Saturday morning, I taught my first assisted yoga class with the amazingly inspiring Aislinn. Aislinn subs fairly regularly at Just Be, as well as teaching at several other studios. We connected through the JBY assisting program this summer, and when she told me she owed me a favor after I subbed her class last minute the other week, I knew immediately what I wanted. She’s an extremely talented teacher and practitioner, but she also is extremely skilled in the art of assisting. I love offering assists to my students to keep them safe and deepen their experience, but often can’t get to everyone logistically in bigger classes. Having an assistant in the room wouldn’t just allow me to focus on teaching a well-rounded class, but also ensure that everyone had the best experience possible.
That morning, I felt like I was teaching a really good class. If you teach, you know the feeling: the music is just right, the energy is up, the cues are landing. I had a fun and creative flow that didn’t appear to be too difficult for the experience levels in the room, while still being challenging. Everyone was having a good time- I could see smiles as students tested their balance, toying with hovering their fingertips in the switch between parivrtta ardha chandrasana and ardha chandrasana, and Aislinn was tapping her feet to the music while waiting for her cues to jump in. Everything was going smoothly, and students were loving the assists.
Just as we were winding down from the flow and starting to slip into backbends, a student rolled up her mat, grabbed her things from the cubbies, and walked out the door.
I was surprised. Aislinn and I made eye contact across the room and silently shared our confusion. Things seemed to be going great, so why did someone leave early? My mind immediately went to, “What did I do wrong?”
I was even more surprised, however, at how quickly I shifted my perspective. Maybe she had somewhere to go, and didn’t tell me she’d be leaving early. Or maybe she simply was having a bad day. Maybe my style just didn’t quite land with her and she simply didn’t want to spend more of her time in the class (despite how long she had stayed so far). And then I remembered- as I was caught up in the middle of teaching the peak of the class, when energy is high and I need to keep it up with my cuing, the student tried to ask me to open the window. Not wanting to lose my momentum or trip up the class, I’d just kind of nodded my head, and forgot about it.
Perhaps this wasn’t the right way to go about things, but it’s hard to focus on teaching a class while accommodating the personal inquiries of every student. I’ve had this happen before, when I student physically got up from their mat as I was teaching Sun A’s, and asked if she could purchase a full length towel for her mat because she was having trouble with slipping. I was incredibly shocked, and it made me pause in my teaching, causing other students to be affected. I simply asked her to go back to her mat, and handed her a hand towel while I tried to regain momentum.
That’s where my only issue with student-teacher communication comes in: if it affects the rest of the class, and there isn’t a serious medical or otherwise issue, it should wait until after class, or during an extended resting or stretching period (such as child’s pose). That way, we as teachers have time to really focus on what they’re saying, and help them in the best way possible. It’s like trying to give an oral presentation in class while being interrupted with questions from the audience- it causes you to lose your train of thought and affects your performance.
The reality is, we as teachers want to maximize the experience of students. We want to help you find a mat towel, or the coolest spot in the room, but the key is keeping timing appropriate.
Just Be is an advertised heated studio. We make it very clear that classes will be kept around 80-85 degrees unless otherwise noted on the schedule. Different teachers have different philosophies on the benefits of heated vs. non-heated, but many students come to Just Be specifically seeking a hot class. Because of this, I don’t turn the heat down or the air conditioning on unless it is a unanimous class decision.
However, I probably would have opened the window if I hadn’t simply forgotten, because the student was polite in her request, just at an inopportune moment. Part of me wonders if she feels like her needs were ignored, and that’s why she left. I hope she understands that my intention was not to make her feel “less than” or not worthy of my attention.
So I had my first walk out, and I’m not going to lie, it didn’t feel great.
But at the end of class, most students thanked me on their way out for a great class, and one woman even described it as “the best yoga class she’s ever taken” (and she told me she’s taken quite a few!). A regular to my yoga classes, who’s smiling face always makes my days brighter, told me she loved the sequencing, and it included some of her favorite postures. Another student asked to take a peak at my playlist because she really enjoyed the music.
This really speaks to an important lesson in teaching yoga- your style will not resonate with everyone. If you seek to please every student that walks into your class, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Some people like a faster paced flow, and others prefer a class more focused on alignment and foundations. It’s not your job to try and be someone your not, but to instead focus on being the best you you can be, because someone out there truly does enjoy what you do, even if it doesn’t resonate with everyone.