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No matter how long you have been teaching yoga, there will always be something that comes up in a class that surprises and challenges you. Sometimes these things happen once, other times they keep continue to come up.

As with everything, it is all about how you respond to these occurrences and what you learn from them that matters most.

I have been teaching yoga for 12 years and have had many situations come up that were not taught in my yoga teacher training. This makes sense, as there is only so much that can be covered in a teacher training. And, as with everything in life, experience is the best teacher.

Recently, I have had a few occurrences come up in the past month that I have not experienced in many years.

As I thought about this, I realized that the way I handled these events was drastically different this time as compared to the first, second, third time!

Experiences That Came Up & How I Responded  

Being Compared to Other Teachers 

Comparison is a normal part of life (and yoga teacher's practice) and will always happen. I have done it many times when thinking of the places I prefer to do business and people that I prefer to be around, so it is going to happen at a yoga studio, gym, or recreation center.

Most times, my experience of being compared to another teacher has been along the lines of “you and Jim have very different teaching styles and I love how it brings balance to my yoga practice” or “I like how you and Amy are so similar – I always know what to expect in your classes.”

However, there can be times when frustration arises due to the comparison.

For example, I recently had a student at the end of class ask if I could teach more like another teacher in the recreation center that we both taught at.

The exact comment was: Elise makes us hold the poses longer and physically adjusts me, I’d like you to do that more.”

My initial thought to this request was annoyance because Elise teaches Power Yoga and I teach Gentle Vinyasa.

As we know, these are two vastly different styles with different reasons behind each style. In power yoga, holding the poses is typical to stress and build the muscles, creating more of a workout. Vinyasa by its very nature flows connecting breath to movement.

As most teachers, I have teaching preferences that correspond to my teaching style. Specifically, I have a strong preference against physical adjustments.

In the past, when this kind of request has come up, I have been defensive and focused on our different teaching abilities and philosophies if I knew the other instructor well enough to do so.

However, this time, I realized I could express my frustration as a time to educate the student about the differences between yoga practices and yoga teaching styles, focus on the fact that she was getting a balanced practice by doing both Power Yoga and Gentle Vinyasa yoga each week, and state my reasons for not physically adjusting, while being open to provide feedback to her after class if there was anything I noticed that would help her.

As a result, we both came away from the conversation feeling good and she still comes to both mine and Elise’s’ classes.

Late Arrivals & Early Departures 

Life gets busy, I get it!  I am very flexible to late arrivals and early departures because my main philosophy is that showing up and getting the most out of your yoga practice is what matters. Most times, this has been managed well.

Students will arrive within the first 15 minutes of class and quietly stow their personal items, find a spot to lay out their yoga mat and do so in an unobtrusive manner.

When leaving early, most people let me know before class starts that they need to leave early, and they set up close to the door to cause the least amount of distractions. However, there are times when this does not happen.

I like to give the benefit of the doubt to these situations. I also like to apply compassion to leaving early and creating distraction because sometimes noise cannot be helped.

In this instance, I was able to talk to the student before the next class they attended and inquire about their life – were things crazy busy? Did they have to adjust their schedule to get there on time?

Thereby starting the conversation of how happy I was that they are coming to class regularly and educate them of the importance of entering and exiting quietly to not intrude on anyone else’s yoga practice.

Participants Lacking Class Etiquette 

After teaching in a variety of places, I have come to realize that some spaces are more casual than others when it comes to class etiquette.

For example, a yoga studio promotes a more quiet, sacred space where awareness and respect of other’s space is key to being part of the community. While a gym still encourages this awareness and respect, it is okay to talk and chat with others before a class starts and students can engage with the instructor during class if they need additional assistance.

One of the most interesting experiences I have had while teaching a class came up years ago when I taught seal pose to a class for the first time and I still think of it often. For some background, I had been teaching this class for 4 years and had a group of regular attendees that felt comfortable with me and each other.

However, the minute we got into Seal pose, one of my students started barking like a seal which caused half of the class to burst out laughing and the other half to pause in stunned silence.

This was not that bad of an occurrence and the student did apologize, but it was unexpected and required a certain amount of grace on my part both in the moment and after class.

In the moment, I smiled and moved on as though nothing had happened, hoping to return to the calm environment we previously had attained. After class, I reminded everyone to respect the overall environment, keep comments to themselves during class, and feel free to share jokes, encouragement, and ask questions after class.

Our yoga classes are a microcosm of the world we live in and different situations are going to arise. Some easier to manage than others but all a part of working together, learning, and growing as a community, as individuals, and as student and teacher. 

In Conclusion

Your class and studio may have different ambiance from others in your community but at that is what makes it unique. It is how to you approach and react to unexpected events and situations that provide a safe space for your students to be who they are. Please note these experiences I have shared are personal and dive deep into my emotions. The overall message I want to convey as a yoga teacher is that there will be challenging situations... it is how you deal with them that create growth in your teaching and personal practice. 

Michelle Finerty
Michelle Finerty
Michelle has been writing professionally for over a decade. She started in the business world, focusing on cross-cultural communication and technical writing, and is now infusing the teachings of yoga with modern life, blending two of her passions...yoga and writing. Michelle also teaches yoga. Receiving her teacher training in Vinyasa Yoga in 2007 and adding Prenatal and Kids Yoga after becoming a mother. In her spare time, Michelle likes to meditate, hike, and read.