Several years ago, I was about to lead class but before I could make it through the front door of the studio, my teaching assistant rushed up to me, flushed and breathless. My mind raced toward all the horrific possibilities that might explain this. Did someone hurt themselves in the previous class? Was the sound system not working again? Had the bathroom flooded the yoga room?
“(Insert A-list celebrity name) is in your class!” she squealed with an enthusiasm that I hadn’t witnessed in her until that moment.
Celebrities weren’t a new thing at this Hollywood studio. In fact, you were almost guaranteed to see at least one every week. But we hadn’t experienced anyone who was quite this much a cause célèbre in some time.
I walked into the studio and noticed that, whereas most individuals with large fan bases typically hid in the back row of class and snuck out as soon as Savasana was over, this guy was in the front row introducing himself to everyone. I felt a flutter of excitement.
To keep my composure, I took a deep breath and drew my awareness to my feet. As I walked over to the side of the room to plug in my music, I tried to feel my footsteps on the hardwood floor, using each imprint as an opportunity to ground myself.
He came up to me right away, not unlike an eager child on his first day of school.
“Hi Sarah!” he said. (How did he know my name?!) “I’m (insert A-list celebrity’s first name). I’ve heard great things about your class.”
I saw some of my students reach for their phones to capture the moment. I subtly shook my head and finger at them to say “no.” Then I looked into his eyes. While I want to say I didn’t swoon, I did a little. But I regained my presence the moment I recognized something in him. I saw myself. And I was quickly reminded that in that space, there are no celebrities. There aren’t even teachers or students. In yoga, we are all souls seeking connection to something larger than ourselves.
Yoga is the great equalizer
No matter where you teach, there is a good chance that someday, someone will walk into your class who causes you to lose your grounding. It could be a celebrity, your high school crush, a local politician, the owner of the studio where you teach, or a yoga teacher you respect. It can feel like a huge honor to have someone you respect and or who’s renowned in your class. But as exciting as it may be in the initial moments, it helps to remember two fundamental truths before you start to teach.
The first truth is that it is an honor to teach any being who is before you. Whether a student is a stay-at-home parent, a lawyer, a barista, a celebrity, or someone who is in-between jobs, it is a privilege to be able to share the practice of yoga with them. The classroom should be neutral ground.
The second truth is that the practice of yoga is a sacred and private time. It’s a place to take off the layers of who we are at the world (and tabloid) level and connect with who we are on our innermost soul level.
In other words, yoga is the great equalizer.
How to teach when you’re anxious about someone in class
In my fifteen years of teaching yoga, I’ve had many different kinds of celebrities take my classes. Although I sometimes have an initial reaction of excitement or nervousness, when I come back to my breath and my body, I am able to remember what I am ultimately there to do: Guide people on their self-led journey to their higher Self.
There are several ways you can handle the situation and maintain your composure when someone who makes you a little nervous or excited is in your class:
Try to stay calm
When someone walks into class and you feel anxious, you’re going to experience an excitatory response in your nervous system, whether that student is a celebrity, a crush, a teacher you respect, a dear friend, even someone who rubs you the wrong way. Your initial reaction will be influenced by your brain stem and lower brain, which are sometimes referred to as the “reptilian brain” given its automated response to stimuli. This takes place in the moments before a more considered and thoughtful response comes cfrom your higher brain, or prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for complex cognitive tasks.
The good news is that noticing the difference between your reaction and your response is one of the things you practice each time you come to the mat as a student and teacher of yoga.
How to handle your anxiety: Feel into your breath and focus on slowing it. Notice if you’re suddenly perspiring or if your heart rate is elevated and know that this is simply your body’s reaction. It will pass. Moving your bodycan help bring you back to a state of calm, but walk around the room slowly rather than frantically. Sitting down before class might help ground you, although if you feel the need to move, stretch your arms or slowly roll your neck.
Avoid playing favorites
Everyone in class should be treated equally, whether it’s an A-list celebrity or your Mom. (Okay, maybe you can make an exception for Mom.) Each student who comes to class should receive the same level of respect and attention regardless of socioeconomic status, race, gender, or other identifying factors.
How to handle playing favorites: Notice if you find yourself calling out to certain students during class. Similarly, are there people you seem to avoid? Consider referring to the group as a whole, like saying “folks” or “everyone,” instead of giving direct compliments as that may cause some students to feel excluded.
Keep your hands off
I do not recommend placing your hands on a person if you have any feelings toward them other than neutral. This is particularly true if you are attracted to someone, which can happen with famous people! Our hands emit our energy, and we want any exchange between student and teacher to be clean.
How to handle not giving adjustments: If you find yourself gravitating toward that person, get present with yourself. Use your words to cue all the students even more deeply into the pose. On the days I’m not adjusting for any of various reasons, I gesture with my hands or keep them behind my back to help stifle the instinct to adjust students.
Keep it to yourself
As tempting as it might be to snap a selfie during Savasana and post it on social media, do not. Remind yourself that, unless given explicit consent to share or take pictures, you need to treat your classroom as an off-limits space. A student’s practice is private. What happens on the mat and in the room during class should stay on the mat and in the room.
How to handle not screaming something to the world: If you feel that you simply must share what happened with someone, tell a trusted teacher, mentor, partner, or close friend. Keep any mention of it off your group texts and social media. In this way and this way alone, your situation is somewhat similar to that of a therapist, who usually has their own therapist to whom they can vent and who can hold space for them while they are holding space for others.
About our contributor
Sarah Ezrin is an author, world-renowned yoga educator, popular Instagram influencer, and mama based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her willingness to be unabashedly honest and vulnerable along with her innate wisdom make her writing, yoga classes, and social media great sources of healing and inner peace for many people. Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love one person at a time. You can follow her on Instagram at @sarahezrinyoga and TikTok at @sarahezrin.