I was trying out a new yoga class the other night, and the teacher started the class off by apologizing for the substitute who'd ran her class the week before. See, one person had given feedback that he didn't like the sub very much, so she felt somehow this was important to announce to the class and apologize because she had not been able to "hand pick" the sub.
She then went on to over-explain how she was going to be taking a break for a month or so, and how important it was that she felt that she left the class in "good hands," because of all the "work" they had been doing in the class together. And so, she was promising to try to find a good substitute, someone who could live up to her idea of high quality yoga teaching, I suppose.
There was a lot else said, and all of it done in nice terms about how she cared about the well-being of her students, but - perhaps unintentionally - she was sending a distinct message that she thought she was this super fantastic teacher who was going to let down her students for not being there for a little while.
As someone who was brand-new to her class, this was off-putting for a number of reasons. One, I felt bad that she was publicly shaming the yoga teacher who had subbed for her (I can relate to the substitute, since I've subbed myself - it's tough to sub, because people are simply used to the teacher they see regularly). I was apparently not the only one who felt bad about the sub getting slammed in this way - a number of students actually piped up and shared that they had liked the sub's class and thought the substitute did a great job.
This then inspired the person who originally complained to say that he had just been making a comment, that it's really personal preference. The teacher then tried to modify her original comments to agree, yes, a lot of it is personal preference, and she didn't mean to say the sub was a bad teacher, yadda yadda.
At this point, I was inwardly doing a "facepalm" that things had progressed that far on the topic. The regular teacher should have never made any sort of comment about the substitute in the first place - it was just bad form. I know she meant well, but she was also coming from her ego. And her ego was feeling all puffed up over the idea that she was more "popular" to the students than the one-time sub was. She didn't stop to think that of course people don't like subs as much as the regular teacher usually...simply because the sub is different from what they are used to.
Unfortunately, the teacher was putting out a lot of unintentional ego energy that was off-putting. She seemed to think she was apparently so great at teaching, that people would freak out or yoga-regress if she was gone for a few weeks. Of course, she didn't say it that bluntly, but it was very evident in her approach. She wasn't considering how her whole communication - on how she, as the amazing teacher who "we" were used to relying on, was going to make sure she "took good care of us" with her hand-picked substitutes - sounded to a new person taking her class for the first time.
So here I was, a new student, wondering what the big deal was. She had just set up this expectation for us newbies to see if she had the chops to back up all of her chatter. "How good is she?" I wondered. She was relatively young, and obviously not an old yoga sage, so I figured she was probably decent, but not the most amazing yoga teacher I'd ever come across. And that's precisely how her class went. It was decent. I enjoyed it. But it wasn't the most amazing yoga class ever, nor was she the most amazing yoga teacher or even a stand-out yoga teacher. She was pretty good. Just good, not great, good.
She even had some areas for improvement (for one - making us go back up into downdog at the end of class after having us wind down and do a lovely backtwist on the floor - not my choice for the end of class!). I might not have even noticed the "areas for improvement" had she not just set herself up for this very lofty expectation that she was so great!
All that said - I liked her class, and I would go back. I would not actively seek her out, however. She was just one of a dozen decent yoga teachers I've tried at that particular yoga studio. And I think this is the thing we yoga teachers need to remember. We may be good, but we're not so great that we're irreplaceable.
Yes, there are definitely those students you will find who may become your "fans." You may even develop enough of an area of expertise and wisdom that you will get a reputation as a leading yoga teacher in your specific style. But most of the time, in most average yoga studios, I'm guessing that the majority of people who show up regularly for a yoga class at a particular time slot do so because they want to take that type of yoga, and the time slot fits into their schedule. Oh, and the teacher is "good." But there might be a dozen yoga teachers who could fill that timeslot and who'd also be "good."
Convenience means a lot in yoga. I don't care how much of a "following" you think you have - if you start teaching yoga at 2 am you are not likely to get a lot of your regular students to show up - unless you regularly market to night owls and shift workers.
I'm even likely to attend classes where I'm not super crazy about the teacher, but the class is decent and it fits my schedule. I might even show up regularly. Don't assume that means I love you or would follow you to the ends of the earth. It means your class doesn't conflict with my improv classes, or my Aikido classes, or the appointment I've set up with my allergist.
Once in a while I may take note of a teacher and try to attend more of their classes. But this isn't a guarantee the class will be good. I know a teacher who does an amazing hatha class who does a mostly mediocre flow class - at least, based on my personal preference.
On rare occasion I might actively avoid a class where the teacher annoys me. But it takes a lot to annoy me. Super sickly sweet descriptions and overly flowery verbiage turn me off, but once again, don't let that hurt your ego in the opposite way either. I'm sure there are plenty of students who love that type of languaging. Once again, it's all about personal preference.
Now, there are those few "famous" teachers who do have genuine followings. But even then, I have to wonder if half of it isn't just the fame. When I sampled Saul David Raye's class in Los Angeles, it was packed. And I liked him as a teacher - a lot. But the idea of doing flow yoga in a large room with over 50 people and assistants to help just wasn't my cup of tea. I like smaller hatha yoga classes, so no matter how great a teacher he was, it wasn't enough to inspire me to pack myself into a room to become a yoga sardine on a regular basis. I'm just not one of those people who will suffer queues and cramped yoga mats just to be around a "guru." If your class fills up too much, I'll avoid it until the numbers get reasonable again...no matter how much I love you or your class.
And the thing is, as good as Saul David Raye was, he wasn't that much more amazing than many of the unknown teachers I've had at smaller local yoga studios. His fame made his classes huge - but the actual experience wasn't necessarily better than what you'd get at a small intimate studio. I am not saying this to knock him so much as to praise all the wonderful anonymous yoga teachers I've had. There's just a lot of pretty good to even great yoga out there.
When I lived in Los Angeles, a lot of places seemed to be trying to hire yoga teachers who already had "followings." I distinctly got the impression that a lot of these entrepreneurs simply didn't have a lot budgeted for marketing, and assumed that they could attract "name" teachers at low prices and fill up their studios that way. But a studio is more than just the individual teachers. It's the location and the space, but it's also the environment and community built around it. And people come to a yoga class not just for the individual teacher, but also because they like the "vibe" of the studio, the timeslots available, the location, and the price.
So even if you become a famous yoga teacher someday, don't automatically assume that you can provide the best yoga experience for your students. People have a lot of different needs in yoga. And for some, it may just be that they want to be able to take a moderately challenging yoga class after work without having to drive too far in traffic, and you just happen to be in the right place and the right time to teach them. And that's why they show up to your class regularly...not because your yoga "stuff" doesn't stink.