A yoga teacher’s guide to dealing with criticism.

Via Jessica Sarkis
on Jul 9, 2010
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Moving Past the Ego.

What do you do or say when one of those students, almost inevitably after an extended amount of time teaching, either fills out a card on “what can your teacher (or our studio) do better?” or gets ballsy and gives the owner a ring?

Growing up, in elementary school and in dance classes with unforgiving teachers, I never liked to hear any negative feedback on my progress.

Who really does?

But when it’s something like statistics, the wound is a bit less to bear than, say, one of your greatest passions.

Teaching yoga is a humbling experience. You take a deep look into your own eyes, and the eyes of others—in most cases, gazes you have never met before. Assuming the role of teacher puts you out there quite literally. Sometimes people will love your classes, and other times they may not. One week a student may be swooning for your heart-opening sequence, and another week they’re cursing all those damn backbends.

Teaching takes a great amount of confidence, which not every teacher always feels while teaching every class. We are no doubt all human, subject to mood swings and a constant struggle to tune out our own inner chatter.

What about the students? If they came to a yoga class, they must have a certain level of respect, understanding, curiosity, appreciation for the practice, right?

Not necessarily.

Some, if not many of those students attending class are looking for a means to get rid of that damn junk in the trunk…or check out all the hot chicks in contortions. We have the athletically overzealous who like to “do” everything “right” and easily grow frustrated by the dynamics of the postures they come in contact with. The list goes on and on in terms of who is coming to class—it’s a pretty hefty order for one person to be in complete charge of.

What do you do or say when one of those students, almost inevitably after an extended amount of time teaching, either fills out a card on “what can your teacher (or our studio) do better?” or gets ballsy and gives the owner a ring? Nothing. Are you supposed to conclude your teaching career is over and you don’t know a thing about teaching yoga after all? Of course not. What may have been an “off” day for you (and every teacher has them) could have been a bad day for another person, or a student who was ultimately at odds with their own capabilities.

At the end of the day, the reality is you are not now or ever going to please every student who walks into your class.  So continue to do what you’re doing and so long as you keep learning and growing as a teacher while making sure the students are following, don’t sweat it.  Their opinion is, however, something to reflect upon and consider.

There is always room for improvement. Opportunities to learn more are endless.  A favorite book that sits with me often as a sensitive person is, The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The second agreement is “Don’t take anything personally.”

It is never about you. He relates this phenomenon to even the most extreme case of a person holding a gun to your head and, you get the picture, it’s not about you as a person, or even your teaching!  Everything that ensues with another person is simply about just that—the other person.

Jessica Sarkis is a former Washingtonian turned Chicagoan. She enjoys practicing and teaching yoga, while in the process of getting back to her love of writing.


About Jessica Sarkis

Jessica is trying to live in the moment, learn about life and be a good person.


17 Responses to “A yoga teacher’s guide to dealing with criticism.”

  1. Shanna says:

    Great Article. So True. Should be talked about more in Teacher Training. You really have to have a thick skin.

  2. Thank you for this Jessica – as a newbie teacher, terrified at getting up in front of all those people, this helped give me a little breath of encouragement, and more importantly, reminded me to breathe period!

  3. Eva Daryabeygi says:

    Speak the truth sistah!!!! Lovely article, keep them coming

  4. Lydia Grinnell says:

    Awwwwwww, the writer is BACK! Great article Jess, glad to see you sharing your wisdom and experience with others!! (and believe me, to all people reading this-she has a ton, and yoga is this girls life(: )

  5. Kate Perry says:

    Great Article Jessica! As a yoga class participant, I appreciate all the differences in the way my various instructors teach and enjoy the fact that my practice is dynamic and changes each class I take. While I enjoy the classes from some teachers more then others, I always learn something new from each of them. If you are going to be overly critical of your teachers, then buy an instructional DVD where you get the same practice every time(snooze)!

  6. Tiffany says:

    This is all so true. It's so easy to get caught up in trying to please everyone, which is not, for me, an authentic way to teach. I think we have to trust in our knowledge and abilities while continuing to learn and grow, just as you said. And I think it's also about trying to do a really good job and then sort-of taking myself out of it – I'm a facilitator/guide, but really it's about the yoga itself. The yoga is what brings any transformation, not the teacher. Remembering this helps me keep perspective and avoid taking things super personally.

  7. Abby Blanchard says:

    Great article Jessica!!! So true and easy to forget that so much of what we encounter on a daily basis has nothing to do with us.

  8. Angelica says:

    So true! I also have read the four agreements and loved it. Very good article….

  9. Andrea Potter says:

    awesome Jess!

  10. Catherine Stacy says:

    Great article! Such a great topic and beautifully written. In my own classes I sometimes realize that I am either blaming or rewarding the teacher for my practice which just as you said is such a metaphor for our lives that is easier to look outward but the reality is its all about our own practice. Well done!

  11. lindsay jean says:

    great post jessica!! xo girl!

  12. Maria says:

    Jessica I loved your article, thanks so much for writing it…and keep them coming OK?

  13. barefootlotuss says:

    The truism that feedback is just about the other person is equally avoidant of the process of true empathy and honest willingness to acknowledge that you are probably attracting the experience as much as the "other" person is. . dismissing the interaction as "it's just about the other person" is not really in the spirit of true community that yoga tries to foster.

  14. yogadarla says:

    oh good! another person who has decided THEY are the DECIDER of what "yoga is" and "yoga is not". this was such a great article… then i got to this comment. the first line makes me want to vomit. and by the last line… i actually did.

  15. cathywaveyoga says:

    really good article, thank you

  16. Cindy Saunders says:

    Having one of those days today… just what I needed to read, thank you.