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How To Motivate Your Students

This is part 1 of a 3-part series on motivation.

We’re lucky in the yoga world: we have students who want to be there!

In yoga teacher trainings, students have voluntarily decided to show up at (at whatever ungodly hour ) in order to participate in a yoga teacher training course. Why? Because they love yoga. They want to be there. Our students are what we call “intrinsically motivated.”

Intrinsic motivation is an energizing of behavior that comes from within an individual, out of will and interest for the activity at hand.  No external rewards are required to incite the intrinsically motivated person into action. The reward is the behavior itself. 

– Michigan State University

Unlike the employee obligated to attend the Food Safety or Sexual Harassment course, our students have usually paid good money to be in the room. However, this doesn’t mean that we can just relax and assume that their motivation will continue unabated!

By deliberately incorporating motivational techniques into your lesson plans, you can turn your “nice” teacher training program into an “amazing” and engaging experience for your students. (PS: If you missed it, here’s how you avoid the great trainer mistake.)

John Keller (and an emeritus professor at my alma mater, Florida State University) created the ARCs model to define the components that contribute to student motivation. By understanding these factors, you will set yourself up for success as a trainer, and learn how to recover a situation that has gone sideways.

In this article, we’re going to unpack the first Keller principle: Attention.


Attention refers to getting your students’ interest. Attention has three parts:

  • perceptual arousal: use surprise to gain interest
  • inquiry arousal: ask stimulating questions to gain interest
  • variability: use a variety of methods in presenting material (e.g. use of videos, short lectures, mini-discussion groups).

In a nutshell, “attention” means that you can use storytelling, anecdotes, humour, or a devil’s advocate approach to get your student’s creative juices flowing.

How does this relate to a yoga teacher training?

In almost every course that I teach, I start by asking the students a question. Not only does this draw upon the prior knowledge (see the activation principle), but it also helps to get students actively engaged in the learning process. I don’t want students to passively and absorb a lecture; I want them to wrestle with real life problems and take a personal interest in the learning content.

Doesn’t it seem far more interesting to ask a class, “what would you do if someone came to your yoga class dressed in a bathing suit?” than to drone on about dress codes?

In a yoga teacher training, you may have students with you for up to fourteen hours a day (yikes!). We cannot rest on our motivationa laurels. Deliberately plan for opportunities to include personal anecdotes, shake up the learning environment, and ask provoking questions. Rather than stick to just one method of content delivery (god help us, not another lecture or practice!) see if you can incorporate a wide variety of stimulation and media options, such as audio, powerpoint, demonstrations, or written activities.

Attention Tools

  • storytelling
  • humour
  • ask for or provide real life examples or scenarios
  • ask thought provoking or complex questions
  • change the pace suddenly (surprise)
  • change your delivery method (audio, video, written, research, hands on, role play, creating a skit, have a quiz show…shake it up!)

Incorporate the Attention Principle into your lesson plans. Even adding in a small personal story into your training content can can have a huge impact on your learner’s engagement and lead to better learning outcomes.

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