As a yoga teacher, it can be hard not to live and breathe by your class numbers. After all, it’s challenging to make the case for maintaining a class whose numbers are too low to make it financially viable—for the studio or the teacher, especially the teacher who is often paid according to class size. And although many yoga teachers think of teaching as an offering separate from remuneration, the reality is that when it comes to class attendance, size matters.
Attendance numbers can affect not just the health of your bank account, but that of your self-esteem, too. It’s important not to let your confidence take a beating if your numbers are inconsistent. There are many factors that can affect class attendance. Here are just a few reasons that your classes may or may not be well, or consistently, attended.
I live in Canada, and oh my goodness do we—my fellow Canadians and I—obsess over the weather. In the winter, poor driving conditions, from freezing rain to whiteouts, can keep people at home and even close the studio. And I get that—sometimes it simply isn’t worth the risk, or stress, to brave the elements.
One of the great things about living in a snow belt is being able to seek shelter and relaxation during a storm—fire, warm blankets, and hot drinks. If my students choose to practice the Danish concept of hygge, or “cozy living,” instead of coming to class to practice yoga, I applaud their decision.
On the flip side, a gorgeous day sometimes calls for exploring outdoors. How can I fault anyone’s decision to immerse themselves in nature on a glorious spring day? To get out for a bike, hike, stroll, or run?
So both beautiful and bad weather can decrease class numbers. The Goldilocks principle seems to be at play: Maybe the weather has to be “just right” to fill a class. And, of course, some people will attend regardless of the weather. Perhaps you can hold a class outdoors during the balmy months and make sure the studio is toasty and warm during inclement weather.... Other than that, you can’t control the weather, so it’s best to let it go.
Sometimes the right factors all just come together in a pleasing way with little planning. Because of a schedule change, I once had a flow class move to a smaller studio that was set at a “warm” temperature. Thanks to headaches, I can’t teach flow classes in any kind of heat, so I requested to change that class to a restorative one.
It was in the fall, and the small studio could be dimly lit. The strings of fairy lights were already in place, encircling the room. The soft lighting and warmth of an exposed-brick wall provided a welcome contrast to the chill outside, plus a class cap of 12 students (because of the small room size) all created a perfect refuge—the class became very popular with a consistent waiting list. Was it me as a teacher? Not necessarily. It was nice that this class was always full and in demand, but I’d be kidding myself if I thought students were lining up just for me. It was a happy combination of the right factors at the right time. Sometimes change is good and works out in favor of better attendance!
Did you try to hold a yoga class during the Game of Thrones series finale? How did that work out for you?
I live near Toronto, and it seemed as though our entire town, province, and nation was riveted by the NBA playoffs, as Toronto’s team was competing for the championship title for the first time in franchise history (side note: we won). Were my studio’s classes as well attended on game nights? Heck no. Some people were home watching the games—and that’s okay! There are always going to be major events that conflict with class times. Some will have a big effect, others not so much. But you can’t fight TV programming or even special events in your own town.
I’ve had students tell me that they love it when I play “non-yoga” indie folk music during class. On the other hand, many, many others have voiced their approval for my yoga tracks, asking for names and song titles and then purchasing the music for themselves. Others have told me that they only come to classes where music is played, while still others only attend classes with no music.
How can I fulfill everyone’s desires, in every class? I could develop a rotating schedule of music genres, including a non-music option, but someone would always be less than thrilled with the outcome. Even if I used the most advanced spreadsheet to keep track of such a possible rotation ( I don’t), I would still disappoint someone. So, I’ve learned to play the music that seems to work the best for the majority of the class and for me. If I lose some participants because a) I play music, and/or b) I don’t play Mumford and Sons anymore, so be it.
My husband attended one of my yoga workshops recently. It was a restorative workshop, and I occasionally talked about releasing tension from the body and mind. When I asked him how he liked it, he said it was great but that he was surprised at how spiritual I was. This was a shock to me because I tend not to discuss the spiritual side of yoga very much at all in my classes—not because it’s not important to me, but because I just tend to talk about other things.
The point is that some people love hearing about chakras, philosophy, koshas, and the like, while others just want to hear how they can activate their serratus anterior. Will you be able to get the absolute perfect combination for each person? Probably not. I find that eventually yogis self-select—those looking for more spirituality will gravitate toward classes and teachers with that focus, while others—like my husband—who prefer a more literal or anatomical discussion might drift elsewhere. It’s okay to lose or gain students based on your personal style and teaching preferences. You have to find your niche and teach it with confidence—be true to what resonates most with you.
I often liken yoga teachers to writers. People have their favorite writers, and people have their favorite yoga teachers. As yoga teachers, we are communicators and we develop our own way of expressing thoughts and concepts. What you say and how you say it will vibe really well with some and not so well with others. In the same way, some fabulous writers just don’t appeal to certain readers—they’re not better or worse; they’re simply different.
Your authentic self will attract people who like or respond to what you offer, and those are the students that need to be there with you.
Some students will adore your turn of phrase, or the way you cue. Others might not; it’s akin to an Alice Walker fan not necessarily loving Hemingway's works, for example. Your class numbers may fluctuate as people check you out and become accustomed (or not!) to your style. Your authentic self will attract people who like or respond to what you offer, and those are the students who need to be there with you.
There are amazing teachers who might never garner a huge following because they haven’t quite found their place or persona. There are other teachers who are not that fabulous as instructors, but they have a certain style, or charisma. Maybe they’re really funny or do all sorts of funky arm balances and people flock to their classes because they want to be like them.
Some teaching factors are modifiable, some are not. Be a bit of a detective and look at your efforts and results. While still being true to yourself, try a few different things and see how the numbers respond. Ultimately, your teaching will likely evolve to a blend of what people like and what you feel is your true essence and calling.
Maybe your class conflicts with school PTA meeting night, or a local sports league. Perhaps school is on break and parents are spending more time with their kids.
So be kind to yourself. Keep showing up and modify where you can to boost attendance, but also know that much is out of your control.
Good luck with finding your niche…and your numbers!