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Teaching the Unaware Student

I have been teaching a regular weekly yoga class at a community center for about a year and a half, and I have a wonderful group of dedicated students. Recently, a new student joined the class. She often rushes into class late (while we are all sitting still and I am guiding people's attention inward), talking to her friend, jangling her keys, noisily setting up her yoga mat. During class she has many, many questions about my instructions or the poses, which I appreciate since I think they are questions we have all had as beginners—but it disrupts the flow of the class to field a question every five minutes. Do I approach her privately about it or hope she catches on?

She is also a challenge to instruct. She is highly flexible and has very little control over her movements, so I often give her gentle pointers to "rein in" her flailing limbs. I keep a conscious intention not to spend too much of my time in class adjusting her, for the sake of my other students, myself, and her own ability to absorb the information—but it takes all my skill as a teacher to hold the space and flow in the class when I'm up against her combination of disruptiveness and disarray. I am willing to be endlessly patient, but I also want to make sure I'm not sacrificing the integrity of the class as a whole.
— Anonymous

Read Ana Forrest's response:

Dear Anonymous,

A lot of these are just new-student problems. You need to clearly explain appropriate behavior to her, but not in the middle of class. Take some time after class to go over class etiquette points with all new students. Have a sheet of typed etiquette points with you so you can hand them to your student as you go over them. You should address whatever she is doing to annoy you: jangling keys, noisy mat, coming in late—these should all be part of the written sheet you can give to her and discuss with her.

Next, encourage her to focus on her deep breathing, feeling the pose and trying to be free of jerking and thrashing. If she still has a million questions, suggest after class that she take your beginner course or some private sessions with you, so she can get all of her questions answered.

Relax with her (because she will make you a better teacher) and take control of your class. The energy in class is your responsibility, and she does not get to control it or ruin it for the other students or for you. Use the fact that you are not willing to sacrifice the integrity of the class to inspire you to solve this teacher's puzzle.

These kinds of students are a dharma challenge. By learning to deal skillfully with them, you will take a big step in developing your own wisdom and authority. Breathe deeply to break free when you become helpless and paralyzed by the chaos of such students. Then pull the class energy together with humor and integrity. Enjoy the process.

Ana Forrest is recognized worldwide as a pioneer in yoga and emotional healing. Born crippled, her own life trauma and experiences compelled her to create Forrest YogaŽ. Her focus in Forrest Yoga is to guide the student in the sacred exploration of truth, healing and "the Great Mystery." She is a well-known contributing expert to Yoga Journal and other national wellness publications. She travels internationally teaching at yoga conferences, workshops, and teacher trainings.
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Reader Comments


I think that the best thing is to speak clearly whith the student but in a light way, often some humor about the cituation is the best thing for not to loose the student, is a good thing dont take all aspects of life to seriously or to estructurated, and learn to be more flexible not only in our fisical body, enjoy your students and act compacionate its a honor to have students and to traspass some joy conciense and freedom to them...
pd: sorry my english


Alternatively, simply tell her that her tardiness and demanding attitude in the class is disruptive to you and the students. Inform her politely and firmly if she cannot show up in time to focus and be present in her body by listening to you and her own body wisdom; well then she'd be better served going elsewhere.

In my 15 years of teaching, I've found it serves everyone, including me, far better, if I'm honest with students who do not and cannot osberve the integrity of the class.

She will no doubt be offended but will learn more from you in ten minutes than many hours of frustrated 'pussyfooting.'


One other thing to consider in these situations that ought to be mentioned, is to look wiithin. Remember that, as yoga teachers, our students are nothing but mirrors, and what we dislike in them is a refelction of a part of ourselves that is not yet brought into wholeness. As Sri Aurobindo said, "It is not that we must cease what we dislike, but that we must cease to dislike." By finding all the subtle places inside ourselves that are unaware, or disruptive, and by brining our awareness, consciousness, and love to those parts in us, we will cease to dislike that in others. Thank you.

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