I have been teaching yoga for over 10 years and recently, it has been my privilege to work with new teachers as they learn how to guide classes. As instructors, we have an amazing job working with wonderful people. But every so often someone walks in the door (seemingly voluntarily) who doesn’t seem to want to be there at all. There is debate as to how to treat a disruptive, unresponsive or downright negative student in class. Some teachers take the “my way or the highway” approach, while others either ignore the offender or resort to “do whatever you want to do” language. When this power struggle happens, it is important for the instructor to know where they stand so today, I want to share my thoughts about teaching with fellow instructors and offer a few tips on etiquette to all the students out there.
The Down Right Difficult Student
For Teachers: New age-iness would tell us that when a difficult student comes into your class room, they have been sent to teach you to look within. Are you expecting too much of your students, too little? Are you teaching the level and style that is actually advertised in that time slot? These are valid things to investigate to be sure.
However it would be fairly narcissistic to assume that everyone who wandered into a drop-in class with a bad attitude was there with something to teach you. Some people are just not that nice or socially appropriate…plain and simple.
I have been teaching for enough time now, that when someone is out-and-out rude or disrespectful, I either ask them to leave my class or don't give them the time of day. Sadly, the people who have the more disruptive ego trips during class have usually been practicing yoga asana for at least a few years and therefore, think they know what yoga really is. Here is the thing, any real Yogi knows not to take their own garbage out on another human being (especially staff or teachers at a studio who have devoted their life and livelihood to sharing the practice with others).
Tips for Students: Remember, ninety percent of instructors are standing at the front of the room to guide you through a practice designed to make you feel better. You may not love every moment of every class or appreciate every style out there, but if you are able to be open (even just a little bit) there is probably some gem you can pick up.
S#*t Bad Yogis Say
1) "I just don't feel like it"
Scenario: We have just completed a vigorous warm up and I am asking people to pair up with someone. Community is a big feature of my teaching and I expect people to be kind and warm to one another. When someone comes to class and won't work with other people I always go over to find out what's up. If the reason is any of the following:
"I have an injury", "I am shy", "I am scared" all of those are fair.
- If you have an injury let’s find something more suitable for you.
- If you are shy, I will introduce you to the most experienced person in the room (I am very grateful to have some wonderful teachers that grace my class who will help you and are experts). No one is going to force you into anything, but at least you get to meet some nice people.
- If you are scared, no problem. We have all been there. Let me show you a modification that will fit with your level of comfort and prepare you for the deeper version in time.
"I don't feel like it" is another story.
It’s a dead end and it means,
“I don't care about the people who might need support around me and I don't want their support either. I want to do whatever I want and don't want to grow.”
We have probably all been in this ugly, dark place at one time or another in our lives. I sure have and guess what, in those times, I went out of my way so that I didn't evolve. I hate seeing people in this place but hope they will open the door in time.
2) "I am five or more minutes late, but can I come to class?"
Scenario: Class has begun. The first 5 minutes of class for most is the time to get centred. Students are communing with body and breath. Teachers are feeling out the room and giving instruction on how to transition or building the theme for the class. Then someone rolls in five minutes late, drops their mat down and clamors around for props. Mood Killer!
For Teachers: If you are teaching in a studio that allows people to come in late, ask them to wait until you are out of your opening relaxation posture (if that is your style) or find a natural break once the theme has been woven to let people come in. I will give the lovely desk person a short window that people are allowed into the room- only if there is ample space and it won't cause a commotion. Hard line? Maybe, but it is studio policy where I teach to not let latecomers in and I try to adhere to it.
For Students: Why do you people want to make your teachers cry? If you are going to a public class, be respectful and arrive 10-15 min early. Rushing to relax is silly. Give yourself the space to settle in and account for any delays on your trip. If you are late for class for a really good reason and the teacher is open to you coming in. Be mindful and QUIET as you set up. I am Canadian and it never hurts to apologize :)
2) "I am going to do whatever I want in class."
Scenario: Everyone in the room is in a standing flow. But there is one guy or gal rolling around on the floor (could be the same person who came in late). The teacher goes over to make sure everything is alright because even though she asked at the beginning if anyone had an injury- you never know. The offender says they are fine but they would rather do another sequence at the moment. Then guess what, the whole class is in Childs pose ten minutes later and the offender decides to work hand-stand at the wall, crashing away as everyone else is trying to let go.
For Teachers: When this happens in my class, I wonder if I am being mystery shopped by a hilarious Cosmic tester. Gently asking the person to stay with the group is usually enough if the person is a conscious human being. They may just be excited that they figured something new out and want to give it a test drive. At other times I have been met with out and out defiance as if I grew horns for asking them to be in union (also known as Yoga) with the person next to them. The bottom line for all teachers is that if a student is doing things that are disruptive or unsafe, you have every right to ask them to leave the class. Losing control of the room opens the door to disaster.
For Students: If you want to do your own practice, that is totally amazing, cool, great, but don't do it in a class with 20 other people. That screams "look at me, look at me" and has the opposite effect. Seriously, other students complain about you. Worse still, is it leads other students to start doing things beyond what the instructor asked, thus leading to chaos. If you are in a class that isn’t challenging enough or isn't a style you gel with, ask for a recommendation for one that is more your speed. Most instructors are happy to help you find the right fit, even if it isn’t in their class.
Thanks for listening to my rant--I feel much better having let that out. :) What are some other things you've seen bad yogis do in class?