Do you ever talk to yoga instructor colleagues about certain types of students that you experience, and through that collaborate on effective teaching techniques for such students? As long as this does not venture into petty gossip, this can be very useful dialogue. I recently wrote an article for this blog about different types of challenging students that we encounter. Each student is unique, and a gift of presence, in his/her own way - and stereotyping never helped anyone. Yet looking at students in general categories can help us yoga instructors develop and refine certain strategies for best serving them.
I described these types from my own experiences - as an instructor, as a student, and from media about yoga I’ve taken in (books, videos, et cetera - which is also taken in through the lens of my own experience). I became curious about what types of students other yoga instructors have perceived, and how that has played into their teaching. I reached out to a few fellow instructors on the matter. These instructors are all active and experienced instructors based in Boston, MA. I hope that sharing their responses contributes to dialogue about how we instructors can best offer our knowledge, skills, and intuition as vessels of yoga for the world - to all whom we guide.
KB: What are some challenging types of students that you encounter? Why? How do you seek to best serve them as an instructor despite those challenges?
Tara Jackson: Some challenging students I've encountered are ones who don't know how to express what exactly they're looking for in a class. Months after graduating in 2014, I had a student after class demand from me, "make us sweat" and to move faster next class. I was so confused and offended at her tone. The next week when I taught that class I focused on more core and a strengthening sequence. To my surprise, although we moved slower than the student requested she noticed she gained more at this level. She told me, "I actually struggle with planks, that was very challenging for me. Thanks for class."
Johnathon Holmes: For me, the most challenging students are the ones who tend to “do their own thing” in class. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, I find it distracting. It impacts the overall energy of the group to have one student having a “home practice” in the middle of class. I’m always encouraging students to modify or level something up if it’s available, but that is not the same as seeing a student completely ignore you and take themselves a different direction. As a new teacher (2.5 years in), I struggle with how to deal with these students - do I leave them be? Do I politely ask them to follow along with the class? Do I speak with them after class (this is what my gut tells me)? As a teacher it is my job to hold space for everyone in the class – and if a student is acting in a way that is disruptive to me or other students, it is my job to remedy the situation.
Tiffany O’Connell: Oooh, this is a tough one because I really appreciate having students of all levels and limitations in class because they challenge me to be a better teacher. I am an extremely sensitive person and so I would have to say when I sense a struggle with a student, be it a pose or a mental/emotional block. I will often use humor, sarcasm or a relatable experience of my own to lighten their burden.
Jessica Pate: The most challenging student in class is the student who comes in looking to achieve something. This type of mindset is SO hard to escape in our culture because "achievement" is often used as a metric for success. Coming into a yoga class trying to achieve (whether that be a specific shape, state of mind, or feeling) can limit your experience and take away from the beauty of noticing things as they arise organically. My favorite part of the yoga practice is the unexpected. While I teach a strong, alignment based class, I try to take [my] students out of the mindset of a goal-driven practice by bringing attention to some of the intricacies of the body. By noticing small relationships within a pose and how our body and mind respond, we can start to shift our mindset into curiosity and acceptance rather than achievement and judgement.
Kathryn Boland is a Yoga teacher and a graduate of the Yoga teacher training program at: Aura Wellness Center in, Attleboro, MA.
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