At the end of my yoga classes, I often announce that I am open to both questions and feedback.
Over the years, I have had many students take me up on that and hang around after class to ask questions or just to chat. Frequently, students offer feedback. The positive stuff is fun to get: “Love the music, great sequence, I feel great!”
Occasionally, it goes the other way.
While I don’t generally enjoy the negative stuff, I have undoubtedly learned the most from those brave souls who had the courage to offer the less pleasant comments. It isn’t necessarily easy to offer negative feedback, even for the most assertive among us.
In one particular instance, after subbing an evening class for another instructor, I was gathering my things, preparing to leave for the night. One of the students who had been in class was hanging around, clearly agitated and uncomfortable. I don’t remember the particulars of our ensuing conversation, but suffice it to say she proceeded to share with me that she was unhappy with a particular pranayama (breathing) technique that I introduced at the beginning of class.
She had been in yoga teacher training and had studied with a Kundalini (a specific style of yoga) master teacher. She felt that I had been irresponsible with the way I introduced and practiced a technique that is commonly taught in that style of yoga. As I was listening to her explain her reasoning, many thoughts were racing through my head: This lady is off base. People don’t “go crazy” because of a misplaced pranayama technique. Is she for real? I just want to go home. Why did I sub this class? Ugh!
Moving beyond my initial thoughts, my actual response to her was that I regretted that she was upset by what we did in class and would be more thoughtful about my placement of certain techniques in the future. Additionally, I acknowledged how difficult it seemed to be for her to be having this conversation and that I appreciated her taking the time to discuss her feelings with me. It would have been a lot easier for her to just leave and stew about it.
Slightly appeased, she eventually left the studio and I headed home. The entire drive home I thought about her comments. I wasn’t angry so much as upset that she had…well, she had questioned my teachings. Who was she to question what I presented in class?
My next, more sobering thought was, why shouldn’t she? Why shouldn’t students question and challenge us? The problem wasn’t that she had questioned me. The problem was I was afraid she was right. Busted. I had thrown a pranayama technique into a class without giving it a whole lot of thought and she had called me on it.
Of course, as soon as I got home, I went online and did some research on the technique I had presented. I found a number of credible articles in respectable yoga publications that supported my use of the technique. I was vindicated. I was right. So there.
Somehow, I didn’t really feel that much better. The next morning, I sent the student an email. I reiterated my message of the night before adding that I had great admiration for her courage in confronting me about something she clearly felt strongly about. Most of us quietly leave and grumble to ourselves on the car ride home. I also offered that I was still comfortable with what I had taught, citing my resources. I concluded by thanking her for helping me to become a better, more mindful teacher.
This experience taught me a valuable lesson. All the strokes and compliments are pleasant and I certainly enjoy them when they come my way. The reality is, it’s the negative feedback that inspires true growth. It challenges us to examine what we are doing and why.
In any given yoga class, we teachers ask our students to do any number of things that may seem unusual or confusing. Most of our students gamely trust that we know what we’re doing and go with the flow. Every once in a while, a brave yogi speaks up and asks us to justify what we are asking them to do. It’s not necessarily convenient or pleasant, but it asks us to put our egos aside and humbly offer what we know, admitting that sometimes our knowledge is incomplete.
We have so much to learn from each other.
I am grateful for this student who respectfully challenged me. I didn’t change my mind about what I had taught, but I was more prepared to explain to anyone who would ask in the future why we do it and place it where we do within the sequence.
That same student has intentionally come to a few of my classes since our initial discussion. The last time she offered feedback it was of the “great class” variety. It was nice to hear.
I extend to you an invitation on behalf of yoga teachers everywhere. To all of our beloved students, please give us your feedback—positive and negative. While we will happily welcome the positives and the pats on the back, we will also gratefully accept the opposite. We know that it’s the constructive criticism, the challenges, the thoughtful questions that will help us grow and ultimately serve you better.
Author: Libby Scanlan
Image: Beth Stuart Yoga
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Emily Bartran
Social Editor: Emily Bartran