10 Ways To Get Back On Track When Teaching Yoga

Ever taught a yoga class and and gotten flustered? Maybe someone asked an unexpected question, or complained loudly about the heat, or pushed you away when you tried to assist, or left in a huff.

I've been there. Once a student checked in for class, and—upon finding out that I was covering for the regular teacher—proclaimed, “Well, why didn’t the website say that? Ugh!”

I was most definitely in earshot, as was most of the class, already seated in the studio. I had to re-group mentally before walking into the room.

If you’ve been teaching for a while, you’ve probably run into all of these scenarios, and more. Maybe you shrugged it off without even batting an eyelash. But if you’re like many of us, you may have found that it took some time before you felt your feet firmly on the ground again.

So, when you feel pushed off course, here are 10 tips to get back on track:

1. Whatever it is, don’t take it personally.

As teachers, we know that our students are stressed. That’s why they’re in class, right? This stress, coupled with the “I” centered behavior of our culture, can create situations in which people speak without thinking. If this happens in your class, move on as neutrally as possible. You never know what is going on in that student’s life and rather than take their actions personally and create a huge barrier to being present and effective as a teacher, release the knee-jerk reaction to the action and move on.

2. Stop moving, stand still, and feel your feet. 

When something happens in class to throw you off guard, stop moving. Take a few moments to feel your feet on the ground. This will still your mind and allow you to better focus.

3. Put the class in a posture and breathe with them. 

Rather than take a few deep breaths on your own, breathe with the class while they’re in a pose. Chances are, whatever happened in class may have distracted a few students as well and perhaps you all need to re-group on the task at hand.

4. Keep the sequence simple (if this is possible, depending on where you’re at in the class). 

As much as possible, after an incident that throws you off, keep the sequence simple. Even if you’re in the midst of a more complicated pose, keep your instruction minimal and your tone steady (without sounded angry). This will serve to ground everyone in class as well as allow your mind to slow down and focus on teaching.

5. Focus on the group, not just the one person involved in the situation. 

When something happens with one student, we can focus just on that person after the incident. Remember, your main mission is to keep the entire class moving. Let your anger, frustration, paranoia, worry or concern go and focus instead on the good you're there to offer to the whole class.

6. Repeat a phrase in your head that is applicable, helpful and soothing. 

When that incident I described above happened to me, I remember saying to myself, over and over, Compassion, compassion. It soothed my soul like hot tea and allowed me to recognize that there could be a whole story behind that woman’s reaction that had nothing to do with me. It allowed me to soften so I could focus on the class.

7. Stay open. 

When we feel threatened or confused, we have a tendency to shut down. Stay open and flexible. Ask questions, be steady, keep an open mind to things you do not know. Things are not always as they seem and by jumping the gun and assuming you know what happened, you can create drama that doesn’t serve anyone.

8. Follow up, if you can. 

Whenever something like I’ve described above happens in class, I try to follow up with the person afterwards. However, if they’ve left in a huff or there are many students around and there isn’t a quiet place to talk, I let things go. But as much as possible, try to use the moments after class to check in, keeping in mind the ideas of saying open.

9. Be professional. 

Your reaction is a reflection on you as well as the studio. Your role as a teacher includes being professional in your interactions with everyone, regardless of how you are treated (to a certain extent). Keep your interactions professional so regardless of what’s being thrown at you, you resist the urge to take it personally and attack back.

10. Always be focused on how you can help, not how can you be right. 

Even in those situations where there is a “right” and a “wrong” (think: alignment, for instance) if you feel resistance coming up, let it go, unless the student is being put in danger by continuing as they are. You can always follow up after class from a point of inquiry. For example: That was an interesting way to jump into low push up is a more effective appraoch than than judgment (You were wrong to jump back into high push up. Don’t ever do that again if you want to protect your shoulders.)

In any situation, there is always the path of least resistance and the path of greater resistance. Just as we try to help students learn how to create flow in their practice, we want to help them learn how to have flow in their lives. The more we can set an example and react less and help more, the more flow we will experience as well as our students.

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