The Worst Yoga Class Can Teach You the Most


My strangest class to date actually happened only three months after I graduated from teacher training – over six years ago now – and it still feels like a bad dream. It was a Saturday morning, which is usually the busiest times at most studios. I was teaching a ten o’clock class that topped off at fifty-six yogis, which is bigger than average. I had eleven first timers in the hot room. Two of these first-time students were a couple of college age men that strutted into the studio barely listening to my instructions for the class as they told me they had done yoga before.

“Simply try and stay in the room for the full ninety-minutes.” I told them. “That’s your only goal for today. For the first couple of classes, you are only trying to get used to the heat. If you do leave the room, please stay in the lobby, so that I can see that you are okay.”

They nodded, smiled as if they were about to do something totally wicked, like catch a huge wave, or jump out of an airplane and then headed into the hot room.

Just as I was locking up the door before class was to start, a couple in their mid-forties came in. They were from out of town. Scratching their name down on the liability waivers and joking about how their first date was a Bikram Yoga class, so they knew exactly what they were in for, they scooted into the room, squeezing their mats in next to the young college men.

As any teacher will tell you, when you have wall-to-wall yogis in the room the energy is off the charts. It is a palpable wall of energy that you are in charge of for the duration of the class. This class started in the normal way. We began with Pranayama Breathing, the eleven first time practitioners in the room looking around wildly as the class exhaled loudly together, rotating their heads back and bringing their elbows forward to touch, but eventually caught on and joined in. It was hot and muggy and the students dripped and struggled and sometimes giggled or glared depending on how the yoga was affecting them that day.

I noticed the woman of the couple that had come in at the last second was not following the directions of the class. She had her own version of Triangle Pose, did something else completely when we started Standing Head to Knee Pose, and did the version of Tree Pose where the foot rests on the inside of the thigh instead of drawing it up higher to the crease of the thigh to open up the hip and the knee joint. I remember thinking that maybe they had taken a “hot yoga” class on their first date instead of a “Bikram Yoga” class because there is a difference, but I also had fifty-five other students to take through the series, so I let her continue on with her practice as it didn’t seem to be too distracting.

We hit the first Savasana. There may have been a ton of people in the room, but it was class as usual. In fact, it was a seemingly normal day in the hot room until we hit Fixed Firm Pose, or Supta Vijrasana, which is about seventy-minutes into the class.

Earlier, I had noticed that one of the college kids was struggling, but had taken a break and was lying prone on his mat, which was the appropriate action to take. I didn’t give it a second thought. He was having a hard time, but it was his first class and I had encouraged him to take a break when and if he needed one, and I was glad to see he had heard the instruction and was following it.

And this where it turned from class as usual to a class I will never forget. The woman of the couple that had come in at the last second was now standing next to the college kid’s mat, grabbing his arm and telling him to sit up, starting to put her arm underneath him to stand him up.

“What’s going on?” I asked, knowing that these two individuals had never met before, let alone set eyes on each other until this class.

“He’s in distress, we have to get him out of here!” she yelled, starting to put her weight under him to pull him up.

My heart beating wildly in my chest, as I analyzed the situation at lightning speed, I asked, “Ma’m, can you please go back to your mat?”

“I’m a nurse,” she spat at me, eyes flashing as her brown hair dripped with sweat and her fringe stuck to her forehead.

I repeated, “Please go back to your mat,” taking a position off the podium and in between their two mats knowing that, yes, the student was not in the best shape, but also, that there was no way I was going to relinquish all control of my class to this woman.

I looked at the college kid in question, knelt down, and told him, “If you want to leave the room that’s okay. I will help you out of here. It’s up to you.”

Red-faced, with beads of sweat covering his forehead and cheeks, he smiled and said, “How much longer do I have?

“About fifteen-minutes,” I replied.

“I can make it. I’m staying.”

You could feel the electricity in the air of the room as my regular, veteran students witnessed a situation they do not see their teachers in every day. We continued on with the practice, with me standing in the middle of the room, the nurse glaring at me every chance she had, as she moved from posture to posture, at times cussing under her breath about how stupid and arrogant I was and how I should be taking her advice.

I decided to ignore this behavior as my intuition was telling me to protect my student from her, as well as, protect her from being liable for another student’s well-being, as that was my responsibility. So, I worked from there until the end of the class.

Finding myself back up on the podium as I led my students through their Final Savasana, the nurse and her husband starting packing up early, rolling up their mats and stomping out of the hot room, with little regard for the fifty-four other students in the room.

“Namaste,” I said to my students as I myself walked out the door into the cooler air in the lobby, finding the nurse’s husband waiting for me at the desk.

“How can I help you?” I asked, trying to remain poised.

He slowly walked towards me, finding him behind the desk and in my personal space within a matter of seconds. “That boy was in distress. My wife was right to get him out of there.”

Coming out of the ladies changing room, the wife walked into the lobby carrying her mat and sweat soaked towel.

“Don’t bother,” she said to her husband. “We’re never coming back here again!” she then bellowed for everyone to hear.

I could have crumbled right there or freaked out, but I didn’t. I had made a choice and knew that I would have to deal with whatever the consequences were. Looking around to see where the two college men were, I found them still in the hot room.

“I think it’s time to get out of the heat. You made it through class, let’s get you into the lobby.”

“That was the most intense thing I have ever done!” he exclaimed. “But man, I have a headache. I should have passed on all of those beers last night.”

I inwardly groaned, thinking that beers are the last thing you should be slamming down your throat in preparation for this class and knowing that was the problem.

Grabbing him a coconut water and having him take a seat, he seemed fine within a matter of minutes.

In fact, the following week I found him back at the studio. He even started practicing a minimum of three times a week. I was glad I had trusted myself. He was dehydrated, but he was by no means in such a state that I had to escort him out of the room or seek medical attention.

What I learned from this class:

  1. Listen to my gut instinct. It’s generally always right.
  2. Not everyone is going to agree with the way you run your class. But if you work with integrity and do your best, you are on the right track.
  3. Advocate for every student in the room. I was not only protecting one student, I was protecting both of them. If she had escorted him out of the room, she would then be responsible for his care, which was my job at the time. If he was in distress and she volunteered to assist, that is a very different situation. Stay in command of your ship.
  4. The majority of your classes, both as a teacher and as a student, will not be like this class. In fact, I have had nothing like it since.
  5. Try to connect with every student before class starts. Even if they scoot in late and it’s a busy day at the studio. Or if you’re a student, arrive early, especially if it’s at a studio you have not attended in the past. Maybe if I had a chance to connect with the husband and wife they would have trusted me more and it would have been class as usual.
  6. Students new to the practice do sometimes have an adverse reaction to the heat. But  if they do, I usually am told after class one of the following: I drank too much last night, I am on cold medication, I am on a new medication, or I didn’t eat yesterday. Take care of yourself and tell your teachers if something has changed or if you feel off before class starts.
  7. Do your best with whatever life throws at you. Stay calm, assess the situation, and make choices that will best serve what is happening in the moment.

Originally posted to on April 16, 2018

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