A Yoga teacher friend of mine is moving to another town, leaving behind her group of practitioners in a small place. She asked me what my thoughts on the subject are.
“What is our responsibility to our students when we leave them? How do we best manage a transition like that – lovingly and respectfully?”
People tend to move more these days, we as a society in general have become increasingly nomadic. And Yoga teachers seem to be particularly fond of discovering new horizons, spending months at a time in India, Bali or other beautiful places.
When I started thinking about it, I immediately thought on ways to handle the situation with the students (which I will share later in the article, so keep reading) but the more I thought about it, the more I thought about it from the perspective of the relationship between student and teacher.
Let’s start with a very general observation: All of our relationships are time-limited and relationships change over time. Some are getting stronger, others just simply stop making sense and eventually part. This of course also applies to the relationship between Yoga teacher and practitioner.
And as in any relationship, we should take our responsibility for our part of it.
Students are constantly leaving teachers – and that’s perfectly ok
Let’s first start with switching the perspective: It happens all the time – much more often than a teacher moving on – that students come and go, stay with one teacher or at a certain point decide to move on, leaving the teacher behind, stopping Yoga, changing the teacher or style of Yoga.
Some students come a few times to our classes and then never show up again, others come for years and then move away, or their family grows and they stop coming due to new priorities. Or they just loose their interest in Yoga. Some of them say good-bye expressing their gratitude, others just vanish without saying a word.
Yoga teachers have to accept that. Some teachers might complain and talk bad about students just ditching them, taking the decision of the student personally. But let’s face it, in many cases the reasons for changing the Yoga teacher are personal, not about the teacher. And if the teacher assumes that the student’s leaving has something to do with me as a teacher, I can look at myself, asking if I supported the student to the best of my ability.
And if we think about it, even if students don’t show up for your classes, they might still follow you on your blog, social media channels and benefit from your teaching in that way.
Yoga teachers don’t own the right to a student. Even the term “She is MY student” is somehow ridiculous. Someone might choose to learn from a Yoga teacher, so the Yoga teacher shares his experience and knowledge and guides the student, as long as the student wants to be guided. But that value exchange and guidance only works as long as both parties are willingly participating. Therefore holding on to a student-teacher-relationship makes no sense and feeling bad or angry about a student leaving says more about the teachers insecurity than about the students opinion about the teacher.
Teachers leave behind students to move on with their lives – not to get away from their students
Now let’s switch back to the perspective of a teacher moving on, leaving behind his Yoga community.
Similarly to the leaving student, a teacher also doesn’t primarily leave the students, rather moves on with his life for personal reasons. And usually leaving behind a group of committed students is a big reason against the move.
Students tend to accept that well, even if they are not happy about loosing a trusted teacher. And the great difference here is that the teacher still can serve the students, provide value to them and make an effort to stay present for students (see tip 3 & 4 below). It’s up to the teacher to handle the transition well and communicate with students so they feel taken care of and supported in the process.
Let’s look at how this can work:
5 tips on how to deal with the transition and still provide value to your students after moving on
1. Be clear of your intentions and offer support
I regularly leave behind my little Ashtanga Community to teach workshops in other places. As many other Yoga teachers, I regularly travel to India or Thailand during the winter months to deepen my own practice and get new inspiration to share my own experience with others. The students that attend my classes know that. They might not like that I am not with them all the time. And it’s their choice of accepting it or not. But I try to be as clear about it as possible.
When moving on, communicate very openly with your students. Tell them your reasons instead of coming up with excuses and stories to explain your decision. People tend to really appreciate openness if they feel it to be authentic. That applies to anything you do: when you start teaching be clear what you offer and your intention of where it should evolve towards. When your programs change, may that be in terms of place, time, content, different approach, be clear why you do what you do, share it with your community and ask them for feedback.
Once you are clear that you are in fact moving away, tell your community openly and ask them how you can support them and how you can design the transition in a way that best serves them.
2. Plan your transition well
If you have enough time before actually leaving, you can support your community in the transition so they can keep up their practice after you have left.
That could simply involve getting together with other Yoga teachers of your area. Obviously they should teach in a similar way, you should trust them and believe that your students can benefit from this teacher. If that’s the case you could do a workshop together and eventually suggest to your students to join the other teacher’s classes, or the other teacher may simply take over your classes and continue them.
Maybe one of your more experienced students is interested in teaching and wants to be an apprentice to you for a couple of months until she knows enough to eventually take over your classes. Of course this is very much depending on the special needs of a particular group, a simple Yoga class with focus on physical practice might be easier to take over than a medical Yoga class with focus on therapy or with people with special needs.
The transition might also involve workshops and Yoga classes with a focus on increasing the ability of the students for self-practice. As I teach Ashtanga Yoga in a Mysore style setting, I know that whenever a student leaves, they still have their own practice and know what to do, even without any teacher or Yoga school around. In a similar way you might provide them with ways to build a self-practice, at home or in a group. This could involve practice sheets with Yoga sequences, videos of you teaching that you put on youtube or your website to guide your students or teaching them how to create their own routine.
What you offer to them of course depends on what they want and are willing to learn and what you feel is appropriate for them.
3. Provide channels to follow you (email, facebook, instagram, youtube, periscope etc.)
Even if you move away, you are not leaving them, you are just less accessible. They can still follow you on your social media channels if you give them enough reason to do so. You can make them sign up for your newsletter and keep providing good tips and tools for their Yoga practice through your regular postings on facebook, instagram or videos on youtube. With tools like periscope you can even do live-broadcasts if that is something you are comfortable doing.
Tell your students that they can follow you and what to expect from doing so.
The main focus here is to keep providing value…
4. Keep providing value
Of course people need a reason to follow you. So keep providing value on the topics that you were teaching about: Yoga asana practice, alignment, healthy habits, therapeutic Yoga, breathing – whatever your focus is, talk about it and share your insights you are getting through your daily practice so your followers can benefit from them as well.
Offer them new ideas and tools to keep the practice up, to deepen it. Give them advice that they can use, that is based on what you have already taught them.
Invite them to send in their questions and stay in contact and provide answers through your videos, email newsletters and postings.
And don’t forget to share something from your life in the new place as people are connected to you as a person, not just your role as a teacher.
Of course you don’t have to wait to share your insights until you move away. In fact I would suggest you start as soon as possible. But moving is definitely one more reason to start.
5. Invite them to practice with you in new ways
You have spend a long time building trust with a group of people. Now they have to get their daily Yoga somewhere else. Yet, they might love the idea of practicing with you in new places or formats.
You could return every couple of months to your old community and offer a weekend workshop. This works especially well, if you have left them with a Yoga teacher (or apprentice) that might gladly host you.
Another idea is to organize a retreat and invite your old community as well as your new community that you are creating in your new city, where people can spend a full week catching up with their old teacher and learning new things. For that of course you should stay in contact by following tip 3 & 4.