I lost a student this morning. Nothing tragic, but a sweet, older student came up to me before class and thanked me, saying I was a good teacher, but that she had decided to start taking another exercise class closer to her home. I tried to be gracious, because I could tell she was worried about hurting my feelings. She then continued that she was frustrated that she couldn't do all the poses, even though she had been working on them at home, and that the class made her feel stupid. She was using an apologetic tone, and I could see that she felt betrayed by her body, rather than by the class itself.
I was truly sorry that she decided yoga wasn't for her; it's always frustrating not to reach some one. I feel a little responsible that the modifications I showed her weren't enough and that my encouragement to "work at your own pace" didn't resonate. But there's only so much you can do...
I wrote earlier about "true believers", but I'm pretty good at predicting who is going to leave class, too. It's so hard to get some students to dispense with the notion that this is a class about right and wrong, about being good at yoga and if you use props you are weak and have failed. I try to encourage everyone to consider their own bodies ("keep your eyes to yourself") and what version of the pose is appropriate for their own flexibility and strength--offering a gentle adaption here, suggesting an alternative pose there. Some take the advice and others frown and you can tell they're annoyed that they can't do the "real" pose.
This is not a competition, people! It's a tricky thing to un-learn, the need to achieve and to be the best and to be better than some one else. It's instilled at an early age and encouraged throughout our lives...maybe it can get you ahead in work and win a road race, but it's no help in the yoga studio.
I'm sorry that she decided to leave, but I certainly didn't want her to feel stupid or berate herself for having tight hips. Maybe she will find a better fit with the exercise class. I'll keep slipping blocks under knees or handing out longer belts or rolling blankets under heels and, hopefully, others will find a modification to their liking and stay.
What's a yoga teacher to do? (Inspired by this post at Now,This is Yoga. Thanks, Michelle!)