Thursday, July 16, 2009

You Win a Few...

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!)


10 comments:

Linda-Sama said...

In my 8 years of teaching, I have not been wrong (yet - never say never) about who will stick with yoga and who will not. I know this in the first class.

like I said, I'm batting 1000.

shinyyoga said...

Oh I know how you feel.. I see many students come and go because I can't even offer any of them props except for the towels they may bring.

Most gyms will not offer props for yoga which can make all the difference.

It's also a challenge to let people understand that it's not a race or a competition - some of my best classes have been when I admitted I needed props and needed to slow down. How freeing!
x

Mary said...

My very first yoga student ended up leaving my class, too. He was a retiree, and I think really looking for inner peace and maybe even the meaning of life. He took privates and group classes with me. I saw physical improvement, but he was frustrated, he didn't think he was improving...and I'm not sure that the yoga "gave" him what he was looking for. He told me that he enjoyed my teaching and that one day, he just knew that he wouldn't come back, it wasn't a decision per se. The funny thing is that since then, he has conquered some major personal issues/problems, is volunteering, going to therapy and reading books about awakening. Who's to say that yoga wasn't a catalyst on the path?

At any rate, I didn't take his leaving personally. We still keep in touch and I am grateful for his initial interest. I think yoga is a mystery, and we don't always know where it's going to take us, or how long we'll be on the ride! ;-))

P.S. I've never commented before, and I want to say that I enjoy your blog.

Anonymous said...

This post really resonated with me. I have been teach for 12 years and I too still take it a little personally when I "lose" a student, over the years I have developed a thicker skin, but sometimes it still bothers me, especially if it has been a long time student that has suddenly stopped coming with no explanation. But I have learned that there are often other external reasons for there absence. At on point in my teaching "career" I too thought I could tell the ones that would "stick" with it and I too was " batting 1000 " as Linda says. But since I have moved to my new state ( 5 years ago) I have been proven wrong on many occasions and it still baffles me, so much in fact that I have stopped trying to predict who will be back or not. One interesting thing that i have noticed is that if someone is overly vocal and enthusiastic about how wonderful the class was and what a great teacher I am....I can almost be 100 % sure that they will either not come back at all or only for one or 2 classes. It's the ones who come in and don't really talk to much, just take a seat and do there Yoga and leave with just a quiet and gentle thank you that have been coming to class every week for over 5 years, and they are why I'm still teaching : )

Jenn said...

Thanks for this post Brenda. We wouldn't teach if we didn't believe in the power of yoga...whether in helping to maintain a healthy happy body or as a broader life practice. But yes, it's hard when you just don't get through. I struggle when I can't "convert" someone no matter how hard I try. But I'm learning to be thankful for the time we had together and let them go in search their search. Sigh...not easy.

A Yoga Mama is a Rama Mama said...

I'm always saying "it's not a race" and wonder a lot if I'm talking to deaf ears. Yet, even if one listens, I'll be happy. :)

Eloquent post and just what another yoga teacher needed to hear. Thanks, Brenda!

Linda-Sama said...

"if someone is overly vocal and enthusiastic about how wonderful the class was and what a great teacher I am....I can almost be 100 % sure that they will either not come back..."

So very true!

When I first started teaching 8 years ago, I too used to take it "personally." No more. Me and my style either resonates with you or it doesn't, and I am so not attached now that you might think I don't care whether you come back or not. but that's not the case -- I just stopped trying to figure it out and I know that nothing is permanent and things are as they are. a student not returning is neither good nor bad, it just is.

besides, I've had students return to my classes after a multi-year hiatus. again, it is what it is. I heard Seanne Corn say in a workshop once, she'd rather teach to the 2 who "get it" than the 10 who don't. I feel the same.

Mary said...

I've struggled with this, too, and I just thought of something.

Maybe if you made a point of using the props, too, when you needed them? I don't know - it's a difficult thing to teach.

Brenda P. said...

An older fellow who joined the class last session and desperately tried to do every "advanced" version of each pose is back for the second session this summer. I couldn't believe it when he walked in yesterday and, yet, I was proud of him.

He still isn't listening to me, but he's making an effort and showing up, which is more than half the battle.

I am a crummy prognosticator...

Brenda P. said...

Mary-good point. I try to do the poses in the modified positions, sometimes, so that students feel they have "permission" to back off from the full version. Other times I have everyone do a modified version to see how lovely and opening it can be (esp. with Gomukhasana arms and a belt).

An ongoing battle...so to speak.