I have an 8 am Yoga class on Saturday morning. That is a tough sell for potential students, but in spite of the inconvenient time, my class has grown to roughly 8 regular students. I am very forgiving when people are late to that class because God knows over the last ten years I have had my share of mornings that I struggled to get there at 7:30 to set up the room.
This was “backbending week” and I had a nice sequence progressing from easier to harder poses. The class started with two students. After the second pose, four students, after the third pose, three more students. That was fine. I knew the students who were my regulars.
Then, a half hour into the class, another new student whom I haven’t seen before comes walking up the steps. “I was at the Church rummage sale and wanted to try out your class, I have 40 years of yoga experience,” she said. I told her that we were already halfway through class and I asked her to come back next week because she was too late. She cursed and left, grumbling to others that she was “not allowed in class.”
It sounds like I was being a jerk, but I was actually practicing Ahimsa. Safety is always my primary concern as a Yoga teacher. The woman looked like she had some health concerns as she had an unsteady gait walking up the steps. She also appeared to lack good judgement by assuming that walking into an unfamiliar class that was already in progress was okay.
Before a new student comes to class, I like to get a brief history of any medical problems they have. I am not a doctor, but I am trained to give students alternate ways of doing the postures if they have certain medical issues. For example, if someone just had ankle surgery, I will not teach them jumpings and give them alternate instructions when doing asanas that require use of the ankle joint. I am not comfortable teaching students until I have this brief dialogue with them.
So what does a teacher do when students act unsafely in class? There was a recent Elephant Journal post about what to do when students do their own practice and ignore the teacher’s instruction. The commenters sided with renegade student behavior and said teachers should have a dedicated space in the room for those who beat to their own drum. That does not sit well with me. In Iyengar yoga, there are very precise instructions. If the student is not mature to follow them and is doing things unsafely, I would probably ask them to try another teacher and refund their money.
That is easier said than done for many teachers who actually make a living doing yoga. If you teach in a gym/fitness center environment, you’d probably get canned if you showed someone the door. So therein lies the problem: does your teaching space allow for bafoonery at the expense of liability? Does ego win over proper Yoga teaching? Are you so desperate to make money off of Yoga, that you are willing to accept reckless behavior from a student who perceives themselves as more advanced than you? Not easy questions for many.
I used to do group substance abuse counseling. I used to kick people out of group so often for not following the rules, that it was rare when a group went by without any ejections. It is sad to say that it has come to this in the Yoga community. But if you don’t feel that the group is safe because of one student’s dangerous behavior, or if you feel that the student is a danger to his/herself, you have my permission to show them the door. You will gain respect from the true Yoga students. But be careful, you may just get the axe.
Great post. It is a tricky subject! I only had to do this once, years ago. At the time I was an addictions counsellor, so it wasn’t out of my repertoire, but it somehow felt different evicting a yoga student (for being intoxicated!) than a member of a recovery group. It’s a subject that should be discussed more thoroughly.
Thanks again for your wise words.
Sounds like your intoxicated student would be a good candidate for the recovery group (insert chuckle). Sometimes the most loving thing to do is show someone the door. I’m sure the other students appreciated it.
In the UK and Europe the general rule for group exercise classes: exercise to music, pilates, yoga, bootcamp, circuit, BLT etc if you’re 10 minutes late, miss the warm up you can’t attend. Regulars get away with maybe 10-15 minutes but that’s the general rule. Most people abide by it and the instructor will go up to someone who’s late and turn them away. No instructor/trainer wants to risk being sued!
As for doing my own thing in class. It’s nice not to have to think what comes next and be told. It’s the way I learn for when I practice on my own. If the pose is too tricky, I modify, practice later.
Sounds like you are ripe for a home practice if you don’t already have one. European students seem to have more common sense than many of us Yanks. We actually have to enforce the 10-15 minute rule here.
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I practice at home with Yogaglo so I’m half way there!
Agree completely 100% with what you had to do. If the student practiced for over 40 years, surely they should understand your reasoning for their own safety.
Teaching students in a group environment can be challenging in many ways, especially when you have to pull them back from a level or ask them to leave. I had a similar awkward moment with a student who smelt of alcohol a few years back, in the end I was able to convince them to just sit and breathe or practice savasana if they preferred. Thinking back, I can laugh at it now, but at the time it was such a stressful situation and tough class to manage.
No doubt in my mind you did the right thing.
I agree that money really seems to take over some teachers thoughts and actions; if I’m honest, I’m ashamed to say I saw the £ signs and not individual students in the early years (downside of teaching in a large gym studio), but now I just want people to experience and benefit all they can from yoga. For example, I have one student who just can’t afford lessons, but genuinely wants to study and they really do need a practice – it will be of great benefit to their health. So, they come anyway, if I can help them I will and if and when they want to pay a little then that’s ok. I kept it secret for quite sometime until another student found out. Initially I worried about the reaction to my decision, but as it turns out, now the other students chip in a few pounds evry-so-often to help cover some of the student’s cost. This is why I love yoga, practice yoga and share with others my tiny knowledge of the subject so far – the geniune community that yoga can create with complete strangers.
I’m pretty sure your 40-year student will be back some day to your class and when they do, they will be one of the first through the door.
Love the honesty in your post.
Thanks Darryl! That is a great story about the students helping each other out. Yoga classically is seen as such an individual thing, but it is a practice that cultivates compassion for others like no other spiritual practice I have experienced.
I gave your blog mad props in a post last week. Hope it sent some traffic your way.
Thanks Michael. I wondered why a got a boost in traffic from the other side of the world – thanks again.
I agree with the aforementioned comments! “40 Years of Experience” sounds more like a passive aggressive comment lashing out at you for calling her out on her better lack of judgement. (insert chuckle)
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Thanks Octavia! That was indeed a passive aggressive jab. I would hope that if I had that much yoga experience, I would not be wandering around looking for stray classes while at a church rummage sale. The more I teach yoga, the more I realize when someone feels compelled to tell you their yogic resume, the less evolved they are in their practice (even if they have “better” asanas than you). The ego is a tough beast to tame. I appreciate your comments and your “follow.”
I’ve not yet had to kick a student out completely, but i have as well turned away latecomers, and gently pull one one young woman aside to tell her she should bathe first. ( She complained about me to the studio afterwards and i lost a job over it, from her intense odor, it was worth it! ) I digress but, after 10-15 min how can they warm up sufficiently to not hurt themselves and be present? I have seen students kicked out mid practice…but only in ashtanga, in the mysore setting. There are the occaisional rogue characters that think skipping sequence or doing more than what the teacher has given them is ok, but its just not.
I think its important to have respect for the teacher, and have a list of dos and donts posted for my students as a helpful tool, that way if I mention something, I can state, nicely, didn’t you see the guidelines?..I have also only walked out of one class early. It was just so poorly taught, i couldnt sit and watch someone get hurt. The class was touted as resorative and mixed level but the teacher started with janu shishasana a…no warm up with lots of newbies in the space, and just went in a bigger downward spiral from there. Logical sequencing is important, the respect has to go both ways.
Very sad that you got fired for enforcing Saucha with your student with poor hygiene. You are much better off not teaching there anymore. As far as walking out on your Janu Sirsasna warmup teacher, one of the lonely truths of gaining experience in Yoga is that you tolerate less and less of poor teaching and wind up practicing alone more than in groups. But that is the classical progression. Thank you for sharing your experience Pzip.
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Interesting post, and equally interesting comments. Good to hear various perpectives.
It’s funny how you read this next to my blog about building community. Sometimes to build a strong class you have to throw out a few bad apples. Those “bad apples” are always welcome back if they want to adhere to common sense guidelines.