

“The best class I ever taught, nobody came” Yogi Bhajan

For the first time ever last weekend I had to cancel one of my seasonal yoga workshops because nobody booked to come. Of course, I have had times where nobody turned up for a class, or when very few people turned up for a class, but my seasonal workshops have always been very popular. 

And herein lies my difficulty. I realise that I am – whether I like it or not – partly in  a popularity contest.  Of course this is not the whole story. Many factors conspire to fill or empty classes, and the popularity or otherwise of the teacher is just one small part of that equation. Much of my work and reflective practice as a teacher over the years has been in learning to let go of this desire and expectation. Accepting that whoever turns up is there because they are up for exploring what I have to offer. 

But, clearly, there are reasons why some people’s classes are full whilst others struggle to get by with 3 or 5 students. And in my experience of mentoring newer yoga teachers, it is often those who have more depth to offer who are struggling in this way. Maybe it’s because, with greater sensitivity, comes greater humility and the effort to “sell” oneself in the yoga marketplace (because – sadly –  that’s what it has become) doesn’t come easily or naturally. I see teachers struggling with their teaching identity, burdened with the notion that they have to adapt what they teach, and how they teach,  in order to  appeal to the “market.”

In marketing, this is the accepted norm, and in a consumerist world, necessary. Adapt and change the product in order to move with the times, to capture new markets, to appeal to a new generation of consumers. 

But in yoga? 

From me – a big resounding “NO!”

Despite my best efforts in marketing, I have never had packed out classes the way some yoga teachers do. This is fine.  It’s actually the way I like to teach. But, I also confess that I have those days when I have a bubbling up of resentment for the packed hot yoga classes across town, or the knowledge that one of my students isn’t coming to class because they have defected to someone else’s. But when I take time to really tune in to the reality of what’s going on, I reach a deeper sense of what is at play. 

I acknowledge that it has a lot to do with how I teach. Not everyone is up for experiencing the kind of deeply embodied and mindful practice that I offer. I teach the kind of yoga that brings you face to face with yourself. No escape. To me, this IS yoga. Yoga is not an escape from reality, or a way of anaesthetising the mind. Yoga brings us into awareness of WHO WE REALLY ARE. And whilst I offer this in a gentle, loving and safely held way, I am up front about this and  I acknowledge that  the very thought of even beginning this conversation is enough to put people off.

Most yoga classes offered nowadays seem to be what a fellow teacher describes as “yogacise.” A stripped down version of what  yogis understand yoga to be. What they are offering is yoga-asana, the postural aspect of Hatha Yoga and – in many cases – nothing else. Some yogis  debate whether it is even asana or if it’s actually just some glorified version of callisthenics.  If you’re lucky you might get a cursory “Namaste” at the end of class (my aversion to the term has some roots in this disingenuous nod to the tradition) In terms of exploring the other aspects of the practice – if you are even aware that they exist – you need to look elsewhere. For those of us offering the “elsewhere”, it can be really, really difficult to raise your voice loud enough to be found. 

And even then, it can feel like shouting into the void. The truth is Yoga has become a product. As with any product it is subject to  fads and fashions and the whims of the market, to the power of celebrity endorsement, to the desires of the consumer. And whilst there are many yogis and teachers who work to counter this phenomenon, it is like standing in the path of a juggernaut. We can continue to hold the depth and truth of the practice, but we are swimming in this veritable ocean of consumerism that is, relentlessly and  undeniably changing the very definition of Yoga.

The truth, for me, is that I can’t compete with this. And I won’t. Yes, it is difficult when I rely on teaching classes and workshops for my income but I am blessed with other skills and strands to my practice that serve to keep the wolf from the door. I could, as was  (helpfully) suggested by another fellow teacher the other day, give up teaching yoga, go back to simply practising yoga, and get a job to earn money. As if I don’t already have a job! I confess it more that crossed my mind. I was ready to give up teaching. Feeling the juggernaut bearing down on me and realising that, in that moment, I simply didn’t have the strength to compete any more, I was a hair’s breadth from giving it up and doing anything, anything else. 

No, I am not going to compete any more. But I am not giving up. I will be there, in the yoga room, holding space for anyone who is curious, interested, hopeful, open-hearted enough to join me. 

Even if nobody turns up. 

Finding Your Teacher

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“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”

There is this saying you often hear in Yoga circles – actually a Buddhist saying. It has certainly been true for my yoga journey. Teachers have entered my life for what seems – in hindsight at least – a very obvious purpose.  I also acknowledge that some of these teachers haven’t even been teaching in the formal sense. Some of my teachers have been my own students, friends, children, animals and even trees! 🙂 some of them have actually not been very good teachers , in the technical sense. But a bad experience is often a very good learning experience.

Having said that, I am acutely aware that there are yogis only just setting out on their paths of discovery who may not know what to look for in a teacher. I am also very aware that more and more newly qualified teachers are emerging from teacher training and beginning their teaching journeys. Compared to when I started teaching ten years ago-when I pretty much knew all of the yoga teachers in Glasgow personally- there is a massive choice of classes, teachers and styles. And realistically, too much choice can be overwhelming.

There are heaps of guides on this subject too. How to choose a yoga style that suits you, how to choose a teacher, what to look for in a teacher, what qualifications to check for, etc. So instead of creating a surplus “guide” I am going to speak from an entirely personal perspective. Enjoy – Jude x

What I look for in a teacher

1. Presence. What I mean by this is not charisma or anything at all like that. What I mean is that the teacher is “present” for his or her students. That they are there. In the Space. Absolutely WITH the teaching. Also the ability to hold a safe space for the work.

2. Knowledge. I want to learn something. So I want to know that the teacher knows something of what they are teaching and more than I do. Generally, for me, this means that they have a. studied it for a reasonable length of time and b. continue to study and see this as a lifelong journey . When teaching asana ( and most Western teachers do) then  I want to know that my teacher understands bodies – very well. For me, I trust them even more if they have studied another body work system or at least really know their anatomy, physiology and bio-mechanics. So safety comes into this too.

3.  A personal practice. I want to know that my teacher does what they are teaching. Has experienced from their own personal relationship with it.

4. A real human being. I am drawn to teachers who share something of themselves and are honest about their humanity/foibles/mistakes. I also appreciate a sense of humour, a weakness for chocolate and in the case of one of my cherished teachers – a bit of a grumpy streak! basically – no bull***t!

5. Teaches from the Heart. Someone who shares from the heart of love, compassion and honesty.

6. Holds nothing back. There are no secrets or mysteries. They share what they know. All of it. With love. They are also honest about what they don’t know. I don’t want to be fobbed off with half-truths or pseudo -science.

7. Creates opportunities for growth. A teacher who is able to safely challenge boundaries, comfort zones and  physical abilities and to take his or her students into the realm of discovery of what is possible. This is the essence of Yoga.

8. Doesn’t show off.  A teacher is not there to show me what the amazing shapes they can get into or to use the time for their own practice. Just…no. It isn’t about them.

9. Communicates with ease. Seems obvious but a teacher should be good at explaining stuff. I don’t want to be confused and if I am, I want them to take the time to help me understand. Even the most esoteric elements of yoga can be opened up by someone who both understands and can communicate clearly.

10. Laughs. Often. At themselves and at the world. But not at me (unless I invite it!) 🙂

You’re Worth It!

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So here it is… Jude’s Guide to Asking for What You’re Worth (for what it’s worth!)

For all my sisters on International Women’s Day!

Firstly, do an (objective) analysis of your skills, qualifications, training and experience. If you find this difficult to do for yourself, ask a friend to do it with you. Someone else will always notice the things that you tend to play down or think are worth less than they actually are.

Find out and acknowledge the top level “going rate” for what you do. Find out what others in your field are charging for their services. You may find that there are people with less experience than you who are charging a lot more simply because they are more confident. I have to say that there is a notable gender divide here! Women are often less confident about their own skills and certainly less comfortable in asking for more money. Self belief has a lot to do with it – but once again, that’s for another post!

Then, add up the pounds and pence. How much does it COST you to do your work? Taking everything into account – include rent, memberships, insurance, training, time for preparation, travel time, transport costs etc. If you had to pay for training to do what you do, include the cost of that.

Assume that you want to earn at least the minimum wage! Taking into account your costs, add the figures up. What is the absolute minimum you can earn in order to cover your costs and pay yourself the minimum wage?

Here is an example. Because I teach yoga, it’s for a 90 minute yoga class

Actual hours worked. You are not just working for the time it takes you to teach the class.

90 mins. teaching

+ 40 mins. travelling to and from the venue

+ 40 mins lesson planning

+ 15 mins prep time

+ 15 mins clear up time

+ 15 mins admin (minimum)

= 2 hours & 35 mins

And this doesn’t include the amount of time you spend promoting your classes, answering e-mail and phone enquiries, updating your website, posting on Facebook etc. I’m guessing nobody is paying you to do all that?

 Let’s say the absolute minimum you want to earn per hour = £7 (really?)

That means you want to earn at least £18 per class after all your costs are taken into account.

So, let’s look at costs

Studio hire = £20

Travel costs = £5 If you drive, take into account petrol, car maintenance, tax and insurance etc.

Parking = £2:50 (if you don’t hang about)

Proportion of other costs (training, memberships insurance etc.) = £6

Let’s assume you will make your own lunch but your subsistence costs should really also come into the equation.

(Conservative) TOTAL = £36

 Costs £36 + minimum earnings £18 = £54

 If you charge £8 per class then you need seven people in the class, to earn around about the minimum wage.

 Uh –huh!

Right, let’s think about private yoga lessons – and this also applies to consultancy work– then going by the same calculations you should be charging about £50 for 90 minutes. Pro-rata, that’s about £35 for an hour.

 I can hear you all gulping but that is how much your time is worth. Pure arithmetic and we haven’t started on the self esteem stuff.

If, like me, you believe that your skills and experience and worth a little more than the minimum wage, then perhaps you will begin to feel a little easier about maybe asking for more, especially if you are now at a level in your career where you have more experience under your belt, and therefore, one assumes, more to offer.

If it helps, think about how much you would be prepared and happy to pay for 90 minutes of another professional’s time. Perhaps bring to mind your dentist, vet or lawyer! The last time I took my dog to the vet (out of hours) they wanted to charge me £100 just to allow her paws to cross the threshold of the surgery. That was before any examination or treatment, just dog into the same room as vet. 100 quid.

Most professions charge more for the time of more senior professionals. Bear this in mind and place yourself honestly somewhere along the Rookie to Guru continuum.

Be bold. Compassionate, loving and sensitive, yes, but bold too! Ask for what you need. Say no to what you don’t need. Be firm with those who want you to work for less that you’re worth (particularly if that = nothing)

Have a price and stick to it. It helps to publish your price list so that there are no surprises. This does not guarantee no awkward conversations, but be prepared for those and practice what you might say… following the following simple rules

 1. Be OK with using the word NO. Everyone knows what it means and there is no room for misunderstanding.

2. Make no apologies or excuses. Why should you? You’re sorry you need to eat and therefore require to be paid for your work?

3. Offer an alternative – there is always something that you CAN offer.

 For example…

“Do you offer concessions for …”

“No, the price is … for everyone, I do offer a block booking discount though”

I can hear your toes curling at the very thought… but as the guru said “practice and all is coming…”

Regarding concessions – if you want to help people who are on a low income then have a price for that too. Have a written policy and stick to it. If you choose not to offer concessions, really, that’s OK. 

If you do want to genuinely volunteer your services, make sure that it is just that, voluntary and that you haven’t been emotionally persuaded into it.

Karma Yoga is a wonderful thing. Doing things as selfless service is a wonderful choice. But, earning a living is a necessity, not something that you need to be ashamed of.

Finally, if the thought of all of this is making you cringe with discomfort, then what about this…

An “Asking for what you’re worth” workshop for women?

 As a little experiment – I shall be offering this workshop on a donation basis. You can either pay what you think the teaching is worth, or pay what you can afford, no questions asked. But as a guideline, for a four hour workshop – I reckon the going rate would be about £30 – £40 per person. If you can’t afford this, pay what you can and maybe offer some karma yoga on the day.

 If you are interested – let me know and we’ll sort out some dates.