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One is the Loneliest Number (NOT)

December 8, 2010

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?

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2010 10:27 am

    I just had this happen today! I had one student who is struggling with a raging eating disorder (not telling me this, just apparent from her body/physique) who loves yoga. She’s a really sweet woman so I asked her what SHE wanted to work on and told her I’d do the class with her (so she didn’t feel uncomfortable with me watching her). We did backbends (her request) and it was really fun. I got to make some terrific adjustments to her poses that she dug, we did toe stand which she loved and she left the class feeling energized and happy.

    I tend to teach a lot of small classes b/c of my location and usually they are really great. I love knowing the people I’m teaching to, and allowing them to have a say in what we do. The energy of big classes is exciting, but the individuals can get lost in the throngs.

    Thanks for reminding us all of this unique situation and what a treat it can be for both student and teacher.

  2. Katie Yeoman permalink
    December 8, 2010 10:28 am

    Good post – I hope all yoga teachers read it. I’d like to add a point to the “dance with the one that brung ya” comment. “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Who are the classes for? The student, right? The teacher is there FOR the students, not for his/herself. So deal with it. If you can’t work with your students because they don’t fit YOUR plan, then something’s wrong.
    Very glad to see this post – thanks!!

  3. December 8, 2010 10:58 am

    I wanted to add that I think a lot of yoga teachers have issues with ego, I mean who doesn’t? They can really feel like their class is crap if no one shows and they compare it to the classes that have 15-30 (or more). I try not to do this because one never knows what is keeping students away at any given class, or what is bringing them. The truth is, as teachers having any students at all is a gift and the number is in no way a measure of how fantastic you are. To emphasize this I’ll offer that I went to a huge workshop (full to the brim with Lulu ladies) by one top dog yogi from Cali. He STUNK! But his class was full.. was it because he’s a better teacher than me or because these ladies were there for some other reason? I don’t really know what brought them other than name recognition, but I knew at that moment that even if I had only one student I would be giving them 110% more than this chock-full-o-yogis teacher would. And that my friends, is what really being a teacher is all about after all.

    • December 8, 2010 2:03 pm

      this is so true Nancy. Students go to yoga when they feel like it and if the schedule lets them. AND sometimes students goto a particular teacher because “everyone else” goes there. you cant tell what drives people, all we can do is be honest with ourselves and teach a good loving class. (oh…and market more!)

  4. December 8, 2010 2:12 pm

    Your perspective is wonderful, as always. 🙂

    • December 8, 2010 3:27 pm

      😉 thanks for taking the time to read and comment. smooches.

  5. December 8, 2010 4:59 pm

    i love this! as a new yoga teacher (finally took the training during the month of July and couldn’t be happier) i find these words wonderful. since i’m teaching out of my house, a lot of my classes consist of one person and since i do donation based, it becomes even more about my learning how to teach one on ones. It helps me get to know my students better, help them with poses they feel challenged in and give them attention that i may not be able to in a class with more people. i think part of teaching is getting to know your students and not just their names, but knowing a little something about their bodies, their practice, and how best you can serve them…
    because as it’s been said before, we are there for them..

    • December 8, 2010 9:11 pm

      congratulations on your decision to help others on the path! thanks for your comment, already you understand more about teaching yoga that many teachers never “get”.
      you are a blessing to your students!

  6. December 10, 2010 8:51 am

    love this…love your blog. i’ll be sharing it with others. 🙂 you rock.

  7. January 2, 2011 12:38 am

    Great post. I have classes that range from 1 to 30 on any given day and I remind myself that it only takes one student to give me the opportunity to be a teacher otherwise no student = no teacher. This would be a great addition to my “Annoying things yoga teacher’s do” post and that would be when a teacher walks into a room and sees only a few people and says “where’s everyone?”

  8. February 2, 2011 5:29 pm

    Thank you for such an insightful post. This fall I had the gift of being in such a class. The instructor challenged me and gave me adjustments that have changed and deepened my practice. Since then I’ve enrolled in teacher training and it is transforming my life.

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