Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What I Learned From Teaching One Student

As a new yoga teacher, I've been struggling a lot this summer. Mostly with trying to find exactly what it is that I have to offer the students who show up for my classes, but also with the fact that my class sizes this summer have been small. I mean, really small. The biggest class I taught was 12 people, but that was only because I was subbing at the last minute, and these people had all showed up for a different teacher.

So, yeah. Trying not to take it personally, but there's that little part of me, and I'm sure everyone has that little part, that starts to wonder: What if I really suck?

Also, I've been struggling with teaching these smaller classes (sometimes just two people) because for me, I feel like I can get "lost" in a crowd of more people. When it's just me and two people, I felt very exposed, very vulnerable, like all my flaws and insecurities were going to be right out there for everyone to see and criticize.

Insecurity really sucks, you know?

SO, on this one particular Tuesday evening, I arrived at the studio early and began to just straighten up. I swept the floor, rolled straps, folded blankets, and just made the place look nice. When I was finished, I began to do a little bit of my own practice, just to get grounded and go over in my head what I wanted to teach that evening, if anybody showed up.

Around 5:45, someone came into the studio and introduced himself. Lord help me, but his name went right out of my head as fast as it went in. But he filled out the required forms and we started to chat for a few minutes about hiking and Keene and Canada. It felt almost like I was talking to an old friend, someone that I had known for years. He told me about his yoga practice back home, and how he did mostly power yoga, and I thought, oh, Lord, he's gonna HATE this class.

Pretty soon, I realized it was 6:05 - and he was the only one there for class. I don't mind admitting that I was freaking out a little bit as I hung the "do not disturb" sign on the door. Holy hell, I was about to give a private lesson, and I just didn't feel ready.

I asked him if he'd ever done any Ashtanga, figuring that I could fall back on the set sequence to take some of the pressure off me. He said that he had, so good, I decided that we'd start in mountain pose, in standing, and use that as a little bit of standing meditation.

So there I am, standing on my mat, in front of my one and only student for the evening, eyes closed, trying to focus on my breath, and the whole time, my mind is screaming at me: You can't do this! Run! Get out of here! Go! Now! Why are you still here? Tell him you can't do this, and leave!

And then, from somewhere, came that brave little voice in my head: No. Stay here. You got this. Fuck it, right?

Fuck it, indeed.

So, I turned up the music a little bit. And we moved through some sun salutations as a warm-up. And we started moving through the standing series.

And you know what? It really was okay!

About halfway through the standing series, he opened a dialogue with me, and we started talking about extended side angle pose. It was easy! I could so relate to what he was saying! Woa!

We moved on to some balancing poses, and this was where something sparked in me. I felt alive - THIS is where I found something I could offer my student. I love my balancing poses. I've been doing them, literally without even realizing it, since I was a kid. Ah-ha! We even had an ah-ha moment, when I explained where I was feeling the muscles working when I held wind-removing pose.

By the time I led him back down to sit on the mat and move through a brief cool down before savasana, I was feeling pretty good. I felt like I had found something!

After we were finished with practice that evening, he said to me, "Thank you so much for staying and conducting class. It was a lovely class. I've been to studios back home where I show up as the only one, and they cancel class on me right there, so thanks for taking the time to do a class for me tonight." And it turns out that he used to be a martial arts instructor, and he would do the same - if one person showed up for class, he always took the time to give them a good lesson.

So, wow. I was blown away by all of this.

I gave him a schedule and recommended that he come back for Robin's Thursday night vinyasa class, as it's fun and a little challenging, too.

Well, Robin didn't teach that evening, but he showed up, again, and set up next to me for class. And it was just really lovely to practice next to this man, who was totally okay with dropping down into child's pose when he needed to, who was really comfortable with the idea of honoring himself through his practice. There was just this nice energy in our little corner of the room that evening, and I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to say goodnight to him when he left.

The next morning, I went back to the studio for my Friday morning class, expecting another low turnout, but this time, I had had time to think about what he had said to me on Tuesday. I had time to consider where I wanted to go with my teaching.

What I decided, after that one experience teaching a single student, was that maybe what I have to offer is best received in a one-on-one basis. Maybe I need to teach students in small groups, or privately, in order to be able to reach them. Maybe that's just what I need to do.

So when my student from Tuesday showed up again on Friday, along with one of my regular students from this summer, I was thrilled to do a class with just the two of them. I enjoyed focusing my attention on THEM - I offered support with props, with bolsters, with adjustments. And at the end, when we sealed class with the vibration of Ohm, it was beautiful. My student from Tuesday and I were the only two who Ohm-ed, but after a few seconds, I couldn't tell which voice belonged to him, and which one belonged to me.

It moved me right down to my bones.

We ended class with a warm handshake, and he got in his car to head home to his family, and I got back into my car to head out for the rest of my weekend.

I don't know if I'll ever see this person again in any of my yoga classes, but I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude for showing me something about myself, and for helping me become a better teacher. And that is what the practice is all about, isn't it?

1 comment:

  1. Teaching privates, intentionally or not, is a great way to hone your teaching skills and really connect with your clients. You have amazing gifts to share with each and every one. Never discount your own experience as knowledge you can teach.