Thursday, February 10, 2011

Reasons to Live! (Yoga Teacher Edition)

My Bikram yoga blogging buddy The Missus used to write a weekly post called "Short List of Reasons to Live," which was exactly that: a round-up of all the good things that had happened recently that made life worth living.  I am stealing this idea from her for my title, although I left off the "short" part.

In response to my last post, MLJosey wrote a comment asking "What kinds of student feedback make you feel especially valued?"  I thought that was a great question, but I didn't have a short answer to it.  It sounded to me like a good idea for a whole post!

So.  As a teacher, what kind of feedback makes me feel valued?

First of all, I will say that as a teacher you have to be prepared to get all sorts of feedback.  This was something that they tried to impress on us at teacher training, and the idea really stuck with me.  As teachers, we don't have complete control over the experiences that our students have in the hot room, because every person is going through a unique, individual experience.  We know this from our own practice.  Think of a time when your favorite teacher was teaching, but you just weren't at your best and had a crummy sort of class.  Now think of a time when you had a teacher who wasn't doing anything special, but maybe something just clicked in your body and you had a really terrific class.  See?  The kind of class that you have doesn't always depend on the teacher.

This means that, as a teacher, you might see some people coming out of class elated and some people coming out looking kinda defeated, and you have to remember that it's not about you.  Not always.  You never quite know what's been going on in someone else's body, or in someone else's life.

Oh yeah, and anytime there is a significant heat issue going on in the room, most of the students will ignore your contribution completely.  This appears to be a universal fact.  During my first month as a teacher, I taught a handful of classes at the LA headquarters while they were having issues with their heater.  I would come out from teaching feeling pretty good about myself.  ("Hey, lookit this, I'm actually teaching yoga at headquarters and I didn't forget the dialogue!")  Then all the students would come out and say to me, "Augh, the heat, the heat, the heat, it isn't hot enough, this is terrible, not hot enough, absolutely terrible!!  When is the heater going to be fixed, when is it going to be hot again?!  Oh, but thanks anyway for class, you were good."  HAH!  I was so irrelevant.  It was a good lesson for me: I cannot control all the variables that go into the class.

With all of that said, the teacher still does have a huge influence over the class.  A good teacher might pull you out of a funk, show you something new, say something in a way that you've never heard it before, and turn your day around.  (A bad teacher might do the opposite.)  Teaching matters!

Here are some of the things that make me feel good:

- You want to take my class!  It's always nice when students are happy to see me (instead of being like, "Oh shit, it's you again!")  Of course, sometimes students end up liking me just because I was their first teacher.  Don't you remember imprinting on your first teacher, just like a baby duck?  We all have our pets, our babies.  That almost doesn't count; if I'm your first teacher, then the deck is stacked in my favor.    But every now and then I'll get more experienced students telling me that they came because I was teaching, and that's a great compliment.  Earlier this week, some girls from a college field hockey team came and told me that their team is going to start coming for yoga on the weekends, and they wanted to know, "Can you teach the class?  We want you!"  Well, shucks.  I am terribly flattered.  Better not let it go to my head.

- You laughed at my joke.  Hooray!

- You learned something!  This is great.  I love it when students tell me about their new discoveries.  If you hear something new in class that really helps you out - whether it's something about the posture, yoga, or life in general - let you teacher know!  Like I talked about once before, I'm always doing my best to say things that will be helpful, informational, motivating, and maybe even inspiring, but I have no way of knowing whether I'm getting it "right"... unless you tell me!

- "Your smile was the only thing that got me through that class."  Enough said.

- My correction helped you!  This makes me so proud.  I gave a long-time student a little correction in class this morning and suddenly she was able to lift her hands off the floor in toe stand for the first time.  It was so exciting!  That moment alone would kind of make my morning, without anything else said.  But then after class, we were talking again about her big moment.  She was amazed at what a big difference the little details make.  She told me that was still thinking about a correction that I gave her ages ago in triangle ages ago and it was making a huge difference.  Then another student wandered out of the yoga room into the middle of our conversation and said, "Oh, yeah, your little corrections have made a huge difference for me, too!"  Oh man.  I am gonna sleep sooo well tonight.

- You like my energy.  Thank you.  I am basically a professional Energizer Bunny.  I consider it my job to have the most energy in the room, because I'm the one who keeps everyone going.  Sometimes this means I have to sacrifice other things, like going to bed early instead of going out swing dancing (sniff sniff).  It is a full-time job, making sure that I save up enough energy for the times when I need it, and it is nice to be appreciated!

- You are listening.  You don't have to tell me that you're listening.  I'm watching you.  I can tell.

- You are improving.  You don't have to tell me about this one, either.  I can see it.  Sometimes, I can see it before you can.  I love to watch people transform from ordinary newbies into real yogis.

-  You feel better!  This is one that I can't take credit for, because the yoga series is doing most of the work.  But it's so great to hear about good results.  "I felt more relaxed after class."  "I had so much energy!"  "My arthritis pain started to go away by the end of half moon."  "I slept really well - lots of dreams."  That stuff is so cool.

See, I told you this was not going to be a "short" list.  I could go on and on.  But I'll end with one more story, a simple one and a good one.

I was at the desk one morning a few months ago, waiting for the students to come in.  The first to arrive was a woman who had just finished her first month of Bikram yoga.  She had taken almost 20 classes in her first month and had decided to sign up for the annual membership.  I was the one to set up her account for the next year. As she handed me her credit card, she gave me a huge smile, eyes tearing up just a little bit, and said, "I know you probably hear this all the time, but I just wanted you to know, you guys are changing my life."


No, it's not something that I hear every day.  I can still picture the way her eyes looked when she said those words.

That's a good reason for me to be alive.

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