Why Teaching Bad Yoga Classes is a Good Thing
All yoga teachers teach bad classes. Or at least, classes we think are terrible, even if the students’ experience was more positive. We stumble over words, say that knees are elbows and toes and earlobes, and feel the angry gaze of people who’ve been held in utkatasana for so long they start to hate us.
But — unless you actually injure or upset someone — teaching bad classes is a really good thing. It’s impossible to become a better teacher if you don’t have any mistakes to learn from.
When someone asks you a question about their practice and you don’t know the answer, you find out. And you remember that. When someone comes in with an injury or health condition you know nothing about, you go and learn about it and discover how to teach that person well (or figure out when you need to refer them to someone else).
It’s impossible to become a better teacher if you don’t have any mistakes to learn from.
When you feel a bit rubbish after a class, but you get up the next day and go and teach again anyway, you’re building resilience. You are strengthening your commitment to your work. Because it’s easy to teach the seamless classes; the ones with the flow, the ease, the gratitude and peaceful energy as everyone rolls up their mats at the end.
But it’s hard to teach when yesterday you felt like an idiot.
There’s something to learn from every tough class
There really is. You might learn something practical, or you might learn something about your own relationship with yoga; with teaching; or with yourself.
By struggling to hold space for a group of people who seem low or tired or stressed, you learn more about how to hold space for those people next time.
By feeling out of your depth and vulnerable while you’re teaching yoga, you offer a different kind of experience; one that might feel terrible to you, but inspiring for someone else in the room. You’re a yoga teacher; and in spite of what some might have you believe, yoga teachers are imperfect humans like everyone else.
When you show the people in your classes your humanness, they see someone who has the confidence to stand up in a room full of people and lead — even with the stumbling, mumbling, tripping and tumbling.
You never know when your mistakes could inspire someone. I realise how that sounds (cue inspiration meme). But I do think it’s true.
She said “honestly, seeing you get up and teach a whole yoga class after everyone had seen you sleeping at the front made my week so much easier.
One of the worst classes I taught was not long after my daughter was born. I started teaching again, just a couple of classes a week, when she was only five weeks old. I wasn’t really aware of it at the time but, looking back, I was exhausted, emotional, and thinking about my baby every second I was away from her.
I arrived at the class venue - an office building in London - ten minutes early, rolled out my mat and sat down to breathe for a few minutes before anyone else got there. The next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and 15 people were sitting on yoga mats, looking at me curiously. The regular in the front row had said “Izzy?” and I’d woken up.
Yep; I’d fallen asleep, sitting on my mat, and remained asleep while a class full of people walked in. They’d assumed I was meditating and they’d followed suite, settling themselves on their own mats and closing their eyes...but after a few minutes of silence, they’d twigged.
We laughed it off together, but it threw me off and I spent the rest of the class feeling like a terrible teacher and worrying about what everyone was thinking of me. I didn’t do a good job.
But the following week one of the regulars at that class approached me. She too was a relatively new parent, and she’d been struggling at work; worrying that colleagues were judging her for not being as ‘good’ as she was before. She said “honestly, seeing you get up and teach a whole yoga class after everyone had seen you sleeping at the front made my week so much easier. I’ve stopped caring so much about what everyone thinks!”
It was still a bad class. I still cringe when I think about it. But there was a big positive - so I can’t regret going out and teaching it.
So let it go
Embrace the messiness of the bad classes and then let them go.
Wash your hands or meditate or practice a few surya namaskar, or go for a walk or talk to a friend or cuddle your cat.
Build a small ritual into your teaching practice that helps you let each class settle into the past. Remember that your classes tomorrow will be different, and that years from now, you might do something really well just because you did it badly today.
It’s not that there’s no such thing as a bad class. There is — and most of us have been to one or two. But there is no class that isn’t worth teaching; even if only one person shows up, or your class plan flies out of your brain the moment you start talking and you find yourself unexpectedly and haphazardly winging it. You are becoming a better teacher with every class you lead.