How to Set Up Your Own Yoga Service Class

Submitted by Kate Rice

Are you a yoga teacher hoping to teach yoga in prisons, at shelters, or to at-risk youth? Starting a yoga service class is no small task. Learn about trauma informed yoga and find ideas on next steps below.

1. Decide who to serve

Consider your experience with that community – professional, volunteer, or personal experience. Working with people touched by issues close to your heart can be a huge drive; it can also be a huge trigger. Where are you in your own healing process?

Take into account your current contacts as well. These can be a tremendous advantage to starting a new yoga class. Be open minded too; sometimes the most sought-after groups to serve, from a yoga service perspective –  prisoners or survivors of sex trafficking – require more experience or training. Consider starting with groups that are less dramatic-sounding, but equally deserving of yoga’s benefits.

2. Get training

If you don’t already work or volunteer with the community you’d like to serve, consider doing so, or ask if you can attend a volunteer orientation before starting the yoga class. It is best to be straightforward with this organization about your intentions and the length of time you plan to commit to this non-yoga volunteer work.

Choose a trauma informed yoga training. Ideally enroll in a training related to the community you plan to teach, but know that there can be overlap among trauma-related trainings. If the relevance isn’t clear, ask before signing up.

3. Connect with potential host organizations

Research and then contact non-profits to gauge the possibility of offering classes.  Space availability and staff interest are good starting points – you can be somewhat creative with space, within limits, but without staff support, yoga will not happen. Connecting with people who already know you (as a yoga teacher or other professional) may be more productive than essentially cold calling. If you are cold calling, do basic research first via the web to figure out who to contact, or, if it’s appropriate, visit in person to introduce yourself and ask.

Via email, be brief but thorough. Introduce yourself, mention what you can offer and also what you need (space, a dedicated staff contact, etc.).

4. Stick with it!

Don’t give up. This may take some perseverance. Non-profit staff may struggle to find time and funding to carry out the organization’s primary mission; some will not have time for or interest in starting a yoga class. Be prepared to try and try again! Realize that an organization that will be a good partner will reply to you in a timely fashion, and will express interest and support for yoga, even if they have limited time and resources to offer. If your first choice doesn’t respond in this way, consider that it may be an indication that this organization is just not in a place right now to host a successful yoga class. Keep trying and reach out to others!

5. Conduct a site visit

Meet your staff contact in person and see the yoga space prior to the first class. Ask questions to ensure class will go well and discuss how to address any concerns.  Yoga Activist offers a site visit guide with lots of ideas for what to discuss before the first class.

6. Prepare to teach

Get mats donated, connect with co-teachers or possible subs (teachers with trauma informed training similar to yours who can attend class a few times to prepare), ensure that you and/or or staff have promoted the class so people know it’s available. Leave enough time between the site visit and the start date for all of these things.

7. Start the class

Go teach yoga! Set your own expectations realistically: it takes time to build a group of regular students. Create realistic expectations for students: tell them from day one the duration of the class (eight weeks?) and whether it may continue beyond that or not. Knowing an end date can help students cope with the fact that the class is not forever ongoing – and there is no rule that says you need to continue it after that date. If you and staff decide that continuing is feasible, let the students know that in person before the class finishes its first term.

8. Assess and Share.

Track attendance, formally or informally request student feedback, and talk to staff. Do staff have ideas on how to increase attendance, or make the class more amenable to the constraints students or staff face? How is the class going for you as the teacher? Share your experience with others to help them start and lead successful yoga service classes.

You can find additional resources on Kate’s blog.

Kate Rice fell in love with vinyasa yoga at her gym in Washington, DC about 8 years ago. She returned to her Chicago roots after teaching English in eastern Europe and completed yoga teacher training in 2014.  Passionate about making yoga more accessible, Kate has completed trauma informed yoga trainings (Street Yoga, Prison Yoga and others) as well as 40 hours of sexual violence crisis intervention training in order to teach yoga to survivors served by the YWCA counseling center.

In addition to public classes yoga at Cook County Jail through Yoga for Recovery. Follow her work at shareyourpractice.org (which now also offers a directory of trauma informed yoga trainings throughout the US).

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