I bought a groupon the other day for a yoga studio close to my place, eager to soak up all that I could from local teachers. For me, taking as many classes and workshops as I can gives me the opportunity to learn and grow not only my personal practice, but myself as a yoga teacher.
I went to the studio, a small little place painted mustard yellow, and settled in on my mat to stretch. It was the middle of the day, so it wasn't a crowded class by any means. There were maybe seven of us.
The class was meant to start at 1:15pm. By 1:20pm, the teacher hadn't arrived, and I started to get annoyed. Because with parking priced at $1.50 per fifteen minutes, being fashionably late wasn't cool. At all. At 1:25pm, the front desk person came into the class to announce the teacher was running late. Which we already knew.
She finally showed up at 1:30pm, flew into the room in a dress, her hair disheveled and loudly exclaimed, "Sorry, guys! I'm going to change, just hang out in supta baddakonasana, and I'll be right back."
I got into supta baddakonasana, feeling grateful that my Sanskrit was good enough to know what pose she wanted us in.
I laid there, frustrated. I couldn't shake the annoyance that she was late, and that she had to change. Logically, I know it was pointless to sit and stew in irritability, but I couldn't shake it no matter how hard I tried.
I tried to cut her some slack. Come on, I thought, haven't you been late to a class?
Well late by whose standards? If a class starts at 1:15, I aim there between 12:55 and 1:00. If I am later than that, I consider it late. The latest I ever arrived was 1:10, which is pushing it, in my opinion. But 15 minutes after the class has started? No.
I have, however, been to workshops by famous teachers who have arrived late. I was slightly annoyed then, too, by the lack of professionalism, but the quality of the instruction was always so good that by the end of the session, I had completely forgotten about their tardiness. The thing is, stuff come up- car troubles, illness, whatever. I get that. But what happened next further irritated me.
Another five minutes went by, and she waltzed in.
"Soooo," she says, her voice dropping an octave and taking on a velvety texture, "Now that we're in supta baddakonasa, just go ahead and roll over into child's pose. Now we'll sit up on our shins and begin to lean back and slowly swing our arms out to the side and over head in a giant circle." She proceeded to demonstrate this dance-like movement, which looked beautiful, as it was clearly a part of her regular practice, but didn't work for Greg, who had knee surgery in October and shouldn't be putting so much pressure on his knee. She didn't give options to modify or to use props. She didn't look out at the students at all, but rather, kept her hair in her face, her eyes gently closed and proceeded to do her circle movement shin thing, lost in what seemed like her personal public practice.
The tardiness had bothered me, but the lack of attention to the students was maddening. To me, when I'm teaching a class, it's not for me. It's not about what I can do. It's about what the class needs. What their abilities are. It's about learning how to read their energy levels and abilities and being able to tweak the planned sequence to deliver a class that makes them feel good and most importantly, protects them from injury.
When we started the vinyasa, there were major cues that were missing. I mean, really major things like where to distribute the weight to avoid injury. I knew what to do to avoid injury in her sequence, so had it just been myself, I don't think I would've been so upset, but I am protective over Greg because I know he's still rehabbing his knee and needs to take extra care with it. Consequently, he wound up complaining of low back pain the following day. It went away a few days later, so it wasn't a huge deal, but the fact is that he didn't know what to do and he wound up in pain. Regardless of how long the pain lasted, the cues should've been there to help prevent it from happening in the first place.
Confession of a yoga teacher
And here's my confession. Are you ready?
I'm cringing as I write this, because I know it doesn't sound very good, but here goes. I tend to avoid taking yoga classes taught by teachers I don't know personally or have heard of through either friends or online for this very reason.
Classes like this one, where the teacher was late and off in her own world, essentially doing her own practice while the rest of the class side-eyes one another as if to say, 'What the f is going on?' make me feel like I've wasted my time (and money, with that insane parking rate), and that I should've stayed home and done a home yoga practice.
I feel really guilty for thinking that as my initial thought. I don't want to write any teacher off, no matter how late or how tuned out they are. It's not kind, and it doesn't make me feel good at all. In fact, this avoidance makes me feel worse. Further, when I look at my own teaching, I know that it is absolutely, positively not perfect. And probably will never be perfect. (Is there such a thing?)
So I sift through all the junk that comes up. I see the ego getting in the way with the passing thought that it was a waste of time to take a class like this. I see that the real issues are that I dislike having things pop up I can't control (a teacher's tardiness resulting in my schedule being thrown off and having to pay more for parking), and I dislike being out of my comfort zone. I always try to tell myself that all experiences, good or bad (but especially the bad), have a lesson.
Regardless of the quality of the teaching, being a student is a huge lesson. If the teacher is incredible, then I'm likely to feed my practice with their sequence. I'm likely to soak up something new, be it learning a new transition, or a subtle-body cue, or something from their method of teaching.
If the instructor leaves much to be desired, it's still a lesson. It's a lesson in listening to my own body and remaining true to what I know I should or shouldn't do to ensure my own safety. It's a lesson in letting go of expectations and letting each experience happen without judgment.
Like with everything, it's a process. I'm going back to the studio this weekend. I plan to try to get my other nine classes in over the next few weeks I have left in LA. And I'll make a point to going back to this particular instructor's class, this time with a determination to extend compassion instead of judgment, knowing that we are all doing the best we know how.