Q&A: How Can I Handle New Disruptive Students?

Yoga Works' Julie Kleinman offers advice for dealing with disruptive students and new students.
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Yoga Works' Julie Kleinman offers advice for dealing with disruptive students and new students.

I'm a new yoga teacher. The other day, a father and daughter arrived late. The 16-year-old girl spoke loudly during practice. I suggested the dad use the wall for support in standing poses; he knocked down a ceramic angel and shattered it. My regular students were irritated. How can I encourage newcomers and still provide a fluid practice?
—Beth Cory, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland

Students lacking self-awareness present a challenge to yoga teachers (and students) everywhere. But, just as one person may have tight hips or little upper- body strength, so too do some people have stiff listening muscles, weak social skills, or general awkwardness. They also may simply be unfamiliar with studio etiquette. What might benefit them is information. Try talking to students before class. Or create a handout for new students to let them know what's expected of them when they come to class. This may include information about removing shoes, arriving on time, listening, wearing appropriate clothing, and respecting others. This may seem obvious, but it isn't always to newcomers.

If new or disruptive students come in late (often the case) and you can't speak to them before class, catch them after class and talk with them then. Ask them about themselves and what they hope to get out of their practice. And gently let them know what behaviors are expected. This way you inform them, they inform you, and a connection is established.

One bit of practical advice for you: Breakable objects, no matter how lovely, are at risk in yoga rooms, where walls often double as props. For your own serenity, consider placing delicate adornments in the lobby.

Julie Kleinman, Yoga Works' director of program development and West Coast teacher training, has been teaching yoga for more than 13 years.