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How to Survive the Worst Yoga Class You’ve Ever Taught

Jason Crandell teaching yoga

We’ve all had the same gut-wrenching, heart-breaking thought at some point while teaching a class, ‘This is not only the worst class that I’ve taught, this is the absolute worst class that has ever, ever been taught in the history of yoga.’ In fact, the qualification “at some point,” is me being generous. We’ve all (yes, ALL) had this feeling more than a few times. Since you’re a consummate professional, highly-trained in objectivity and managing your emotions, you probably finished class without burying your head in the bolsters or breaking into self-absorbed tears. But, honestly, what do you do with this voice, this feeling of not being fully engaged or clear when you’re teaching? Well, let’s start by looking at the facts:

It probably wasn’t as bad as you think

Seriously, it probably wasn’t as bad as you think it was. Teaching yoga is a raw, vulnerable experience and sometimes you beat yourself up about it. People often talk about the importance of being authentic. What gets left out of this discussion is that being authentic means showing who you really are and expressing what you truly care about. Wearing your heart on your sleeve isn’t always easy or pleasant — especially if you feel that you aren’t communicating or engaging well. When this happens, your inner narrator may be telling you that class is much, much worse than it really is.

Even if the class was as bad as you thought, well…

You just taught the worst class in the history of yoga? OK. It’s time to let it go and move on. This is what you’d tell someone else, right? If class was truly lousy, chalk it up to being human. You’re not a robot and even the most accomplished professionals have off days. If you don’t watch sports, it’s time to start in order to get some perspective. Not every top-notch pitcher throws an excellent game every time. In fact, none of them do. And, thankfully, yoga students are infinitely more kind in the midst of an off night than sports fanatics (especially if you live in Philadelphia).

Remember that the students are having a different experience than the teacher

Are you ready for some ego-busting news? Students are not hanging on your every word or vibe. Students are paying attention to you but they’re also having their own experience. They are doing yoga, not just listening to you pontificate. Trust that even if you didn’t deliver your most soul-stirring class, your students had the opportunity to breathe, move their bodies and have their own experience. Even more, they probably feel better after class than they did before class.

A few more things to remember when you bomb

-You’re human and you’re teaching a live class. This means you’re going to trip over your words, feel energetically flat, forget the second side of a sequence, and mismanage your time on occasion.

-You have the opportunity to learn and grow from your mistakes. Be as objective as possible about what didn’t work in your class and learn from it. As teachers we’re committed to growing and learning — which means that we’re not already perfect.

-Breathe in the challenges of teaching your class and your flustered emotions; then breathe them out and let them go.

-Be comforted by the fact that all teachers go through this, including the most popular and most well-respected teachers. In fact, my advice is to get used to moments like this because they never stop — you just get better at contextualizing them and letting them go.



19 Comments

  1. Thank you! This is such a comfort to read. As you said, everybody’s been there.
    When I feel my class start to devolve, I try to make a real connection with one person–eye contact or a verbal cue to help them. Doing that normally makes me feel like I’m getting back on the right track.

  2. This was exactly what I needed to read this morning. I teach aerial fabric, not yoga, but this translates to any teaching that has constant verbal instruction. I thought, I wasn’t enthusiastic enough. My students are bored of my material and hated class. I didn’t have enough energy for them. The negative list goes on. I will breathe and let it go. Thank you!

  3. Love the comment on Philly sports fans!!! I’m from Philly and this is so true…but we just can’t help how passionate we are about our sports!! would love for you to come and do a workshop here!

  4. I’m from Cleveland (i.e., Indiands, Browns). I get it! Great, great, great article – thank you! See you on Friday at the TO conference.

    1. And, Cavaliers. You’ve had some success in recent years. And, I’m from Toledo…. Thanks for your comment, Karen.

  5. Even though I am a shiatsu practitioner, I can still relate to this article! Bern there many times, and, I suppose, will be there again and again. But, yeah, I do learn more about myself in the process, so I say, bring it on!

  6. I am putting this article on the very top of my voluminous yoga notes! This is one of many of your articles that will be read over and over again. Thank you!

  7. One of my favorite classes… the teacher walked in…. visibly rattled. She walked to the front of the class and literally plopped down on her bolster and said, “I’ve had one of those days where everything… EVERYTHING has gone wrong.” She took a deep breath and was near tears. Someone in the class called out, “That’s ok. We got you. Let’s do this.” The class whooped and hollared and you could feel the love for her. As she walked through the room during class several people came out of poses to give her a hug. There were miscues, skipped sides, and snotty ujjayi, and it was the most beautiful loving class I’ve ever been to. So glad to have had that experience. Don’t worry teachers, we know you’re human, and we love you all the more for it! We got you!

  8. I love your articles. Its the first time I’ve heard a professional Yoga teacher be this honest and its so, so helpful. The relief was immense. Thank you.

  9. I was teaching college-level writing for years before I ever even thought of teaching yoga (and teaching writing is still my day job). I thought when I started teaching yoga, the anxieties about having a bad class wouldn’t happen to me, because I’d already been teaching something else for years, and assumed I’d already worked through those psychological aspects of teaching. Turned out I was very, very wrong. Ha! Joke’s on me. Teaching in an entirely new discipline has me realize I’m a beginner all over again.

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