I think I may finally be able to articulate the difference between two very different types of classes:
The class that feels incredibly frustrating and draining. I feel no rapport with my students–I speak, but it’s awfully hard to tell based on their bodies OR their faces if anyone’s listening. I run behind on time, and yet everyone moves more and more slowly. No one responds to corrections. I pour more and more of my energy into the class, but it’s a black hole. Over the course of 90 minutes, I work to stay cheerful and positive, to not get distracted by my perceived ‘failure’, to try and try and try again. After, I feel exhausted and demoralized and somewhat incompetent.
In case you can’t tell, emotional resiliency is not my strongest character trait.
That class that feels absolutely incredible to teach–I feel connected to each student, everything flows well, I can tell a few students are even enjoying themselves, and I get the rest to at least occasionally remember that smiling is not against the rules. I make jokes, individual corrections, no one tries to flee and everyone works hard according to their individual abilities. Afterwards, these are the classes where students come up after and really sincerely thank me for class, and I get to go home feeling great about having had a really positive impact on my students. It’s like bouncing around on a cloud. Ah, these rarefied moments!
I call them Unicorn classes, because they are magical and elusive. (Thankfully not mythical, only rarer than I would like.)
But here’s the rub:
You can neither predict nor force a certain class to be what you want it to be. First of all, that’s an ego race the teacher is doomed to lose every. single. time. Secondly, I know that the only successful way to have a great class is to let go of the IDEA of having a great class–both in the judgement about how the class is going (Oy!) and this attachment to “results”. Whether or not a student sits down on their butt through the whole of the Balancing series is not a reflection of me, or even about me at all. No matter how much I think it is. Clearly, this sort of “letting go” is something I’m working on… ok, let’s be honest, we’re all working on it.
At the same time, there IS a certain extent to which a teacher’s energy (mine included) greatly impacts the quality and tone of the students’ attitude and effort.
I think the difference is trust.
How much the students trust the teacher correlates to how hard the students try. Based on my personal practice, it makes sense–how much harder is Triangle pose once you’re convinced the teacher is never going to get you out of it and you start thinking, ‘OMG I’M GOING TO DIE!’? When I practice, but don’t trust the teacher because of the heat, their personality, their dialogue–whatever reason my mind has fixed on, class becomes a whole new level of hellish and challenging.
Well, I think the reverse holds: perhaps my students only do as well as much as I trust them to do well. When class starts going south–whether in reality or merely in my perception, which for these types of cases are indistinguishable–I have a harder time trusting that the students will respond to the dialogue. Then they don’t respond to the dialogue. And then we begin a vicious descending spiral of mistrust.
Of course, to stop that cycle, I have to trust again. Which means being vulnerable. (Sidenote: If you haven’t watched this video on vulnerability by Brene Brown, you need to watch it because it will blow your mind. If you watch it and don’t have that reaction, we’ll need to check your vitals and make sure you’re human.) I feel vulnerable each and every single class I teach, and although teaching has thus definitely made me a stronger person as a result, it’s not a particularly fun or easy process.
Trust is definitely not an overt theme teachers discuss, but it’ll definitely be in my mind as I teach two more classes tonight (this morning was a Unicorn!). Happy yoga-ing, everybody!