Are you a good student?

(This is not a post about classroom etiquette.)

Although I’d prefer to have rookies in the first row where they can actually see and hear my cues, it’s nice to have experienced students up front who will execute every posture, and can follow whatever nutty sequence I’m putting together.  These people  (inadvertently) act as models for the rest of the class, and their enthusiasm can be contagious (just like eye-rolling and sighs of annoyance are catching).  So if you come to class and you’re “good at yoga,” rest assured: you are appreciated.

But there’s nothing like the folks who have a ton of trouble. Those who are a little injured, a lot Rubenesque, north of 40, new to yoga, or new to fitness, period. I love the people who struggle like crazy and keep showing up.

I mention this because it’s usually the students who are utterly lost in the flow, sweating rivers, but gamely approximating postures who act the most bashful, embarrassed, or even apologetic about being in class. It’s this fear of struggle that keeps most people from coming to class all, or for that matter, trying anything new. Frequently after class I’ll have someone tell me why they had a hard time: their shoulder’s messed up, they just ran a marathon, this is their first hot class, etc. It’s not that I don’t care, I do; but I don’t care in the way people seem to think I might. As if I’ll be offended when a student falls out or takes a break, or be disgusted by a bad-looking triangle.

Power classes are designed to be tough for all comers — if you’re a more advanced student, you can push yourself how and when you want to. As Willie Roth says, “I like to make an easy class hard, and a hard class easy.” But for a lot of people, there’s no choice in the matter.  Class is brutal!

I have a couple who comes to class every week loaded with props galore. They’ve got injuries, they’re fairly awkward, and they make all kinds of adjustments and modifications to make their practice work for them. After this couple’s first class I didn’t really expect them back, but every week they return. For a teacher, this is the best kind of student: one who takes responsibility and ownership of their own practice, without giving a shit what anyone thinks. It’s easy to do something you’re good at. It’s nice for your self-esteem when you don’t have to fear failing, looking stupid, or trying hard, mentally or physically. Showing up for something tough is really the hardest part. Maybe I’m more appreciative of the struggle than the execution because I really have to make a conscious effort to push myself out of my comfort zone. I fear effort myself, and it was probably for that reason more than any other that I decided to start teaching. That way I’d HAVE to stick with my practice, have to keep learning, have to speak to large groups of adults, several times a week, and attempt to know what the hell I was talking about. It’s the dreaded anticipation of discomfort that I’m learning to overcome by repeated execution. That’s what we call practice. And its lessons can be applied liberally all over your life. Slather it on!

I can’t speak for all teachers, but I’m honestly more impressed by an ugly-but-earnest side crow attempt than a perfectly executed and easy one. So don’t worry about what you look like. Own your practice and keep showing up. Most of all, remember that you are your own best teacher. So be an observant one, a compassionate one, and be a good student to yourself.

So you have to be your own teacher and your own disciple, and there is no teacher outside, no saviour, no master; you yourself have to change, and therefore you have to learn to observe, to know yourself. This learning about yourself is a fascinating and joyous business…

J. Krishnamurti

Mom, sister, and little friend trying out Astavakrasana on the side of a road, somewhere in Africa.


2 responses to “Are you a good student?”

  1. amylmarshall says :

    Great post! I recently started taking classes from Katelyn. I’m not great (hell, maybe not even good) but I am having a great time getting my butt kicked on a twice weekly basis. She tells us there is no judgement when we’re on our mats, so I try not to be hard on my self. Cheers to practice!

  2. Jamie Phipps says :

    Thanks for that one I totally relate to everything but keep coming back and do a little home work in between. Being in the “north of 40” crowd dosen’t suck to bad. Matter of fact it is easier to bend,reach and lift since I’ve been hanging out with you :0) You ladies rock!

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