Yoga Teacher, Janette Parent Shares How She Handled a Students Spacial Attachment
I teach at a gym, where most people come to yoga as a physical practice. I make a concerted effort to let people explore their yoga journey without pressure and too many rules. I have a casual approach. I mostly use the English names of the poses, we don’t get too twisty and we don’t chant. I’ve slowly introduced the more spiritual side of yoga, sharing what I’ve learned as my own practice grows. Not too long ago, I was once a member of the class, sitting alongside these ladies on my own journey. Suddenly, I had the opportunity to step forward and learn to lead them in the sequences. They were with me through the awkward, nervous times where I stumbled and stammered. We encouraged and supported each other as we all grew and progressed.
I was saddened when I recently heard that one of my yoga students quit coming to class because a new classmate “took her spot” on the floor. We don’t have assigned spaces, which I point out in class regularly. Nonetheless, human nature causes some people to get into the same area of the room three times a week. While I acknowledge that there are comfort and ceremony to a consistent yoga practice, I suspected that ego had taken over.
At first, I wanted to approach her and see if it was true. She and I had grown close, and I valued her friendship. I did send her a text, checking in on her. I didn’t even mention the rumor. I genuinely wanted to know how she was. She’d been traveling and life was getting complex with family commitments. Believe me when I say that I understand life’s detours involving family commitments. But, that’s another topic…I digress.
I reached out to Yoga Teacher Prep’s Facebook Group with a plea to help me find a way to approach this situation. The online group offered up some wonderful insight which helped me ponder the possible reasons someone would need to be in the same location for each class. They may like to be close to a wall to use it for support (due to an injury, poor balance or vertigo). Some people may prefer to be close to the front of the class, so they can hear the instructor. While some people may be self-conscious about modifications and not want to be a distraction in the front of the class. Then some people are simply embarrassed, nervous, or uncomfortable and want to find an inconspicuous place to quietly practice.
With the help of the online group, I also contemplated how to approach the class. After all, if one person had an issue with their spot, it was likely others did, too. I could use it as a perfect teaching moment. Perhaps I could make everyone move to a new spot, along with asking them to embrace change or discomfort. I could playfully have them pick up their mats and walk around. When the music stops, that’s their spot for the day. I liked the suggestion of having everyone form a circle; a more subtle way of moving them into a different spot. I could use profound yoga quotes about ego, attachment or change – there’s an infinite number of philosophical quotes to select from.
In the end, I decided to not directly address the situation. I didn’t want to disturb anyone’s chi or make them feel uneasy. Yoga class should be a safe place, where the student is given the tools to grow, explore and evolve at their own pace. We never truly know why people say and do the things they do. I believe that the issue wasn’t really about ‘her spot.’ It was just an excuse to explain her absence from class. She hasn’t returned and has since moved to be closer to her family. I did casually mention to my class that I had read a yoga thread about people being attached to their spot in class. Just like the online forum, I had a variety of responses. Very similar comments to the online group, in fact. We openly discussed the subject, laughed, and together we learned from it.
Here I am, the instructor, once again receiving valuable insight from my yoga students, in an unexpected way. This experience reminded that conflict is rarely exactly as we first perceive it. While I don’t run from conflict, I also don’t choose to rush it head on. I prefer to observe and let the dust settle, hopefully allowing me to see the bigger picture. I’d say this is especially important in a group setting such as a yoga class, where multiple people are affected.
Instead, I chose compassion. Isn’t this really my foremost responsibility as a yoga instructor? Empathy for a person struggling with life’s changes, and sensitivity for a class that probably didn’t want to play musical chairs at my whim. Sympathy, concern, warmth, love, tenderness, mercy, leniency, tolerance, kindness and humanity. These are all words that come to mind when I’m in my teaching role. I believe that’s exactly what the world needs more of.
I will note, though, that I now try to move around the class more and teach facing each of the four walls, just in case anyone is getting too rigid in their spot.
Jannette Parent is a visual artist and a caregiver in a small town in Kentucky (USA). A need to relax her mind and escape her stressful life is what drew her to yoga. She first fell into teaching when her instructor took leave and someone had to take over. Now she teaches part-time at the same studio as well as at a local women’s prison. She has been a member of the Yoga Teacher Prep Facebook Group since 2017. You can connect with her there, through her Facebook page, Instagram account, or her website.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to Jannette for sharing her story and for being a valuable member of our community. If you’d like to share your yoga teacher journey with us, please see our Contributor Guidelines.