Is a student going rogue in your class? You can only teach yoga for so long before someone adopts a I-do-what-I-want mantra in your space. Sometimes students are adapting and modifying based on their emotional and physical needs, which we must create space for despite your vision for their practice. Sometimes though, your thoughtful invitation to "take a minute to personalize your practice" results in handstand kicks pre-Savasana, or you’ve said nothing about doing anything but what’s instructed and a student is doing something entirely different.
I’m happy to share that 99.9% of my students, regardless of their experience or familiarity with the concepts of practice, are open to being taught and are respectful of the classroom setting. I’ve also had students insert inversions where none were offered, do sun salutations during meditation or pranayama, check their phones (just twice!), or start doing pushups.
It’s such a delicate balance between cultivating respect for your offering and encouraging them to hone their inner teacher. It’s difficult to tell students that they are their own best teacher and then get upset when they're not following your directions to the T, so maybe just eliminate that phrase from you repertoire. Here are some phrases that have worked for me…
For the last pose before Savasana, I’m going to teach a reclined twist, but if there’s something that speaks to your needs and would not disrupt community energy, go ahead and make space for it.
You can a different expression or shape here so long as it wouldn’t be disruptive to your neighbours.
Feel free to explore other expressions of this shape for the next 5 breaths.
You are welcome to characterize your practice to suit your needs so long as it moves with the intentions and harmony of the group practice.
Now, if students are pulling out their phones in class, they are obviously not cultivating inner awareness, but intervening may not be your decision. I once was assisting a student in pigeon when a young woman propped herself up on her elbows to send a text. No one could see what she was doing, and to address it I would need to leave my regular student and cross the room. I’d never seen her before, so I decided to leave it and see what she did on the second side. I felt that it would be more disservice to the student I was with who I knew I would see again, and so I opted to let it go.
Sadly, rogue students can be disruptive, distracting and harmful to themselves and others. If you've assessed that an intervention is needed, here are some options.
Take a deep breath for clarity, and…
1. Change your plan and do something less expected. If they're not sure where they're going, they won't be able to anticipate the next shape/movement and work ahead of you. (There’s no rule book that says you have to do a high-to-low-flow…. ever.)
2. Put them somewhere still and challenging, either pranically or physically - forearm plank or nadi shodhana are tough to ad lib through.
3. Ask them if the variation isn’t working for them. If you’re teaching pigeon and they’re doing another pose, go ask if pigeon doesn’t work for their body and offer them a variation that’s more suitable. Frequently this is the case and not willful non-participation. They aren’t teachers and simply don’t know what else to do, and rightfully don’t want to hurt themselves.
4. Mention the power of intentional group energy, and how we're all co-creating it together.
5. Repeat the cues you're offering, and suggest that you'll wait until we're all doing that thing.
6. Teach standing right next to them. (This is exceptionally effective for students talking in class, especially if they’re young and have a lot of nervous energy.)
7. Have a conversation with them if they're a regular student. Remind them that while you understand doing multiple push-ups in between postures feels good for them, it's distracting to you and the group. Please come early to do push-ups or reserve them for another time.