A yoga friend recently told me that whenever she had a ‘good practice’ in class she always made sure to tell the teacher what a great class it was; if she didn’t have this experience she simply said a brief thank you as she left.
Wow, really? I observed that, while I take care to offer gratitude, I rarely commented on class to the teacher. If I’m feeling particularly talky after class (which is rare) I might venture to observe something about the overall experience of my practice (or my savasana!) but I don’t link it so directly with the quality or nature of the class that day. And actually I don’t think it’s my place to evaluate the class or my teacher’s abilities 🙂 My friend clearly thought I was incredibly rude until I explained my thinking: I just trust that my teacher offers his best teaching each time, as I offer my best practice each time. Whatever that is on the day. So there’s no evaluation needed in either direction. It just is. And it’s different all the time, of course. And my friend suddenly cracked a smile, a spark of amusement as she realised “But I don’t trust my teacher like that!”
The conversation came back to me this week as I was checking in with my own students before class. Early in the year there are quite a few new faces every week and I like to be available in case they need anything. So I asked one of them how her first class the week before had been. “It was amazing” she gushed. Very nice to hear but it wasn’t the answer I’d expected. It felt more like we were at a party chatting about yoga socially, rather than what I needed to know as a teacher. So I tried a different question about how she felt afterwards, any physical niggles or worries. “I felt amazing” she gushed again, with a beaming smile, a little wriggle of the shoulders and a toss of her pony-tail. Well, I guess that’s all good then!
I realise that that while it’s always nice — and an undoubted ego-boost — to get enthusiastic comments about my teaching, that’s just words. What’s much more amazing is watching my students during their practice. I’ve recently been bought a stack of yoga blocks and I’ve been encouraging my students to use them, teaching them how a block might support their asanas, and encouraging an exploratory attitude. And they’ve totally embraced all this and I see some beautifully open postures starting to replace the rather cramped forms I used to see. The wisest part of me, and the model I have in how I see my own teacher behave, tells me this is all I need in terms of feedback about how my students are doing. You can’t fake an expansive asana to please the teacher or to avoid a socially awkward conversation about how you found your first yoga class!
And when I got back to my desk after teaching my class there was an email from another student, thanking me for class. She said she felt such peace and joy at the end. This, of course, was lovely to read. But I realise I didn’t need to read this, I knew it already. I had seen the look on this student’s face at the close of the class and I could see she was in another place, that she was subtly transformed during the course of practice. I am learning to read bodies and faces and this is a source of wonder to me, and it’s this that will help me offer the best teaching I can in every one of my classes.
My teacher talked about his teachers in his class this week, a little about lineage and respect. I felt a little awkward: I’d just told him that I didn’t want any hands-on assists during class that day and I wondered a little whether he saw this as disrespectful, and whether I myself fail to demonstrate the enthusiastic and open attitude I so value in my own students.
Perhaps it comes back to trust again? I trust that he knows I’m offering my best practice. I trust that he will know I mean no disrespect and I don’t lightly reject this aspect of his teaching on any day. And, yes, I did know that he was itching to sort me out in Lizard Pose, as I heard his comments about uneven hips… 🙂 I’m not a totally bad student!