I’ve had some interesting experiences as I work with students here in Nicaragua that have presented as challenges. I view a challenge as an opportunity to learn something new about the world and something new about myself, so I welcome these learning experiences. I also welcome your feedback on how you work with students who throw curveballs.
The first challenging experience came when I was teaching a class with only two students. This isn’t unusual for classes here at the gym. Las turistas wax and wane, so our classes at the gym can go from a full house to unexpected private lessons within a day. On this particular day, I had two students who were friends with each other. One student was a long time yoga practitioner, and the other was new to yoga. The experienced yoga practitioner has a habit of doing her own thing with her practice. This is fine, and I encourage students to listen to their own bodies and to give their bodies what they need in any moment, which might be very different than the sequence I’m offering on any given day. The challenge arose about thirty minutes into my class, when I noticed that the friend of this woman was choosing to follow her friend’s practice rather than the offering I was making for a sequence. At this point, I felt a little extraneous. I continued to make my offering of poses, and sometimes the students chose to practice the sequence I offered, and sometimes not.
This strangeness culminated when I had the students in Trikonasana and I was offering adjustments for the pose. I’ve found with students new to yoga that Trikonasana can be an especially tricky pose. No matter the verbal and physical adjustments that I give, I find that newer students seldom find the full expression of this pose early in their practice. I believe that it’s important to create space for students to find asanas in their own bodies and in their own time. This means that I will offer adjustments to create a safer asana and adjustments to help find a more perfect alignment, but I will not excessively badger my students with adjustments and I will not manhandle students to get them into a pose. I believe that a gentle touch here or there is more useful to the student finding the asana in their own body over the long term versus being manually adjusted into the perfect visual expression of a pose.
Flash back to this class with two students. Both have opted to practice this particular asana that I’ve offered in this particular moment. As I’m working with the newer of the two students and adjusting her in the pose, her friend proceeded to get up and energetically push me out of the way so that she could adjust her friend. I was dumb-founded. What does the teacher do at this point? I have some friends who hold the seat of a teacher in such a way that they’re able to assert control over a room. As a new-ish yoga teacher, this was a first for me. As I finished class that day, I continued to make my offerings of poses, many of which were ignored, and wrapped up a very unsatisfactory class.
The second experience I had with students as teachers has happened a number of times. I’m working with a group of students to center them in preparation for class. Often, I have my own eyes closed while I center students. Just as often, I have my eyes open to look around the room and gauge the energy of the students in front of me. From time to time, there will be students simply sitting there with their eyes opened and not responding to my cues. Most recently, I had a student who was not only not centering, but was actively making noise as she scooched her seat around on the yoga mat and adjusted her purse and yoga props. In these cases, I normally choose to ignore the behavior and go on making my class offering.
I’m reminded here of two students I have here, both new to yoga, who sit in the back of the room and giggle their way through practice sometimes. I can tell that the giggles rise out of a place of trying something new, of going out on a limb and feeling uncomfortable. I’ve never shot these women harsh looks to stop their laughter, or verbally reprimanded them. I was speaking recently with a visitor from the States who told me that she tried yoga once in college, and had the poor experience of having a yoga teacher who took yoga too seriously. A yoga teacher who was offended when she and her friend giggled through their yoga class. She told me that she’s been put off yoga ever since that experience. I assured her she could giggle through my class and invited her to come. She didn’t find time on this visit — many tourists don’t despite the best of intentions.
Fellow yoga teachers and yoga practitioners, I ask you. What would you have done in these situations? As a student, what would you request of your teacher in these situations? I’ve always fought against a part of my personality that my mother called bossy when I was younger. I feel like I very much have a natural take-charge attitude, but these accusations of being bossy affected me deeply, and I try very hard to make space for others to express themselves when I find myself in a position of being in charge. That said, I feel there is a certain amount of holding space that a teacher must do to create a sacred space for practice, for growth, and for transformation.