Monday, November 30, 2009

Class time

I had an interesting experience recently that I need to share with my yoga blog world. Perhaps some of you have experienced this and I’m wondering how you and your class handled it.

I lead a Power Vinyasa session in the Rocket Series tradition as created by Larry Shultz of It’s Yoga, San Francisco, once a month on Saturday. It is the follow-through on a workshop that the studio has hosted twice now and the students really enjoyed, myself included.

The usual suspects gathered on Saturday and we had one guest attend. As we began with our suyra namakar A’s and B’s, we all immediately noticed this practitioner was much more advanced in the practice than we are. Amazingly advanced. This practitioner was noodle-like in their poses, solid in their inversions, and seemed to almost levitate as the moved between each.

I’ve always felt that a person attending one of my classes should feel free to modify the pose to fit their body, to take a vinyasa if their body asks for it, or to do a variation on a pose, but I was rather floored when this practitioner did forearm balances during vinyasa’s, twisty-bendy things during other asana and I’m not entirely certain, but I think every single pose we moved through they did something different. It was nearly all I could do to keep my concentration on the session and to move the rest of the class forward. I know the class was covertly rubber necking when they could. Some admitted later they were just flat out watching.

I had the opportunity to talk to the practitioner after class and they were pleased with the session and thanked me for not pestering them about not doing vinyasa’s and sun sals because they don’t care for them. I admit I was greatly perplexed because they really didn’t do the session per say, they just did their own thing…the whole class. I’d like to add here, that I have had advanced practitioners before, but they’ve always followed the session and quietly slid in the subtle advanced poses. I’ve never had someone go so completely free-form on me.

So, dear practitioners and teachers, have you had this happen to you? Have you ever had such an incredibly advanced student attend one of your sessions and do something different the whole class? How do you accommodate the advanced practitioner? I can’t say ‘student’, because when they are working at that level, I’m only providing a framework for a session. I look forward to your thoughts and comments.


shinyyoga said...

Thanks for your post - it's really interesting. I've been in the situation where I've had both advanced students and newbie students working in my class at their own pace, and to be honest, I can see how off putting it is to other students around them.

Regardless of how you feel as the teacher, i know my main concern is making sure all the students who practice with me are safe. When you have someone working at a completely different pace to the others (ie everyone) it is not only distracting but can be very unsafe.

I think it's wonderful and very much encouraged in my classes to work at a level that is relevant to how you're feeling on this particular day - but I don't really see the point of coming into a class environment that is guided by a teacher, when you have no intention of pacing yourself with the class.

I can see benefits to both sides of the discussion - but my feeling is erring on the side of safety and caution for the majority of students, whilst not distracting others. x

sheron said...

ugh, yes, i have also experienced that (a few times) and it is definitely inspiring but also quite distracting to all. on that note though, i use it as an opportunity to dialogue or bring in the intention of staying focused on 'your own mat' and honouring your true practise. after class, i ask the practitioner why they chose to attend this class. i suggested to them that they might find a more advanced class to match their practise and gave them suggestions. i also clarified that this class is what is to be expected most weeks. but as i also am open to anyone coming and working at their own pace, they are welcome to return. other than that....i dunno. one practitioner did return, and has toned down his practise and also sets up at the back of the room.
i have enjoyed reading your blog,
thanks for writing.

yogiclarebear said...

gosh i have not experienced this to the level you’ve described. not really sure how id react. i guess id be wondering why the person chose to come and "free form" in a class setting, and i would wish the practitioner would question this themselves...maybe there is some ego involved. but that is just one thought, not a judgment.

Brenda P. said...

I think ego was totally involved. There is working at your own pace and modifying and then there is showing-off. Maybe s/he just wanted the energy of a group practice, but it was disrespectful to you and your students.

I find it very annoying when some one heads off onto their own sequence. It draws everyone out of their own work, including me, with no benefit to the rest of the class. The point of attending a class is to work together, under the supervision of a teacher who can provide assistance, guidance and thoughtful sequencing.

Unfortunately, in these cases, I often just simmer quietly. I've never had anyone that extreme, but the times I have had "mavericks" they placed themselves front and center. Very hard to ignore.

I think you handled the situation admirably!

Linda-Sama said...

I agree with Brenda. There is a big difference in modifying your practice in a group class and doing your own thing, i.e., showing off. If you are going to do your thing, stay home. Like Brenda said, I believe it's all ego.

That has happened very rarely to me, but a friend asked me how I would handle a student she had who would ALWAYS rush in late, make lots of noise, and then when people were in savasana, continue to do sun salutations or whatever. She said students would tell her (my friend) who disturbing this woman was and I said, in that case, you have to say something.

I also believe in cases like that it is also low self-esteem, a "look at me" thing, wanting attention and KNOWING that in a yoga class it is probably "safe" to do that - i.e., anywhere else and someone would probably tell them shut up, sit down, quit acting like a jerk!

Linda-Sama said...


I no longer label my classes. I teach yin but also "Mindful Yoga", a slow flow vinyasa. I teach to the level that the majority of the students are, so if an "advanced" practitioner -- and I do not consider someone "advanced" if they can put their leg behind their neck -- walks into my class and the majority of the students are "below" what they can do, too bad. I don't change my class for one person.

Kristin said...

Thank you everyone for your insightful comments! You have validated my thoughts and feelings on the situation and given me some great feedback.

ShinyYoga stated: "don't really see the point of coming into a class environment that is guided by a teacher, when you have no intention of pacing yourself with the class."

This was my thought exactly. The only thing I can think is he practioner wished to be with community. But if that were the case, as many of you noted, honor the class environment and leave the ego poses for another time.

Thank you!

Olive Tree Guitar Ensemble said...

Hi, it's a great blog.
I could tell how much efforts you've taken on it.
Keep doing!

Emma said...

That's a tough one... I believe in people coming into a class totally thinking they are going to follow everything, but then feeling their body intelligence directing them to other poses. Sometimes, it just doesn't work. In those cases, it might be more respectful to bow out, and continue the practice in private and understand that other people exist. Where's the line to making the practice your own, and the teacher just a guide, and taking over a class? I think you need to do what feels right: if you were uncomfortable, share it. If not, I guess it's okay...?

tricia said...

I always say to my classes "feel free to modify, if something is too much for you" and on another note I also say "feel free to take it up a notch if you want a little more challenge or are a little more flexible." I usually follow this up by saying "but please keep it in the realms of what I am teaching or what we are working on in that moment." This usually works for me. People have a little freedom if inspiration hits them during practice. Sometimes people can only get to a class based on TIME not necessarily based on class level or teacher.
Thanks for your blog I enjoy reading it!

Kristin said...


Thanks for reading!

I liked your approach with your more established students by adding: "but please keep it in the realms of what I am teaching or what we are working on in that moment."

A nice way to let them know they are free to add on, but to also keep it within the class parameters the instrutor is offering that day.