Ten eager-to-learn yogis have rolled out their mats and are waiting patiently for class to begin. The teacher walks in with a friendly greeting, gets the students set up comfortably on their backs, eyes closed, and asks,
“If there are any injuries or concerns that will effect your practice or just something you think I should know about, please raise your hand and I’ll come over to talk with you individually.
Great! Let’s begin.”
The class begins to move and breathe. Everything seems to be going well, until the teacher notices that one of the students has stopped following instructions. Thankfully, this teacher is a master multi-tasker, and is able to continue leading the class and at the same time go over to this student to ask, “Is everything okay?” At which point, the student might respond with one of the following answers:
“I recently had surgery / I am recovering from an injury.”
“Oh yeah! I’m just doing my own thing.”
With the first statement, the problem lies in the fact that the student failed to mention the issue when the teacher asked in the beginning. Teachers ask so they can provide modifications and alternatives for the student to avoid pain or further injury. This is what teachers are trained for and it’s frankly one of the things that keep the job interesting! We want to know about your stuff so we can help you heal! Isn’t that why you came? Now, the teacher likely has to run to get additional props for the student in the middle of teaching and will need to call out modifications for the student that could have been more easily addressed one-on-one at the beginning of class.
With the second statement, well, it can be a little mind blowing at first. Most public yoga classes these days run between $12-20 depending on where you live. I wouldn’t be able to afford to go to yoga regularly if I weren’t a yoga teacher. It’s expensive! So why on earth would someone pay that kind of money to show up and “do their own thing?” Perhaps there will be a few poses in the sequence that don’t jive with the body and in that case it will make sense to fill the time with something else. I totally understand that. But that’s different from what essentially becomes an open practice. I’ve seen cases where a student will stop moving entirely, stand on their mat and stare intensely at the other students who are following along. This makes everyone uncomfortable. And it can become distracting for the entire room when one person migrates to the wall to do handstands while the rest of the class is in supported bridge.
Thankfully, these scenarios are not common in my classes. Though, I often hear about this issue from other teachers. I believe part of it can be resolved with a command of the room. Students that feel safe and trust the teacher are more likely to share their injuries and follow along as best they can. Many students have no clue that their behavior is inappropriate, and a polite discussion after class about the benefits of following a sequence might do the trick.
And for the rare student that insists on doing their own thing for no apparent reason, I’ve learned to let it go. They signed the waiver and I have insurance. If they choose to block me out, I can block them out too. There’s a reason they keep showing up, so as long as I’m not receiving valid complaints from other students, I’m inclined to have them stay because something about the environment is of benefit to them.
I bring up this recently popular issue because I believe it’s important that everyone keep an open mind and consider the several perspectives that can accompany a situation like this. If we wish for yoga to be inclusive, it’s important to find a way to delicately address the fact that a few students will do their own thing and find a way to support them in a way that won’t deplete the teacher’s energy. I expect my students to do different things according to what they’re working with in their bodies that day, and I also know there’s always the possibility for mega distractions.
If I go into my classroom with confidence and the knowing that I can handle any situation that comes up, all will be well. And after seven years of teaching, that method still works. Teaching yoga is like practicing asana. “Practice and all will come.”