I forget what it's like to be a beginner. Sometimes I mistake learning a new pose as being akin to this sensation but this is wrong. This is nothing like being a beginner. This particular point is "new" but the template is familiar. I've lived as an expat for nearly a decade and have to soften my cynicism when people ask things like: where can I get baking soda? New experiences are difficult, wrapped in a shell of exhausting, topped with a cover of frightening.
When I first started promoting my private classes, I was promoting with students like me in mind: type A, specific goals in mind, a lot of mileage on my mat, wanting to push beyond what many teachers feel safe doing in a mixed group setting with too many variables. I missed the mark.
I've learned that the majority of my students come to me out of fear. Yoga has been on their radar for pain, stress, digestive issues, etc. but they are scared: of hurting themselves, not being able to do it, looking like an idiot in class, of having the reel of "you're too ____: fat, old, awkward, stiff, broken...." to be proven true. This experience is not unique to yoga. However, the biggest challenge for us as teachers is being able to go into their world rather than pull them into ours. This is a process of building connections, not only between yourself and the student, but between the student and their sense of connection to their own skin. On the other side of the equation, the biggest challenge for you, the student, is bringing us into your world. It means allowing yourself the vulnerability to try: staying open to feeling confused, sore and awkward more often than not. Believe it or not, the hardest part isn't the flexing or bending; it's wrapping your mind around the idea that yes, you can.
Advice for Prospective Students
1.) Everything new is awkward... for a while: jobs, smartphones, kissing. It gets better!
2.) Forget what you can't do- focus on what you can and build from there. I personally have a lot of limitations. I can't run. I can't hike. I can't put my legs behind my head. PMS includes losing my balance. However, this is a shallow list compared to what my body can do. As I get older, this list just keeps getting longer! Thanks, yoga!
3.) You're never too_____ for yoga. This is your world and yoga just wants to hang out in it a little bit! Bad knees? There's a yoga for that. One leg? There's a yoga for that. Asthma? There's a yoga for that. Slipped disks? There's a yoga for that. Scared witless of failing? Yoga IS for that. Forgive my bias. I think practicing yoga can change the world as it changes how those that practice move through and shape theirs. I can only speak to my world and experience, but if you feel the flicker of curiosity to try something, physical or not: a language, an instrument, a visual art, but the first step seems overwhelming, perhaps private lessons are just what the doctor ordered.
4.) Remember- you value what you pay for. Often times, paying a higher price leads to greater commitment. I have no qualm about throwing a $2 t-shirt on the floor but would never dream of doing the same to a dress that costs half a month's salary. Both are just pieces of fabric cut apart and stitched back together. It's my perceived value that makes all the difference.
Notes for Teachers
1.) Listen. This seems likes a given, but pay attention to the un-saids as much as the saids. These subtle messages will color much more than the poses you choose. It dictates everything from your tone, to your touch to your sequencing.
2.) Know that it's okay to push.
This requires confidence on your part: 1) to stir the confidence in the student that they can do it; 2) to discern when students are ready or just going along with it to appease you. There is an extremely delicate balance between losing the trust of students who aren't comfortable speaking up against you and sparking improvement by getting people out of their comfort zone. The caveat to this is that push doesn't mean "more." Deeper doesn't equal better. Backbends are therapeutic whether on blocks or touching toes to one's skull. The difference is the mental equanimity that goes along with venturing into the unexplored. "Push" in my context means trying different poses, supporting students trying to take weight on their hands- taking students places they never thought possible or weren't aware even existed with safety and care. Know if there's a mental limitation you've subconsciously put on your student. This can also mean push the pace. Weight-loss as vanity is pointless. However, some students may be trying to manage medic risks by losing weight. Sun Salutations because of the dynamic movements are prescriptive in these cases. We yoga teachers are not drill sergeants but that doesn't mean we only have a yoga voice and chakra talk to effect change.
3.) See your role as finite. This is not to say send them packing after 6 months. They may study with your for years. That's awesome! More to the point, in our case, the "good" student is one who is able to take the pieces and integrate them into their own lives. This starts from session one and should be continuous. Ask them questions. Have them lead parts of the sequence. Provide follow up resources for them to practice without you. I used to think that the mark of good teaching meant having students attach to me. Living in an expat community eliminated a lot of the possibility of that. I love developing with students overtime, but akin to parenting, the mark of a good parent is raising an independent child, not one needing laundry done at 22. They will never stop learning from you (literally or proverbially) but the lessons learned should permeate life outside the hour or two you spend together once a week.
I would never try to diminish the fear by saying it's all in your head. The thought is there, the feeling is visceral. What matters is recognizing it, acknowledging it, and allowing yourself the vulnerability to be brave. Your teacher is here to meet that fear and act as your docent to the world of living better in your own skin.
If you are interested in starting personal classes with Mindy, you may use this form or send an email. Mindy specializes in knee/hip problems, ACL rehabilitation, back therapy. She is well versed in making therapeutic modifications and designing personalized sequences based on your needs.