Yoga Class Management Skills and Strategies
Listen in to a short discussion on yoga class management and how we can manage the common eruptions and disruptions in our classes:
Or, read an edited transcript of our discussion:
Yoga Class Management – Eruptions and Disruptions in Yoga Class
Thanks to Megan for the great idea for this week’s group coaching session – Yoga Class Management. What to do when unexpected or disrupting things happen in class – burps, farts, crying, fainting, snoring, plus cell phones ringing, gigglers at the back of the class, early leavers – many of these things can create anxiety for our students (what if I fart in yoga class?!?), and for us as teachers, how do we manage behaviour or unexpected events that can disrupt a class?
If there’s time, we’ll also talk about some risk management strategies and putting plans in place to be prepared to deal with emergencies. If we don’t have time this week, we’ll put that on the schedule for next week.
Firstly, there are two mantras that are useful:
• Say it out loud – if something obvious is happening, address it – or even anticipate it if you can. It’s often not helpful if something obviously disruptive is happening in class and you, as a teacher, are pretending that it’s not happening it can be better to say it out loud, kindly, and then chart a new course for the rest of the class.
• If in doubt, refer – if a student needs support or care that is outside your role, refer them to someone who can help, that you don’t try to fix a situation that is outside your scope.
So, firstly to talk about the eruptions that can happen in class. This includes burping, farting, crying, snoring etc. Here’s where ‘say it out loud’ is helpful. If you remember your first forays into yoga, you might remember feeling anxious about just fitting in, doing things right, wearing the right clothes, what to do when you arrive at class, the dreaded ‘what if I fart?’
These are all concerns your students will have, so say it out loud. Even before students come to your class, have it on your pre-class information that you email, text, or have on your website or waivers. Make a video talking about all the concerns and how they might not be concerns. Let students know what to expect, and what they can expect from you. Walk them through the process of arriving at class, step by step. Not everyone needs or wants all of that information, but for those that do, it’s so helpful. You are guiding them into class, letting them feel safe and seen.
At the start of class, you might open with a brief on what to expect from yoga, especially for beginner-specific classes. You might talk about how things arise, burps, farts, tears – and that’s all acceptable. You don’t have to hold anything in in yoga. This is a place to express yourself, to be where you are at today, which is sometimes tidy and tucked in, and sometimes a bit messy – yoga will take you as you are, and we all in this room together can hold space for each other for those days where there are more tears or you are a bit messier.
You might point to the tissue box, outline a few poses to enter if you need a break, or some personal space. You might talk about how you are available for support if they are needing that – all they have to do is make eye contact or put a hand up and you’ll be on your way.
Now, when it comes to farts, if you are a juvenile like me, when someone does a real roaring fart in class, that is funny. You have to have some self-control. You have to feel out the class culture and the character of the farter and the control of the fartees – do you mention it or not. If in doubt, just flow on. If the farter is giggling, you can make a light point – ‘ya, don’t hold anything back in yoga, let it flow’ – and then move on with the class.
Your conduct let’s other students know how to behave in the face of things like farts. It’s light, it’s funny, we refocus and move on. We don’t point anyone out or make anyone embarrassed.
When does an eruption turn into a disruption? When a student is in obvious distress, or when the eruptions are enough to start to distract the students. An example of the latter is snoring.
Sometimes people fall asleep in class, and they snore. A bit of snoring is no issue, you might even speak at the start of class about distractions and how you can allow any distractions or noises just float by, they don’t have to enter your meditation experience. If there is light snoring, that’s an acceptable challenge to people’s focus and attention.
If someone is snoring and it’s disturbing people, though, you have a few options on how to address it. Depending on where you are at in your relaxation timing – you can speak a bit to wake them up and reset the meditation. That might be something like, ‘if your mind has wandered off, come back to the breath’, then you might do a technique – counting the breath, progressive relaxation – give everyone’s minds a job to do to wake everyone up, refocus everyone, and then guide them back into whatever your relaxation is going to be.
In the past, I used to go and touch the snorer’s toe to wake them. Now I know better that particularly for trauma sensitivity that might not be the best option. It might not be the best thing to do to creep around and touch people. But it might be the only option if you can’t gently wake them with your voice. Sometimes you get really deep sleepers, and everyone is annoyed and one person is deeply sleeping. In that case, you might need to step in.
Crying & Tears
With crying, again that might be something you mention at the start of class ‘sometimes tears come, and that’s okay’. If someone gets to the point that they are not just experiencing some emotion, but they look to be in distress – get everyone in a safe pose, ideally something with eyes down like Child, and then make your way over to the person in distress and check in. Maybe they are okay and just letting their tears flow. Maybe they need support. If you are concerned about someone’s mental or emotional health, don’t send them out of the room alone. Either give your students a task – take a few Vinyasas, rest in Savasana etc., or if you are nearer the end of the class, end the class early – students will understand. Then, either help your student out of the room or remain with them in the room until you are on your own and get them on the phone with a support person – a friend, family member, or a mental health service. Stay with them until it’s safe for them to travel on their own, or until someone arrives to support them.
Do: check in on that student later, assure them that these things happen and they are welcome back to class anytime. And, also check in with the other students to thank them for whatever, making space or ending early, and for being such a great yoga community.
Don’t: give them life advice, tell them you understand, tell them stories about your own emotional experiences in yoga, in general don’t assume, impose, or make it about you. Just sit with them and hold space and provide support.
If this is an area where you want to learn more – mental health first aid courses are a great start.
Now, to other disruptions in class, gigglers or chatters in the back of the class is a good one let’s talk about that.
Sometimes we are silly, and a bit of silliness is lovely. But, if you have students who are creating a lot of disruption, that does need to be address.
First, if students are acting like children, act like a teacher. You are responsible for the whole room; you can’t let a few people take control of your class. And I want to acknowledge that both for the students and for you as a teacher it can feel intimidating and excluding to those not part of the fun. Like you are back in high school. That’s why it can be important to take control of the class. There are some simple strategies you can use:
1) A look – make eye contact – this is often enough to help students bring their focus back
2) Turn the back of the class into the front of the class, turn the class around in a technique, that could be the first side of an asymmetrical pose like Triangle or Side Angle, or just – let’s get a different perspective today for balancing or whatever, then you move to the back of the class and people will often put themselves together.
3) Say it out loud – if you are having trouble dropping into the pose or the moment, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and see if you can refocus. So, you are giving everyone that instruction, but it will be supportive of those who have lost their focus for the moment.
4) If it goes on long enough, get students into a safe pose, and then go have a word. It can be gentle and light, like, ‘you seem to be having a great time in class today, and laughter is lovely, but let’s see if we can keep the disruption down so everyone can have a practice’. You might even offer ‘If your giggles have gone beyond your control, take a break outside together to get it all out, and then come on back and refocus’.
5) Sometimes one of the gigglers is provoking the other. Sometimes one of the gigglers really wants to be in practice and doesn’t want to participate but is getting roped in. If you sense that’s the case, or if they really can’t control themselves, ask them to practice apart. Have them shift to a different part of the room, in this class or in the next class. Sometimes that’s a gift you are giving to the one who really just wants to drop into practice and not be distracted. After class you might address it like ‘I see you both have a great connection, but in future if you feel like you will distract each other, maybe practice apart so you can get the most out of your class.’
First have a rule – cell phones are off at the start of class. Keep them in your bag.
If you are an emergency contact for a family member and need your phone, if you are in a caring role, if you have a sick kid at home, have it next to you on silent but vibrate, and put in on a foam block so it doesn’t moo and make everyone search for their phone.
If someone repeatedly breaks the no phones rule, have a private, kind word about it.
Use yoga philosophy – making right use of your energy (Brahmacharya), making right use of your senses (Pratyahara), you know, you have an hour to be here, in your body, in this moment, rather than reaching your energy out in your phone. This might take some practice.
It’s part of our job as a yoga teacher to remind students why they come to yoga, to have an hour where they can focus inward, where they can be free of the rings and dings and distractions of notifications and emails and ringing phones and just be with themselves. That’s something we want to encourage and remind students that this is a space free from all those distractions. That’s one of the benefits of yoga. To be here, now, in this body, in this space, in this time.
The self-regulation skills that we develop in yoga will translate to how we self-regulate in regards to our phones, even if we never talk about it. Yoga gives us that space.
We want our students to understand that yoga is an opportunity to have some joyful time in movement and some sweet time in relaxation.
As a student you don’t often see the class management issues that your teacher is dealing with in class so it’s good to have a reminder of how our students are really like – how much support they need, how much they want to learn about yoga, and what you can do to encourage them to come back and give them a little bit more.