One of the things I'm most grateful for, when it comes to teaching yoga, is my background in education. I have a Master's Degree in Secondary Education and while I don't use all that I've learned (ie. I don't have a use for homework passes anymore), some of the things I learned (like classroom management) have been so helpful to me in my yoga teaching. In all the years that I've taught, I've had my fair share of "disasters" and a variety of responses, depending on the level of "catastrophe" that I thought I'd share here for future reference.
The Wow Factor "Disaster"
In Kenya, our yoga platform looked out onto the plains where elephants would regularly come up and splash around in a nearby watering hole. And I don't mean, like, you could sort of see them if you squinted. I mean, like, they were RIGHT. FREAKING. THERE. Understandably, it's hard to focus on yoga when you're in the presence of one of the most incredible animals on the planet in its natural habitat, so there were a lot of, "OMG LOOK!" moments. To be clear, this is not a "disaster" at all, which is why I put the word in quotes. But what do you do as the teacher? Do you encourage people to stick with their practice or do you encourage them to bust out their cameras and take in the moment? I personally let people decide for themselves. It was hard for all of to stick with the yoga, and not stop and take in the beauty of what was happening before us. Especially because it was right in front of us.
Years ago, in Costa Rica, we had monkeys in the distance. It was cool, but they were so far away, that it wouldn't have made sense to stop and take out cameras or anything because you couldn't have captured them on film. So my advice, for any teachers running a retreat - let the students make the call for whatever they want to do. Ultimately, it's their trip. If the entire group wants to stop and acknowledge what's going on, let them, but be mindful of the people who are eager to get back to their mats.
The Freak Out "Disaster"
A few years ago I was teaching in Germany. At the beginning of class, I explained that during savasana, I would come around with essential oil which I'd put on my hands, and hover my hands above each person so they could have a little aromatherapy before I adjusted them. Well, a woman came in about fifteen minutes late, missing my announcement, and positioned herself at the very back of the room, in the corner. I'd completely forgotten about my announcement, and went around, one by one, to about forty or so people in class during savasana, as explained. Finally, I got to her, and hovered my hands over her face....and she screamed bloody murder. People literally jumped from their mats and the peaceful savasana vibe went to shit. I couldn't figure out what had startled her until I realized she'd missed the aromatherapy announcement and I had forgotten to tell her ahead of time. There's no real way to bounce back from that, especially given she was the last person I was adjusting. So we all had a good laugh and I learned my lesson that I need to remind everyone before savasana starts that I'll be coming around. My advice? There are so many directions I could've gone in that scenario. I could've been annoyed with her for coming in late and missing the announcement. I could've been angry at myself for not reminding everyone before savasana began. But sometimes you just need to laugh it off and learn how to prevent it from happening again.
The Technical Difficulties "Disaster"
I love practicing yoga to music, and I put a lot of time and energy into creating yoga class playlists. But if you're a teacher who heavily relies on music, I suggest you practice teaching every once and a while without it because inevitably, there will be a time when the speaker doesn't work, the cord cuts out, or the bluetooth can't connect and you'll be stuck. Then you've got two options. One, spend precious time troubleshooting (and risk losing the vibe of the class as people begin to talk amongst themselves, and get up and move around), or two, soldier on without it. My advice? If you really need the music, put people in a restorative pose and then spend maybe one minute - max! - troubleshooting. If it doesn't work, move on without the music. People spend a lot of money to spend their time practicing with you. Don't disrespect that by wasting too much time trying to figure out the technical side of things. Also, learn to teach without the aid of music so you're not completely thrown off if you have no choice put to go on without tunes.
The Not Enough Equipment "Disaster"
A while back, I taught a yoga retreat in Greece. I was told there would be blocks and bolsters and enough props for everyone. But then I arrived and we were short on props for about six people. I'd planned a really incredible yin workshop that required props, and I was devastated. But then, I got creative and found a solution. I'd teach half the class one thing, and half the other, and then they'd switch. So, I set up the room so that every other student had a bolster, and every other student had two blocks. I put my blocks people in one pose, and put my bolster people in another pose. They'd stay there for about five minutes, and then we'd switch props. We continued like that for an entire class, and it worked extremely well. So, my advice for teachers who walk into a space expecting X amount of props and coming up short? Get creative!
The Injury Disaster
I recently taught a workshop in which we were focusing on arm balances. I'd done the demonstration and now the students were practicing on their own, while I went around the room helping those who needed it. Suddenly, I heard a crash. A student had fallen, and hit her nose on the edge of her stainless steel water bottle. There was water, blood and tears, and internally, I was panicking. Has she broken her nose? Is she concussed? Is she going to pass out?! All these things were running through my head as I rushed over to her. At the same time, I didn't want to cause alarm for the other students, nor embarrass the student who had fallen by making a huge deal of it...but I also wanted her to know I cared and was concerned for her wellbeing. I am notoriously bad at staying calm during intense situations, and I just kept trying to remind myself to breathe slowly, and maintain an even tone of voice. We got her ice, and towels, and luckily I had an assistant with me who helped out after I initially assessed the situation so I could carry on teaching. It's hard because I didn't want her to feel ignored, but I also didn't want the other students to feel ignored either. Essentially, I was honest with her and said that I wanted her to know I was concerned, and asked if there was anything else I could do. I also followed up with her via email. My advice to teachers is to do whatever you can to stay calm. Then, immediately address the situation while simultaneously giving your other students something to do. Luckily, mine were already working on their own arm balances, but you could tell your students to do three to five vinyasas and then wait for you in downward dog. I think it's important to give the other students something to do so they don't all stare at your student who is already going through enough. Then, see what needs to be done to help, and enlist the help of an assistant, or the student next to the one who's been injured to get ice or call for help, if needed. And then lastly, follow up.
I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you're a teacher, have you had any "disasters" in class? Or students, have you had any "disasters" happen in class? How'd your teacher handle it?