June 21, 2015

Yoga is Not your Latte: Yoga Comments, How to Make & Take Them.


I’ve heard all kinds of comments about my yoga classes over the years.

Many of them have been kind and vague like, “That was just what I needed” or “I love your classes”.

Positive comments, so long as they are genuine, are not only a source of confidence but also indicators as to what your students appreciate. If you are offering a new class type or teaching to a new demographic, positive feedback can help you tailor the class content and focus.

The negative comments are what I’d like to discuss more. Specifically, how to make them as students and how to address them as teachers. Although it’s impossible to know the intention behind any commentary, the negativity I’ve received seems to come from a place of frustration or desire for change.

People have said things like, “Class was too hot” and “The music was too loud.” I had one student become irritated that I cued utkatasana in stages without using its name, who loudly huffed, “Oh, chair pose? Just say that!

When on the giving side of customer service, it’s essential to remain polite and composed. I think this is even more important for yoga teachers as we are ambassadors for a long tradition that underscores emotional control and loving kindness. It isn’t always easy, especially when on the receiving end of really tactless comments.

I had one student say, “Class was really watered down and too easy.” Although taken aback, I remained positive and professional. The best I could come up with in the moment was something like, “You have an advanced asana practice so you are probably used to doing more. This is level one and I have to teach to everybody.”

Students, if you want to offer constructive feedback to your teacher, here’s how: identify the issue and communicate to the teacher how it affects your practice. The more specific you can be, the better. For example, instead of saying “Class was too fast”, say “I felt like we were moving very quickly and had difficulty following my breath.”

This is a better comment because it is not an opinion. Rather, it communicates how something affected the quality of your experience. If the class type is by nature continuously flowing or athletic, the teacher may not feel moved to change the pace. If many students feel similarly about an inability to follow their breath, however, then your comment may have some effect.

This approach should also apply to yoga teachers who attend public classes. You are certainly in an informed position to give useful feedback—just be willing to shed your role as a teacher during class and become a student.

I had one soon-to-be-teacher attend class a long time ago over a holiday weekend, and they ended up being the only one in attendance. I led a private class for them, which they half-way followed and at one point lifted a finger as if to “hush” me as I cued the exit from garudasana. Although I found that to be incredibly disrespectful, I did not respond to the gesture.

This brings me to another point about respect in yoga: a public class, unless it is mysore, is not the place to do your own thing altogether. Also, it’s not the appropriate place to change the thermostat if it is too hot or cold for you. If you feel endangered or dissatisfied with the temperature, communicate with the teacher.

I paraphrase Kino in one of her videos about customer service in the yoga industry when I say that  “yoga is not your latte.” If you want everything to be just the way you like it, stay home and do your own practice. If you really want something to be different, make thoughtful comments to the teachers you enjoy practicing with so that they know what they can do to serve you better. This is not about sparing feelings or to say that yoga teachers have no skin—this is about good communication and courtesy.

And to the teachers, I hope that the majority of the feedback that you receive is kind and helpful. It is difficult to prepare yourself for the rude comments made without forethought, as they can sting if you take them personally. Here’s what I told a group of new teachers in training: listen to what your students have to say, but don’t try to cater to each person. If you try to give everyone what they want, you’ll exhaust yourself and probably lose sight of what your focus was as teacher in the first place.

This doesn’t mean you should self-righteously guard yourself from all criticism and never evolve. Meditate on the nature and merit of your student comments. Are they “one offs” or is there a trend? One person thought class was too difficult? Let that one go and breathe. Do people regularly make similar comments? In that case, I’d consider if the class could use reassessment.

Just do you. Be responsive and practice active listening by engaging in follow-up questions with students, if there’s time. Simple questions like “How do you mean?” can help you get closer to the root of the comment to clarify if an issue is simply student preference, student-class mismatch or the class itself.

Continue to give your classes the best you can. Use helpful comments to improve your teaching and disregard those that are unkind and meaningless.

Let’s do everyone a favor by learning to ask for what we want in a way that is respectful, clear and kind. We will be more likely to illicit positive change and foster rewarding relationships with anyone who serves us—our yoga studios and teachers and yes, even those who take the time to make our latte just so.


Author: Jessi Hughes

Editor: Alli Sarazen

Photo: Lachlan Hardy/Flickr

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