Yoga Teachers: Are Students Pushing Your Buttons? Watch Out for These 5 Themes

There are many themes that may come up in the context of teaching yoga. These are found in our interactions with students, our observations of their practice, in the dynamic between you and your class. But it's often in those interactions where we may feel challenged, annoyed, angered and ready to spring into advice-giving and self-righteousness where we can learn the most.

1. The student who is attached to a particular spot for his or her yoga mat: This is the student that regularly places their mat in the same spot and rushes to get to that spot, even if something (or someone) else is in the way. What’s the theme? In a world where things are in constant flux, a yoga practice and one where we feel a sense of familiarity feels good. Some people have other reasons for wanting a particular spot; in a heated studio, they may like being close to the door in case they feel the urge to get some fresh air. Some students like to be close to a wall to use it for balance. Our goal as teachers should be to make sure everyone has space for their practice but to lead with compassion if we see someone rushing to get to a spot in the studio. If you need to interact with the person to encourage them to make room for someone else, do it in a neutral, non-reactive way, despite what might be thrown back at you.

2. The student that comes late to class: Depending on the logistics of the studio you’re at, this could result in someone knocking on the door, someone coming into the room after you’ve begun or a situation where you need to leave the room to let the person into class. Your instinct may be to be annoyed or angry; why is this person not on time? Why aren’t they respecting everyone else’s time? This anger may stick in your mind as you continue with class. Again, compassion is a great feeling to connect to here. Who knows why the person is late? How about, “the more for class, the merrier!” Maybe this person needs yoga badly and “thank god they’re here!” you say to yourself. As one of my friends said once while she taught and someone came late, “Please make room for her. Some day, that may be you.” So true!

3. The student who dismisses your attempt at assisting or offer of a block: When this happens to me, my internal reaction can be one of, “Ok, well, you’re on your own!” But this is dismissive. When I step back, I realize that I’m taking their dismissal of my help personally and I honestly have no idea why they’re doing it. So, instead of taking it personally (a great theme to watch for in other aspects of your life), I try to stay neutral. Sometimes I approach with a quiet comment of, “Can I suggest…..?” and that sometimes softens approach to be less “correction” and more “suggestion.” 

4. The student who does their own thing in class instead of staying with the group: This is one where you might take a self-righteous position and wonder why this person is doing their own thing. The theme might be one where you feel they’re questioning your role as the teacher. You might also worry that the other students will be confused. In my early days of teaching, I got tricked into this mindset more than once. In some cases, when I talked to the student afterwards, I found out that they were injured or even pregnant. How silly I felt. This points to another theme around making assumptions. Never make assumptions because you just don’t know. Our role as teachers is to support individual expression and students being their own teachers; not just listening to us.  

5. The student that leaves class early: You get everyone into savasana and up jumps a student. They roll their mat up loudly, stomp to put away their props, slam the door as they leave. In the meantime, you’re in front of the room, wanting to preserve the peace and quiet, if not just for a few more minutes. This happens in studios all the time, especially in morning classes. People want to fit in their workout before work. They have busy lives. They are trying to get it all done. As a teacher, you might want to lecture them on the value of savsana and the importance of final rest. But in that moment, in my experience, they won’t be open to listening. They’re in a rush. Face it. Your class did not send them into the bliss of relaxation. Instead of a lecture, keep your eye open for how they leave class. Ensure it’s done in a quiet way, so as to minimize disruption for other students. Send the student a silent wish for a peaceful day and let them go on their way. If it becomes a regular occurrence, maybe you talk to them at a separate time and ask them about it. The theme that may come up here is you wanting to be right. Instead, realize this will only create stress for both of you.   

You might recognize some of these themes from don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements. They are:

  1. Don’t take things personally
  2. Don’t make assumptions
  3. Be impeccable with your word
  4. Always do your best

These are great themes to apply to your yoga teaching as well. So, the next time you feel one of your reactive buttons being pushed, stop, take a deep breath and look for the theme that comes up. Give yourself a second to step back before reacting. You may just be happy you did.

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