Since I know some of you out there are current or aspiring yoga or pilates teachers, I’m gonna give you a tip for free. (I would imagine this tip would also apply to tai chi instructors, and anyone else teaching a mind/body discipline.)
Here’s the tip: SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UUUUUUUUUUP. Especially when working with private students.
I don’t mean you should be so taciturn you can’t communicate what your student or students should be doing. I just mean that’s the communication you should be concerning yourself with–and if you find yourself telling stories about your Ren Faire days or your upcoming wedding or your child’s orthodontist appointment or that time you road-tripped to the Grand Canyon, you need to SHUT THE FUCK UP. That whole mind/body thing means your students are trying to focus on their breathing and stay centered, which is impossible when YOU WON’T STOP YAMMERING.
And if you ever, ever hear yourself say, “Ha ha, I’m sorry, I’m just in a weird mood”? That is a clear signal that you need to reel it the hell in. If you know you’re acting like an idiot and can tell it’s bothering your student(s)? You don’t need to giggle and apologize for being “weird.” You need to SHUT THE FUCK UP.
I’m not sure how this doesn’t come up in teacher training, but it must not, ’cause I’ve now had it happen with two different teachers in private lessons–one yoga, one pilates. Both pulled the “weird mood” thing after jabbering in such a way as to make me seriously wonder if they were manic, not just clueless about how much it was irritating me. And the problem with the “weird mood” thing is that it means the only polite response is for me to giggle as well and say it’s okay, when IT IS NOT OKAY.
Connecting breath to movement, isolating specific muscles and remembering where all the other muscles should be in the meantime, and trying to stay relaxed while doing all of the above are not things that come easily in the face of huge distractions. And talking to a student like you’re having fucking coffee together is a HUGE DISTRACTION. I do not pay my girlfriends a dollar a minute or more to hang out with me. I pay teachers that much because I want them to TEACH ME THINGS and then SHUT UP while I try them out. If I’m in a mood for chatting, I have friends who will show up for free and TELL BETTER STORIES.
Okay, breathing… Ahem. I don’t know, maybe there are students who actually work better with someone talking at them, the way I can actually listen better if I’m simultaneously doodling. But I am the kind of person who can’t stand to be talked at–I feel compelled to respond, which means I need to find an exhale and get the entire response out in like 4 seconds. That doesn’t work so well. And here’s what I do know: one of the teachers I’m bitching about right now actually told me once that she’d had this great revelation about how I was one of those people who work better while being talked at. She’d noticed that I seemed to hold poses longer when she kept chatting. YES, THAT’S BECAUSE YOU DON’T REALIZE HOW LONG YOU’VE BEEN TALKING AND TELL ME TO COME OUT OF THE FUCKING POSE WHEN YOU ORDINARILY WOULD. She actually sat there and told me she’d made this important observation about the way I worked, even though she’d utterly failed to observe that every time she launched into one of her monologues, steam started coming out my friggin’ ears. Which put me in the position of choosing between saying, “You know, actually, I don’t like it when you do that, it’s YOU who likes it”–which would have made both of us tremendously uncomfortable–and going, “Ha ha, yeah,” while fantasizing about duct-taping her mouth shut.
And that’s kind of the whole problem. Even though I know enough to come out of a pose or stop doing something when I’m actually in pain, I’m enough of a keener that I’m really reticent to question the teacher’s authority. The teacher/student relationship is not an equal one, even if you’re around the same age and have pleasant chats before and after class. It is a relationship in which one person tells the other what to do with her body, and the second person humbly obeys in most cases. That can be one fucked-up power dynamic if you’re not totally professional about it. And that’s exactly why I sit at home getting ALL CAPPY about this on my blog, instead of asking the teachers to yammer less in the moment. I don’t want to embarrass my teacher and throw her off her game, much less get angry in the middle of a session I’m paying a bundle for–which is a real risk, given how much the yammering DRIVES ME UP A WALL. So instead, I swallow it, and eventually just find a new teacher. I’m sure there’s a more mature and effective way to handle it, but that’s all I’m comfortable doing.
And the sucky thing is, both of these people are technically excellent teachers. But I cannot get the full benefit of their expertise when I’m spending the whole session thinking, “SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY SHUT UP.”
Most teachers worth their salt will agree to a strict prohibition on sleeping with students, because of the aforementioned power dynamic. But I’m really starting to think there need to be similar prohibitions on getting too friendly with students, just as there are for therapists and their clients. If a teacher and student really hit it off and want to be friends, that’s great–but the student should get a new teacher, and they should pursue the friendship on their own time. Especially if you’re teaching or taking private lessons, there’s not only a major power imbalance but an intense intimacy in the work itself–which means focusing on anything but the work itself is asking for trouble. Not affair-gone-wrong trouble, granted, but it can set the student up to feel really uncomfortable and yet too vulnerable to say anything about it.
What do you think, Shapelings? Have you had good experiences with excessively “friendly” instructors? Does teacher-chattiness make you more comfortable? For those of you who are teachers, do some students seem to respond better when you talk about things other than what you’re teaching? (And is this kind of thing addressed during teacher training?) I mean, I’m totally willing to entertain the possibility that it’s just me here. But then, even if it is, all that tells you is something that should be the bedrock of any mind/body exercise teaching philosophy: it’s really important to read students correctly and meet them where they are. If there are students who can somehow concentrate better while you chatter away about your mother-in-law, then by all means, keep doing it with those students. But don’t convince yourself that a student who’s giving nothing but fake smiles in response is actually enjoying or benefiting from that shit. When in doubt, ask if the student thinks she’d work better if you stayed quiet between instructions–if either of those teachers had done that, I’d have felt comfortable saying yes, and I might still be working with them.
And for the love of Maude, do not giggle and announce that you’re “just in a weird mood!” You’re in your fucking workplace with a client. It’s your responsibility to remain in a professional mood. I mean, I know these are disciplines that attract freaks and weirdos–I’m one of ‘em–but if you’re making up silly songs while I’m trying to stay focused? YOU’RE NOT BEING “WEIRD,” YOU’RE BEING UNPROFESSIONAL AND OBNOXIOUS.
Whew. That felt good.