A Dime a Dozen


It's not uncommon for attendance to drop in a hot yoga studio when the region is experiencing a nasty heat wave. It's especially common when the studio itself is a bit of a fledgling, still trying to build a steady following. The studio I teach in on Thursday mornings is like that, and this week has been like that, so yesterday morning I wasn't altogether surprised that only one person showed up to sweat it out on the mat with me. (Considering everyone I know including half my co-teachers are on vacation this week, I definitely wasn't surprised.)

That one person was a woman who I later learned was 31—though I swear, her line-less and bright complexion had me certain she was 22, tops—and having a hard time making herself feel good and happy lately, and having a particularly hard time making use of the yoga class package she had purchased for our studio a few months ago. When she walked in three minutes before class was to begin, I gave her a bit of a warning or opt-out lever and explained that it was looking like it'd be just her today.

"That's fine," she said, when I asked if she minded. "I really need yoga today so it doesn't matter to me."

Teaching one person when they haven't specifically requested (or paid for) a private lesson feels a little awkward. I arrive at the studio every day with a plan for my class, prepared to adjust and tweak here and there as necessary once I see how full or how advanced (or not) my class is. You really never know what kind of room you're looking at until you get there. But when it's one person who is admittedly very far from advanced but not quite a total beginner, it's hard to anticipate what she'll need. So I asked her: Is anything in particular bothering you? Any specific aches and pains, or anything you want to work on? She was a blank slate and ready for anything, though I knew advanced poses and wild transitions weren't on the menu. Adjustments and help were all she asked for.

I guided her through a slow-paced but challenging vinyasa flow that was a loose interpretation of the class I'm teaching all week. I gave her a few extra breaks when I could tell she was ready, I skipped some poses and brought some other ones, and I gave her lots of adjustments, cues, and encouragement when she needed them. I closed class with my typical bow and "Namaste," which literally translates to "I bow to you," but metaphorically translates to "The light in me sees, honors, respects the light in you."

And then I went almost immediately to apologizing for the potential awkwardness of the "class" that comes with an unexpected private lesson and thanking her for being there anyway. I couldn't have anticipated her response, which was to well up (it happens in yoga more than you might think) and thank ME profusely for my specific and personalized instruction.

"I feel like God gave me a blessing this morning with you being my instructor," she said, before explaining that she has been trying to get back to the studio so hard for so long, but had been unsuccessful until that morning. She explained that what my lesson gave her was what she didn't realize she'd been needing. She was grateful I was as committed to teaching that Thursday morning class as she was to taking it. And I became more grateful to her than I have been to any student in a long time.

In this yoga teaching racket, in an area like mine where there is no shortage of studios or teachers, it's easy to feel like teachers are a dime a dozen. Like you're just one of many, and that maybe the people who frequent your class just happen to fit this time slot into their schedule the best. Or maybe your studio just has the best prices. I've had people thank me walking out of class, and I've had some people walk out without a glance. I've had people clap for me after class, and I've had people never return to my yoga room. But I've never had someone tell me that they thought me or my class was a blessing to them from God. Now, I'm not religious, but knowing that someone who is thinks that is enough of a compliment to me.

My thoughtful student surprised me and reminded me of the most important part of all this. I didn't practice for a decade and spend over 200 hours (and more money than I care to tell you) on my yoga practice and teacher training in order to nail an arm balance or backbend. I don't jump at the chance to sub classes or pick up new ones because I want people to adore me or think my sequences are the best. I don't teach because it's a job that earns me a certain lifestyle (because, trust, it doesn't). I wanted to teach yoga because I wanted to give someone, anyone, the experience my first teacher and so many subsequent teachers gave to me. It's an experience I can only describe as, honestly, a blessing.

Before she walked in yesterday morning, I was irritated. I was frustrated that I was sitting there anticipating I'd just lock the door and leave in a few minutes as if I'd never been there, tail between my legs after no one showed up for class on a hot summer morning. I was agitated thinking about all the work I could be doing (or the class I could be attending myself!) if I didn't come down to the studio to wait for no one. And then when I saw her walking toward my door, I got irritated again, cringing at the thought of teaching for one person, and especially one who was new to my class! Damn, am I grateful for the attitude adjustment she gave me, just by showing up.

Some days, it's easy to think everything is for nothing. I'm not getting rich and I'm often getting pissed—what's the point? She's the point. Her experience in my class is the point. The feeling of happiness she floated out of my yoga room with...that's the whole damn point. Let me not forget that ever again.

Comments

  1. What an amazing feeling to be told how much you've helped someone! You never know when relief from a workout is going to wash over you like that!! I once had a spin class where the instructor played just the right music and talked through the class in a way that I've never had happen before that I actually cried...it was weird I'll admit, but it was a sort of release that I needed!! xo, Biana -BlovedBoston

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  2. I love this post. What an amazing moment for both of you. I've definitely felt teary at yoga on more than one occasion...and as a busy mom, I also completely understand that woman's "need" for yoga class. I hope she finds what she is looking for. I love how much yoga is about loving yourself but also about connection.

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  3. amazing. it's those special moments that make everything worth it.
    my trainer has been going through this as well; with the summer weather, people would rather do everything except workout. it doesn't help that we've been going through a heat wave and his gym has no ac so doing muay thai in 40C temps/humidity is pretty tough. still though, the few of us who do go (ok, it's mostly just me), the amount of focus and tailored lesson i get is incredible and i make sure to let him know that.

    so glad that this happened to you :)

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  4. Okay her response after class made ME well up. LOL

    I love things like that that are like a humongous finger snap reverberating through our bodies head to toe to let us know what is really what.

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  5. I think I've meant to tell you this like 20x now, and you talking about ages finally made me remember. My mom had a yoga teacher who was 104! Which is so, so cool to me. What an amazing response from the student-- I'm sure so many people would have just cancelled the class if not enough people showed up, but I'm sure your willingness to continue with just her is something she won't forget. It's easy to see how it could have went, if that happened. Maybe she would have just given up yoga forever, because it's so hard when you're having trouble doing something/going somewhere & then you finally do it & then X happens.

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  6. I have goosebumps running up and down my arms from reading this post. You never know when and why you are put in the path of someone else's life who needs you. This is such a lovely reminder of that. To give our best to others. Well done, Alyssa.

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  7. I can only imagine what a blessing you were to her . . . I'm so glad she found you and was able to release her tensions for a time. Never doubt that what you're doing is a blessing to others, and ultimately yourself.

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  8. Awwww I get all the warm fuzzy with her response after class to you. Such an awesome experience for her and some kind words for you :)

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  9. i LOVE this. so much. this is amazing. you know i'm not religious or anything either, but this sounds like whoever or whatever makes the decisions decided you and her needed each other and that is flipping fabulous.

    ps. i always try and thank my teachers as i leave, even with a smile or wave because they are normally busy or surrounded by others, but i try. body pump, yoga, spin, whatever. one time, i was leaving body pump and i said thank you and the teacher said for what? she was really cranky and negative and didn't talk to any of the people doing class, even during the class, let alone before or after, and i just said you know, for a good class, and you could tell she didn't want to be there, but i thought if i showed a little gratitude, it might change her attitude. it didn't immediately as far as i could tell, and i never went back to her class lol, but there you go. we never know the impact we have on others right?

    love this post so much.

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  10. This! You! I don't even have words right now and if I did, I don't know that I could see them well enough through the tears welling up in my eyes. Thank you for sharing this. You aren't a dime a dozen, you're one in a million and I'm proud to know you. And I know this is not at all the point and I'm sorry to turn it into an Ironman thing like I unintentionally do with literally everything right now, BUT, "It's an experience I can only describe as, honestly, a blessing." was something I really needed to hear right now and really need to carry with me for the next 8 weeks.

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  11. Today is my 10th day of yoga straight and last night I had my first not-so-great practice (purely because my body didn't want to cooperate). It's nice to hear a yoga instructor sound a little human and frustrated (because y'all always seem like you have it all together!) and it's so... great to hear that sometimes your students have an impact on you, too.
    It certainly makes me want to express a little more gratitude toward my instructors :)

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  12. i love how you ended this post, lady. that last paragraph is beautiful.

    long story: in spring of two i got my heart broken, and in spring of three, my brother died. the fall between those springs, i was hiding in academia, taking english classes at the university of texas at san antonio. i think i was working at blockbuster video. it was a real low point for me. at the time i'd thought it was the lowest. i'd signed up for five undergraduate english classes thinking that the number would equate the work of two graduate classes. i'd been debating getting a masters in either english or creative writing and wanted to see if i could handle that much literature at once. midway through the semester, my parents encouraged me to get out of school and back in the working world. one of my professors had asked us in class to fill out an index card with our schedules for the next semester, the classes we were taking... that sort of thing. she was curious to know what our workloads were like and how we were handling them... or something. i didn't turn a card in. she noticed and held me up, and after everyone had left, she asked where mine was. and i said i'm not taking classes next semester. she looked shocked and sad. "but you're so bright. you should be in school." i almost cried right there. not because i wasn't taking the classes next semester. but because, in my world, in that period, i saw only darkness. i was darkness. i couldn't comprehend how anyone could see me as being bright. and yet... there it was. this woman, who epitomized bright, was remarking on how bright i was.

    she's gone now, of course. she passed away a few years ago, and the world is a much darker place because of that. there are thousands... millions of them... who will never know the blessing of having learned from her. but i do.

    that woman in your yoga class... for her, that day... you were the light.

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