Ever wonder what your yoga students are thinking when they take your classes? I do. You look into their eyes and sometimes wonder if they’re enjoying themselves or not. I had someone in a recent class, a beginner, and he was working hard. Heavy breathing, a self-admitted newbie, eyes closed in what seemed like half-dazed confusion. When I went over to assist him, he turned to me with a big grin and said, “Thanks!” I must say, I was surprised.
Bottom line: You’ll never know what they’re thinking, unless, of course, they tell you.
Our goal as yoga teachers is to provide healthy, safe and enjoyable classes for our students. Depending on your background and training, what this looks like will vary. But the overall goal should be to provide a healthy experience in which students can grow and learn. Students will come to your classes with their whole life of experiences in their body and mind: their attitudes; habits; their ability to focus; their behaviors when challenged. They’ll bring their social skills, their struggles, their joys as well as their pains. When they come to the mat, you’ll most likely not be aware of much of this and yet it will color their entire experience.
As a teacher, you can either get caught up in these things, or you can keep moving forward, presenting poses and cues for breathing and mindfulness that will help them stay present. You can offer modifications, props and make eye contact when giving cues that you feel will assist them. You can use humor, speak from the heart and speak to what you see all as a method to keep them out of their heads and into their bodies and to inspire. All of this you can do, without ever getting into the no-win situation of trying to figure out if they’re enjoying themselves. And, of course, if they come up after class and say something like, “That was great!” you’ll know they enjoyed it. But keep in mind: sometimes classes that students don’t necessarily “enjoy” can, on some level, be the class that really helps them grow in new ways.
I had another experience recently with a private session. A woman brought a friend with her; an older man, with a kind face and a self-reported lifestyle that had him doing a lot of hard labor with his hands, he never had tried any yoga. He was there out of support and friendship for her, more than anything else, which of course, spoke volumes for their friendship. I led them through the basics, and I’ll admit, I wondered more than a few times, “What is this man thinking?”
We got to the end of the practice and as they came up from resting, he said in a deep voice, “I’ve got one thing to say.”
My heart kind of sank. I waited. He took a breath.
“ I’m glad I came to yoga.”