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.