Friday, June 29, 2012

What we expect of Instructors: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In the past I've talked about student quirks and what teachers sometimes cope with in any given class. I've also discussed the expectations on a student - new or not - in a yoga class. But lately I've been cogitating on our expectations for Teachers/Instructors - what things might jolt a student out of their practice, or make them shake their head and go "Say what?!"

You've been there. You cannot practice yoga and not have experienced something that made you snort in disbelief or cringe in awkwardness.

Here a few things that I've observed over the years that I've found disturbing, and I know mine are pretty mild compared to some stories I've heard.   You might have other observations - please share so we can all improve!

The Ugly

Toenail fungus. If that wigs you out just reading about it, imagine having said instructor step on your mat. Teachers (and students) please! pay attention to the condition of your feet. My gut reaction was I wanted to leap up and immediately clean my mat. I didn't want to even go near that spot so I spent the rest of class figuring out how to do asana while not grossing myself out. How's that for being yanked out of a practice?

Dried, cracked and dirty feet. Again, pay attention to the condition of your tootsies.

Coffee breath (bad breath in general). Not quite as bad as above, but it can be distracting and disturbing to be in a pose, have the instructor come over to offer advice or adjustment in the customary whisper, and be totally knocked out from bad breath. Not cool. Brush your teeth before class if you can, mints often just don't cut it.

Excessive swearing.  Actually anykind of swearing at all.  I was at a workshop with an internationally know instructor and this guy swore like a sailor.  Um...really?  Do you have to drop the "F" bomb to show us what a totally awesome Dude you are?  Made me laugh and shake my head and I couldn't take him seriously anymore.  

The Bad

Flow-y yoga clothes that aren't far removed from lingerie. As a student, I'm here to practice. Not watch you parade around in front of class in something that looks like it's come off the cover of Victoria Secrets magazine. I also don't need to see what kind of thong, boxers or BVD’s you are wearing today.

Lack of deodorant. Again, if you are moving into someone's personal space, don’t knock them breathless with lack of hygiene. Slap a little on before class to freshen up. It goes a long way.

Stepping on peoples mats. I fully admit I'm uber quirky about my mat. I do NOT like people touching it. I do NOT use public mats. Nothing grosses me out more (well, the toenail fungus thing does) than knowing someone with questionable feet stood where I'm now resting my face. As an instructor, I try very hard not to step on peoples mats.

Incense sticks. Many studios are generally small, confined spaces that may or may not have good air circulation. Please, don't leave the incense stick burning throughout class. There are scent sensitive people out there who find the smell cloying and suffocating and will react negatively to it. While I'm not scent sensitive, I can't stand the smell of four incense sticks burning away while I'm trying to move through my vinyasa session.   Phew!

Timeliness. Start and end class on time.

The Good

Learning people’s names. Yes, easier for some than others. Do try.

Check in with the class at the start. How is the class feeling that day? For example, up here in Duluth have a nationally recognized Marathon in our area that a lot of people run or volunteer at. I've learned to do a restorative flow class the Monday after the event - it encourages people to come and stretch and takes away the worry about 'making' through an ashtanga session.

Check in with the students during class. Teach yourself to recognize that the awesome sequence you came up with isn't coming across as well as you thought it would. Learn to ratchet back when necessary.

Acknowledge the White Elephant in the Room.  It puts everyone at ease.  An example, your Level II/Intermediate Vinyasa  class has a couple of drop in students who have never taken yoga before.  Let the regulars know by saying something as simple as, "we have a very mixed group today, from folks who are new to yoga to folks who've been practicing for X years. Remember to work at the level appropriate for you."  

Admit when you've goofed something up.  A simple whoops! Let's try that again, or Oops! That didn't work quite like I thought it would goes a long way.

Laugh at yourself. You are going to miscue a pose. You are going to screw up a sequence. You are going to misspeak. Instructors are human and we're multitasking when standing in front of a room. We are going to goof something up.  If you can laugh at yourself (out loud even!) it will go so much better.

Picture from the internet


Sara said...

Good observations and good tips! (I don't ever borrow a mat either if I can help it.)

Linda-Sama said...

I'm so with ya about stepping on my mat! Yoga teachers at workshops are the biggest offenders, NOT students!

Zaftig Diva said...

While traveling I participated in a yoga class that looked like preschool students. We moved around the room with various breath sequences and poses on the way to the zoo. That meant my mat was open for others to walk on. Peeved, I had to stop and roll my mat up.

Then there was my favorite teacher (for the moment as she played fab mantra music and spoke flow-y words, etc) who thought every class was about arm balances, no matter who we were or how our bodies were showing up that day.

Finally, there was the teacher who kept saying, "You're getting steadier and steadier." I ask her what that meant and she it was part of the script. Interesting what passes for yoga teachers these days.