Teaching Students Who Ignore Instruction

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The situation that most worries me comes at the end of class, when students transition to lying on their backs. He cannot easily lower his head to the ground, yet he insists upon it, grunting several times until he reaches his goal. I have had detailed talks with him about my concerns about his hurting his neck (he has osteoporosis). I presented my alternative, which is using a couple of blankets as a support so that there’s no stress on his neck. He dismissed this, saying there is no point if there is no effort. He has compromised with me, however: He lowers his head to one folded blanket, relaxes, then removes the blanket and comes all the way down (not at my recommendation).

How do I work with a student who ignores instruction to his own possible detriment? By the way, this student will not consult with his doctor (which was also my recommendation). He says he treats himself and makes his own decisions.


Read Nicki Doane’s response:

Dear Donna,

This sounds to me like an issue that would affect a more beginning teacher. When I first started teaching yoga, I too was easily affected by the students, especially the grumpy ones. I felt personally responsible for their moods. As you become more confident with your own teaching, this issue will come up less and less.

You are the teacher and he is the student, end of story. In India, where yoga was born, they have a very clear concept of respecting the teacher. Here in the U.S., we tend to rebel against authority, which can be a problem in a yoga class, especially when a student will not do as you ask him to do.

When someone comes into your class, they should listen to what you ask them to do unless they are in fear of hurting themselves—and if that is the case, they should speak with you about it. But to come in and “do his own thing” in your class is completely disrespectful and should not be tolerated, no matter how old the student is.

I would speak privately with the student and tell him that he is welcome to come to class as long as he is willing to do the work that you ask of him. Let that student know that you have his best interests in mind. If he cannot do that, I would ask him to please not come to the class. His behavior is disruptive and disrespectful.

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