One is the Loneliest Number (NOT)
Occasionally, I see on twitter and on Facebook yoga teachers lamenting their small class attendance. Or they are concerned or upset that a certain students were there who could only use do particular things because of their physical limitations. For example “she can’t do down dog- gee it’s kind of hard to teach a class without doing down dog.” (SERIOUSLY?)
This is always very frustrating to me. 90% of the people who are coming to yoga have some sort of issues they are on medications, they have physical limitations, old injuries, emotional limitations, overweight, you get the idea! That’s why these people are coming to you! THEY need yoga. These sort of complaints are generally an indicator that the yoga teacher is inexperienced, or not confident enough in their abilities to teach.
Perhaps all of us as teachers have been in a situation where only one student shows up for class. There’s no question that teaching one-on-one can be difficult. Especially if that one person you are teaching has many physical limitations. And especially if your “class plan” doesn’t jibe with the student’s body type.
We have an old saying in the South, “you got to dance with them that brung you.” That means you have to focus on who IS there with you and no run off looking for “better dancers”.
Instead of seeing this as a cross you have to bear or a bummer you can see it is a great opportunity to make a big difference for someone’s yoga practice and to grow yourself as a teacher. So here’s a few concerns and tips on how to deal with these “suddenly private” classes.
The student will be too chatty: drawing a line between before class has started and when class starts is very important when teaching a single student. There may be some initial discussion of “I’m the only one here?” or “Where is everybody?” and questions about whether you want them to come back when there’s a bigger class. Reassure them you want them to be there. When you are ready for class to begin sit them down or stand them and mountain pose. Invite them to close their eyes and start to listen to their breath. This is a great way to establish the “I am the teacher -you are the student” dynamic. As class continues your student might start talking to you again that can be a good thing but we’ll get to that later… if the chatting during class gets off subject or goes on and on (I have been here) look at your watch and say “we better keep going”.
The student has multiple limitations: This is actually a blessing for you both. It’s very difficult to teach a class full of people when you have someone there that isn’t very familiar to you and who has multiple limitations needing constant modifications. Of course you can offer them modifications for the postures as you teach the class-but it can be challenging to give them the help and the attention that they need while you’re working a full class- including the super bendy girl in the front who wants attention and the person whose shown up for their first time who needs your attention.
Having this (unplanned) one-on-one session with a person with multiple limitations gives you an opportunity to go through the postures that you’ll mostly be teaching in class and help them by giving them modifications, watching them move and getting a better idea of what they actually can do. It’s a blessing for them because they get an opportunity to find out what they can do instead of just trying to figure out what they should be doing. Students will watch other students in class and try to figure out what they’re doing and approximate some semblance of the posture with their own body. I think we all have seen this happen, with not so great results. This is also an opportunity to ask your student questions about how they move. “Do you put your leg there because it hurts your knee or your hip?” You might be surprised at the answer that you get! An added bonus? You’ll get to stretch your self as a teacher. When you hear how the asanas feel to them, you’ll be able to draw on your knowledge to assist them- and not just say what you “always say”. It’s also a great chance to establish a relationship with that student. Relationships keep people coming back.
This was not scheduled as a “private” class: This one is likely about money. What can I say about this? You are there , the student is there- short of sending them home very disappointed you are going to teach this class. Sure, you need to make money for your time and efforts but this is a learning experience for the both of you. Being one on one with this particular yogi is a little message from the universe. It is where you are supposed to be, with whom you are supposed to be and how you are supposed to interact. Relax and do your seva. This time is more important that the money. Consider it “teacher training.”
I have never taught a class like this when the student was not absolutely grateful afterwards, and honestly so was I. At first the mind can show up with all sorts of resistance, but if you just go with the flow you’ll see what a gift it really is. I’m often inspired during these classes to study, or to look up a certain issue that comes up so that I can have more information while teaching others. I am always filled with love and gratitude afterwards. What can be better than that?