Tag Archives: subbing

Nose to the grindstone

My teachers are in Pune for March and that means subbing for me. I was not able to sub as much this month as I did when they went to China six months ago because of new care giving duties. The woman who was helping back in October found another job, and my wife and I have been tag teaming like parents to get my mother-in-law to daycare and other duties.

I do have to admit I got a bit burned out when I subbed last October which meant I taught upwards of eight classes per week. Of course that was coupled with a lot of personal loss. Now I will be teaching about 5 classes per week. Not as intense.

The good thing about my studio is that the next crop of teachers in training will get opportunities to assist with classes which takes a lot of pressure off. They are the cream of the crop of my teacher’s classes and it will be exciting to see how they develop as teachers themselves. Teaching is an entirely different skill set than practicing.

My teacher Ray left us all a nice note at the studio to take time to work on our own Sadhana even when we are subbing. It was a gentle reminder. As yoga teachers we have to take care of ourselves. It seems like a no brainer that we would, but I have seen a lot of teachers neglecting their own health and relationships to teach insane schedules in addition to having a job and families.

Balance is always something I try to fight for. The universe can sure flick a lot of responsibility your way. A good practitioner can manage, but must be constantly vigilant about conserving one’s energy.

So I am looking forward to the challenges of this month. I look forward to seeing students I haven’t seen for a while in addition to new faces. Hopefully I can maintain the standards of my teachers and even teach their students something new. But the main service is keeping our humble studio moving ahead in the absence of my teachers.

Many blessings!

 

 

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Taking the student’s suggestion

I was subbing yesterday evening. When I sub, I try to treat all of the students with kid gloves because I was chosen as a representative of the teacher. It was “restorative week” and I was teaching prasarita padottanasna as seen above. There is a stage one and stage two of the pose. Stage one, head is up, stage two, head is on the floor.

A good teacher uses “landmarks” aside from just “right, left, front and back.” So in stage one, I was telling the students to lift their head and look toward the parking lot. After about three times in this pose I heard a student say “may I offer a suggestion?”

In the past, that question has been fraught with many pitfalls from “can you play music in your class?” to “why don’t you heat up the room like hot yoga classes?” And since I didn’t know this student, I was braced for the worst.

“Can you say ‘mountains’ instead of ‘parking lot,'” the student asked. I turned around and saw this outside the studio window:

Rainbow

 

So from now on I will say: look to the rainbow! Brilliant suggestion.

Flowers for my teacher

I am subbing for my teachers more frequently. They are regularly traveling to China to do yoga teacher trainings, and are now doing their own teacher training in La Mesa, Calif. When they travel, I try to help them out as much I can. This nice thing about the Iyengar community at my studio is that we all “grew up together” since the studio began the mid 2000s. Many of us recognize each other on the street on a first name basis. So when I sub, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel about who I am and what I’m doing there.

On a night last week, one of the Intermediate students brought a large bunch of Narcisssus flowers to my teacher for Chinese New Year’s which is a big deal in Hawai’i. I suppose he didn’t get the memo that she was traveling. He looked sad and said that the flowers would surely die if not attended to properly. He said they are finicky and the water needs to be changed daily. And they prefer cold water.

When one subs, one has to take on all the studio’s responsibilities to the best of one’s ability. So I did what any other good sub would do and take the flowers home to take care of them until my teacher for whom they were attended returns. I also recruited my mother-in-law help me. She had a stroke back in her 50s, but loves flowers. And these are beautiful from the daffodil family, they seem to brighten her day a bit. They also have a delicate and fresh fragrance.

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So hopefully I don’t destroy these flowers before she gets back week. Yoga subbing is the labor of love…

 

 

Subbing in the shadow of the popular teacher

superstar teacher

I sub a lot of classes. As seen in my previous post Why I Only Teach Two Classes Per Week, one of the reasons why I keep my own schedule light is so I can provide service to teachers who need to take time off. I have a busy end-of-summer subbing schedule for teachers who are one or two levels above me. I have subbed so often for the other teachers at my studio, that I have earned some respect. That respect is hard to earn as a sub.

I’m sure many of you have your own preferred teachers. You go to their class, see the sign that they are on vacation and that there is an unknown sub. You may leave, or you may stay. As a frequent sub, I have been on the other side of that schtick for so long that I would like share a few of my thoughts about how to deal with the group dynamics that are thrust upon the unsuspecting sub.

To see where I am coming from, I encourage you to see the movie “Bad Words” to get the spirit of what it is like to be the sub for the popular teacher. The quick plot is a 40-year-old man finds a loophole in how to enter a spelling bee for middle school students. He is booed mercilessly from the contestants’ parents on his mission to “win” the nationals. I will spare you the other details of the film, but you get the gist. The sub of the popular teacher is instantly persona non grata.

In the film, the character played by Jason Bateman is booed so often, that he waves his hands like a symphony conductor every time the audience turns on him. This is the attitude one must have to withstand the psychic onslaught of students who are none too pleased with your presence.

bad words

I follow some hard and fast rules when subbing any class. First, I follow proper etiquette of asking students if they are new or injured or menstruating. Being a male, I have to ask the latter question delicately, but not so delicately that it is awkward. There is a fine line.

Secondly, I start and end the class during the time as it is posted on the schedule. Some teachers are liberal with their start and end times. I had a teacher in Las Vegas go over for an hour! My poor wife had to wait in the hot parking lot for me. Hence, I am stickler for schedules, and I realize people appreciate the predictability of when they will get out of class.

Lastly and most importantly, I only teach the poses that I know well. Perhaps the popular teacher is so advanced, they have glossed over the obvious details of foot placement and all the other minutia seen in my other posts about how to do basic poses.  You will always appear more confident when you teach what you know, no matter how “basic.”

There are major pitfalls to avoid when subbing for the popular teacher. The first is to try to mimic the teacher’s style. I’ve been to classes where the sub does this and it drove me nuts. You will come across as insincere and like you are “making fun” of the teacher.

Another sure way to failure is try to teach poses that are more “advanced” because you think that is what the students want. I have done this in the past with miserable results. You have a good chance of injuring someone that way, and fulfilling your prophecy of being “inferior” to the regular teacher.

When you come across the student who has an injury, you ask them what their teacher is doing to work with that injury. For example, someone with a hamstring injury should not be doing forward bends unless they have been given very specific instructions on how to do them without further injuring themselves. I would most likely not allow them to do forward bends at all. If in serious doubt, I will tell them to sit out the class and refer them to a more senior teacher. This takes me and the studio out of a position of liability. I have angered some students by doing this in the past, but it shows that I am serious about their safety. It is practicing Ahimsa.

Now that I have a few seasons of subbing for popular teachers under my belt, I am realizing that those students who are serious about yoga will stick around to see what you have to offer. The ones who leave in a huff are better off not in your class. They are not ready for what you have to offer them, and you don’t have to deal with their ‘tude. Time and time again, some of those students of the popular teacher end up coming to my regular class where I am not the sub.

 

My battle within: the request to sub a recently deceased yoga teacher’s class

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A few Sundays ago, I got an email that kept me up all night. It was a request from the president of the other Iyengar yoga studio on the island asking me to sub. There was a catch: the class is for a teacher who succumbed to breast cancer and passed away two weeks ago. Her services were last week.

This request created an internal conflict for me. First of all, I could not even imagine how to approach these students who are bereft of their teacher. The late teacher had taught the class up to two weeks before her passing!

The right thing to was to teach the class. I had known the teacher and she gave many years of service to the community. Yoga Sutra I.4 talks about how sometimes the seer identifies with their mind-stuff agitation and that causes pain. As you can tell, I let my mind go everywhere!

The next task was to design the sequence for the class which is advertised as “Level 1” and is an hour long. The president of the studio requested I do a restorative class, but from my counseling experience (that is what I do for a living) I felt that 10 minutes in Supta Baddhakonasana would only have the students dwell more deeply in their loss.

I considered back bends as they are good for depression. But these students are not depressed, they are just grieving. The first stage of grieving in the Kubler-Ross model is shock. I was shocked when I found out about this teacher’s death as I had known her and saw her looking healthy just a year prior. The students were probably just as shocked because they saw the quick progression of the illness on their teacher.

It is forward-bending week at my studio, and I felt that nothing is better for shock than a forward bending sequence which quiets the nervous system. So my sequence involved a few standing forward bends like Prasarita Padottanasana and Parsvottanasana. I also had them do Janu Sirsasana toward the end finishing in a not-too-long Savasana–remember I did not want them just to lie there and think about their loss.

I arrived at the locked studio 15 minutes early and there were a few students waiting. They did not say much and their body language did not indicate they wanted to socialize. Soon afterwards, the student with the studio key came riding up on her bike–it was my first yoga teacher from 15 years ago! She did not stay for class as she was attending a workshop (thank goodness, as the only thing more stressful than teaching this class, would be to teach it in front of my first yoga teacher).

I started the class with the invocation to Patanjali and informed the students that as an Iyengar community this is how classes begin. Some knew the chant, while others just stayed quiet. The air was thick with stoicism which I could not tell was coming from me or from the students or a little bit of both.

As I started with my first few poses, I even took a few stabs a humor which was met by silence. Ugggh, this was going to be a long hour! I felt much like a comedian who was bombing his act with a hostile crowd. I stuck to the sequence I laid out and got into the instructions. Once I settled into the rhythm of the class, the students lightend up and responded well to my corrections of their poses.

At the end of class I was demonstrating Savasana and had a terrible tongue slip. I said that most people just flop down and “die” in Savasana, and you have to “die formally” by rolling the spine down symmetrically. I grimaced internally at my poor choice of words. But rather than rebuke, the students all laughed heartily. For some odd reason, this was the right thing to say.

After the class, the students thanked me for teaching and commented how good the class made them feel. A few other students stayed back an processed their feelings about the deceased teacher and how traumatic it was for them to watch her deteriorate each week. She had taught the last class in a wheelchair with assistance from another teacher and she could barely talk.

Waiting for me after class was my wife and my hanai niece Sasha. This was supremely normalizing. My niece was happy my wife bought her the “Frozen” dvd, and we all went to the Old Spaghetti Factory for dinner. When I returned home, waiting for me in the mailbox was my diploma signed by BKS Iyengar. Perhaps this was my final rite of passage before becoming fully certified. May my colleague rest in peace and know her teaching has brought peace to many students in her community. I would also like to thank her for the opportunity of teaching her students.

diploma