Setting up your own yoga service class

As a yoga instructor, where do you even start? The steps you take will  vary based on the location and community you plan to work with. Teaching yoga in a prison or jail, for instance, will involve a lot of red tape and bureaucracy... you may need a background check, a drug test, an orientation, and other things. Teaching at a non-profit where you already work for your full-time job might be much smoother.

These points are based on my own experience setting up and maintaining yoga classes in libraries, shelters, and other non-profits where I did not work. Certainly my administrative work with Yoga Activist informs my views too.

If you have other helpful tips, please comment below!

  • Training: I do recommend that anyone setting up a yoga service class hold a 200-hour yoga teacher certification. Trauma-sensitive yoga training can be tremendously helpful - more essential for high trauma groups but also helpful if you don't have a lot of experience teaching in a studio or gym as your yoga service class may draw a number of people new to yoga. Training in the sense of getting to know the community you are teaching matters too. People are multi-dimensional, and the fact that I may not be homeless does not mean it’s impossible for me to connect with someone who is or offer a yoga practice to them. But a teacher who has never before been to a drop in homeless shelter would likely serve future yoga students better by volunteering in a non-yoga capacity at a shelter first, or perhaps taking the orientation that shelter offers for non-yoga volunteers … before beginning a yoga program.

  • Commitment: Make sure you have the time to commit to the class on a regular basis, and be clear about what you can and cannot offer. It's hard to get subs in general, particularly subs with trauma-sensitive training. It's hard to get students coming regularly when there are repeated cancellations or a schedule that changes week to week. Many yoga students develop a relationship with the teacher, and come to class in large part because of the teacher, not just because of the practice itself or time of the class. Sure, it can be beneficial to learn from different people, but it may be hard to build a following.

  • Supplies: You will likely need at least a few mats for students who don't have them (how to collect donated mats?). Blocks can be a big help, as can bolsters or blankets, as well as a means of cleaning used mats (Lysol wipes are portable).

  • Human support: I strongly recommend holding out until you find a manager/staff member who is both supportive and in a position to provide what the class needs to be sustainable: a regular time and space, most often some ability to section off the space used for yoga, and on-site help in case issues arise. Promoting the class might be something you do on your own, but it can be very helpful to discuss this if promotion requires access to clients that you as a non-staff member do not have.

  • Space: To what extent is it private? Will people enter and exit the room during class, and if so, how can you minimize the impact of this on your students? Will you need to move tables and chairs? Access to chairs can be helpful for balancing poses, a few postures in the chair at the end of class, and for students to rest on or sit in if they don't feel sitting on the floor is comfortable or physically accessible.

Also published in Chicago Area Yoga.