Imagine you are a prospective yoga student. Looking at class schedules online, you see a lot of “vinyasa” yoga, and you wonder what it is. The descriptions say that the poses that “flow” together with breath and that all levels are welcome. This isn’t much information to go on, so you decide to go take a class and see for yourself. It turns out that you love the class, the teacher is great, you can do most of the poses pretty well, and you think, “Great! Now I know that I like vinyasa yoga.”
The following week, you decide to attend a vinyasa yoga class at a different studio. This time, you find yourself completely lost. The class moves really quickly, there are poses that you don’t know how to do, and the teacher is hard to hear over the music. You feel confused at best: which of these classes was “real” vinyasa yoga?
As an industry, we suffer from a lack of consistency in branding and we often do a poor job clearly explaining the class experience in our descriptions. While it’s wonderful that there are a variety of options available for students, it’s unfair that our students don’t know what they’re getting into. One of my colleagues pointed out recently that a clear class description is also the first step in informed consent– students have the right to know what they will be asked to do.
From a marketing perspective, it’s smart business, too. If I order macaroni and cheese at a restaurant, I have a reasonable expectation of what I’m going to get: macaroni and cheese. If there are other non-traditional ingredients, the menu will list them, so that green peppers or bacon, or vegan cheese won’t be a surprise when my meal arrives. An unpleasant surprise for the diner (or student) is unlikely to result in repeat business.
My vinyasa classes have changed over the past 7 years, but until recently, the description was exactly the same as it was for other vinyasa classes at my studio. My classes don’t include many chaturangas or traditional vinyasa movements. The pace is a little slower than some other vinyasa classes. I teach strength and mobility and de-emphasize flexibility, and include functional movements that aren’t part of the “traditional” yoga canon*. Sometimes, new students love my class– other times, it was clear they were looking for something different.
A few months ago, I had a student in class who was clearly used to (and possibly expecting) a different type of vinyasa class. I went home and re-titled the class (from “Vinyasa” to “Mindful Vinyasa”), with a clear explanation in the class description. I wasn’t sorry that I taught the class I did– I am clear on what I am teaching, why I am doing it, and what it has to offer to students– but I was aware that a lack of clarity and communication on my part could lead to some unfulfilled expectations.
There is one benefit to teachers or studio owners in having a vague class description– it leaves a lot of wiggle room for teachers to vary the class greatly, or to allow for frequent substitute teachers who may teach in a very different way. It deflects the responsibility, putting the onus on students if the experience is not what they’re looking for. Occasionally, I’ve heard a studio owner say that in a case like this, a student should learn to practice detachment– so it’s the yogi’s fault if the class isn’t to their liking(!).
As teachers, if we have our students’ best interests in mind, and we want these practices to be of maximum benefit, then we would do well to be transparent and clear in our class descriptions. Let’s help our students find the right teacher and class for their needs.
*”Traditional” being kind of a joke here, as most of these are 20th century inventions and not inherently special, spiritual, or otherwise transcendent. This needs its own blog post, but you might take a few minutes to read this piece by Mark Singleton for a little more context.