Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Student etiquette: what is expected in a class of any sorts

(I bought this board today, because I feel some students of mine are not getting certain points. I am planning to put quotes in as and when I see it fit, so  that the message of that maybe will sink in, later, some day, when yoga happens to such people:)

As I keep teaching, I keep learning.
It is a tough job, and I cannot imagine why I do it, barring that it helps me clarify things in my mind, helps me realise when I watch others, that perhaps there are certain things I do not want to do and be a certain way.
And I feel a lot of sympathy also for others' patterns, but I see that I cannot talk of this to students -- tho I believe that only thing yoga has to teach you on the mat with difficult poses is how to break patterns and that can be lifelong process. And I see that it makes no sense  , this pattern thing to most people. People suppress their patterns and when things get tough for them and even interestingly, when they are super relaxed, they fling it all about, caught in its whirlpool. So that is what makes it tough for a yoga teacher that suddenly u have to deal with someone's suppressed pattern flung about where it actually may interfere with your teaching or your class.  I guess this would happen in a serious, yogacentric class and not elsewhere else.
So, I often feel I am caught between the devil and the deep sea:)

I am not going to talk about this further, because it is beyond the understanding of most people, this pattern bit (samskaras, as they are called in yogic parlance).

But I believe a yoga class needs a certain sort of behavior. The following are a strict no-no:
  • A student saying, "I don't feel like doing that pose today"(Not because he or she is not in form, but just feels that since life has been so tough to him/her that day they want to be assertive someplace, and if not in a yoga class, where else:) 
  • A student saying: "Please, plleeeease, can I do THAT pose today."  Another attempt to seek attention for oneself. However, if you believe that your yoga teacher has a structure in place, this sort of childish requests will interfere with the flow of the class. 
  • A student asking irrelevant yoga questions which are generic. What is the difference between hatha and ashtanga yoga? Or what is the difference between single leg raise or double leg raise. Or keep asking about benefits . I keep repeating them, but somehow, if this student asks this question just then, it is a good trick to take a break from having to do the pose, plus again make one feel good that the teacher's and the entire class attention is directed to oneself. Also, this student is feeling smart for having asked a smart question.
  • Exchanging notes continuously with the person next in the mat. This happens even if the other person is not known to this talkative student simply because the student cannot remain meditative or has the sudden urge to talk. This is one of the worst type of behavior in a yoga class.
  • Asking for sanskrit names or names of poses. This is particularly true of yoga instructors (They will not practice, but will have a notebook beside and take notes!!) I also know the names, but is it better for you to know the names or rather know the pose, especially if it is still new?!! This is one thing I do not understand except from serious students who may wish to go and look it up on the net:)
  • Tantrum in the class. This is a rather weird behavior. I have had, in all my teaching career, about six students who have attempted in my class. Usually, barring one student, others have been repeat offenders. Meaning that I have had to repeatedly deal with tantrums with this student, till after the half-dozenth time, I throw in my towel (and my halo) and my feeble attempt to be a saint (ha, ha) and finally say, what should have been said long before, "Now I think you should leave this class." It is not a pleasant thing, but it has to be done, because nothing is more disruptive than a silent, simmering tantrum that continuously seeks to drain the teacher by drawing her/his attention (I am ignoring you, can't u see!! If you don't see that I am ignoring you, this is going to get even worse for you!!)
  • Shrieking and claiming,"I got stuck. Help me, help me." Heavens. If a person is trying a new pose, I am there always. But if this person has done this pose for a year and suddenly does that, it is all to seek attention. And I think it is very very very sad. What to say?! For 3000 bucks to put up with noxious behavior like that?  It is not just seeking the teacher's attention, but that of the entire class!!
  • Continuously talking with the teacher, with the students on either side or to oneself. Beyond me, this behavior. I talk in a class to engage the students in the pose. I joke to relax a student if they are moving into something tough. I wish I did not have to do that, but I do with with a certain purpose. To have students joking back, acting playful, becoming familiar -- I am only aspiring to be a saint, and am not one yet:) Such behavior is rather childish. It is where the person does not realise the cues coming from the teacher at all, for decorum. It is about not reading cues at all, a complete lack of awareness that comes from self-involvement.
  • Doing poses in an automode. Eg. If you are speeding the class into sun salutes, this person is doing it slowly. If you are doing slow, this person is doing fast.  I don't feel comfortable doing it that way, they will say, if you bother ask them. The point is: with one hour class, a teacher is trying to give everything for the student, a meditative experience of sun salute as well its warm-up benefits. The teacher may have a reason why she/he is doing it. If you do not like the teacher's attitude, leave the class. Don't hang on and insist on running or managing  it.
  • The worst thing is for some students to act privileged. " I am so devoted to you and yoga. You have to treat me as special." I have had some very humble students suddenly throw this attitude at me:) Weird. This often happens in a class when this `privileged' student suddenly becomes jealous of perceived shift of attention from himself/herself to somebody else, who they may see as competing for the teacher's attention, or could even be a new student.
  • The worst of all: students coming up before or after the class to say they got bored in sun salute or pranayama. This sort of behavior is why bad yoga is taught in most classes. The teachers end up compromising. I hope I never do that.

There is more.  But just now this serves as an cathartic outburst. But its purpose is not that.If you do not understand why this has been put here, then all the best to u:)

 In a nutshell, yoga student etiquette demands:
  • You don't become garrulous in class.
  • You do not throw tantrums.
  • You follow the structure of the class, unless you are sick or in pain.
  • Don't try to manipulate the teacher by saying I won't do this pose, I am bored or any such labels. Brushing the teeth is also boring. Do you run out of home without doing it. If a teacher's style works for you, allow her/him to decide what is best for you. Yawning (I cannot control a yawn, one student told me, years ago. What about farts, do you keep farting also, everytime you get the urge?  Or burp obviously. I am talking of a deliberate yawn -- there is a suppressed yawn, and a deliberate one made to display that this person is supertired and should be allowed only to do nidra in the class, suck in to the teacher's energy and go back, feeling good).
  • Don't become childish in a yoga class, just because it is a good class. Childlike is very very very very different from childish. Childish is immature. Childlike is mature. If you do not know the difference, do not attempt either.
The funny thing is this note is not descriptive of a single student's behavior, but comes from my experiences over the years. Yet, if some student of mine reads this, whose behavior in any of this long list fits them, they feel stricken. Not surprisingly, it only hurts those who behave this way, na? Yet, they will write a long note abusing me:) It is weird. I really do not mean any one in particular. It is the general thing a yoga teacher has to deal with .. If you are like this/these students, then don't be.
Or better still, don't come to my class:) Or go to any serious yoga class.
Happy sadhana!


Anonymous said...



Followers forget the teachings of their gurus over the years and preach fasting instead of tolerance, modest dress instead of compassion, going to church/mosque/temple instead of doing good, etiquette instead of love... this sounds so much like religion, distorted spirituality, check-lists for dummy followers rather than guides for free spirits...

Thanks for this last lesson Shameem
Petros (ex-baby-student and ready to be nicely surprised if this post will survive censorship)

Shameem Akthar said...

The fact that u are refusing to acknowledge your error shows u up, not me. It is a reflection of you and not of me, as a teacher.

U were throwing a tantrum, and this is not the first time it has happened. Having endured such rudeness, not for some minutes, but an entire class, I had no choice.

U are a 43-year old man, not a baby, as u ridiculously describe yourself. Grow up before u attempt to preach people who know better.

The reason I did this -- and I stand by me gesture -- is that some day the silliness and rudeness of your behavior will sink through. Just now you are in denial. And you are pretending, as expected enough, that you did nothing.

That I expect from you, which is why I had to ask to leave. If you had acknowledged that you werer rude in the last class, I may have conceded. But if you do not acknowledge, then am I to put up with some other rudeness, some other day?

I am surprised by your rantings, here as well in my facebook message boz. That is inevitable, since yoga is far off your horizon.
You have no clue what yoga is, that you should attempt to talk to one, for whom it is the very breath.

Shameem Akthar said...

I meant, I am NOT surprised by your rantings.. I expected it, seeing that you are even now talking as if you were in the right by sulking throughout a one-hour class for no fault of mine. You were misbehaving as if I had done something wrong! In earlier episodes, this is the fourth time, you have been ruder. You do that without any provocation, or some assumed provocation, that comes from imagining you are a special student and expect to be treated in a special way. And your tantrums are completely unpredictable.Maybe you should use my gesture -- which is a lesson that is clearly missing its point -- as a mirror to expose this side of you and learn to deal with people, especially those who are good to you, with consideration. Your sort of behavior is disturbing to my other more committed students. And that is not my idea of yoga..