Rogue Yogi: What to do when a yoga student doesn’t follow your cues.

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Something surprising recently happened in a class I was teaching. It unfortunately wasn’t an epiphany or jolt of kundalini rising – it was a student gone rogue. A student, who although attending the class I was teaching, did an entirely different postural yoga sequence.

Picture this. I start the class as I normally do, with a brief introduction, asking students if the have any issues or injuries, followed by pranayama practice. In this class, I asked students to lie down and begin breathing evenly. While the class began to lower down, I noticed one student in the back row did not. This student remained in sukhasana, choosing a balancing nadi shodana practice over the cued sama vritti.

Okay. Maybe has an undisclosed injury or issue that is preventing the student from doing this. No worries.

Breathing practice concluded and students rose to sukhasana. ‘This will put us all on the same page’ I thought. But as the group united as a cohesive unit, the rogue student pushed back into balasana.

Odd. Maybe the student needed a shift from shitting cross-legged? It’s cool.

 From here students travelled table top pose and began a cat/cow flow. The rogue student? In happy baby pose of course.

At this point, I began to doubt myself a bit. Am I cueing poorly? Does the sequence not make sense? Why is my teaching not resonating with this student?

I consider talking to the student directly, but I weighed this option with the effect it would have on other students in the class. As the rogue yogi was in the back row, most students couldn’t see the parallel practice. I opted to leave the student be.

As class progressed, the student entered various poses, but none that I actually cued. Sometimes the poses were more advanced- other times not. I shifted my focus away from the back corner the student occupied and focused instead on students actually in the class.

For the remainder of the class, the student did whatever their own flow, though oddly seemed to be in sync with when the poses changed. When we were in camel, the student was in halasana. At one pointed there was a non-directed handstand. At the end of class, the student left without saying anything. I let them go. Was it the right choice? What is the best thing to do in this situation, when you have a student who flat out is not listening to you?

The answer is more complex than you may think and requires reflection on your own teaching style as well as some context.

The student thinks you suck and wants to do their own thing.

Some teaching styles just do not vibe with students. If a student doesn’t like what you’re doing, they may opt the rogue yogi route. That said, they could also get up and leave, or remain in the class. If this is the reason, the plus side is that the student will most likely not return to our class in the future.

The student likes practicing in a group but not with the group.

There is something special about practicing yoga in a group of people. The shared energy, experience and community is inviting for most of us. So it could be that a student wants that experience but without following the flow. Kinda weird, but weirdness if what makes life so interesting.

The student has an issue or injury that the don’t report to you.

I always ask students to let me know of any injuries they may have before class begins. That said, they don’t have to report anything to you. As long as they stay safe and adjust poses to suit them,

The student is jerk.

Jerks exist in every culture, country and sometimes, your yoga class. Unless you are a psychologist or really into investing in shitheads, there is no need to worry about this student. If you don’t feel like dissecting an ego other than your own, don’t. Move on and up.

To be fair, I have no idea what this student was thinking because I didn’t ask them. These are speculations.

You can always say something to this student, though choosing confrontation is up to you. I know in some yoga lineages (ahem, Ashtanga and Bikram) getting shouted at and pushed to the limit can be a regular part of class, so feel free to tell this student to GTFO.

Or you could go the route I took- tolerance, assuming this student won’t return to my classes. I ultimately took this stance because I encourage students to (to quote YouTube Superstar Adriene Mishler)to “find what feels good’ and adjust their practice to the one I am cueing. That said, this student was an extreme example of this- most students take a balasana or knees down in plank as a customisation. If the student cam regularly to my classes, I would find a time to speak with them away from others.

That said, I think these are situations to speak up and ask the student what the heck is happening. These situations are:

 The student is putting themselves at risk by doing postures incorrectly.

If the rogue yogi is doing postures in a dangerous way, this give you the green flag to say something. While this runs the risk of embarrassing the student in front of the class, it lets them know you are watching them, which was maybe their goal in the first place.

The student is affecting the practice for fellow students in the class.

When someone deviates from the norm, they bring attention to themselves. If the student is visible to others in the class and clearly affecting their practice, it is perfectly in line to ask them to step in line or leave. It isn’t fair for their concept of a practice to distract other students.

So there it is: how to deal with a yoga student gone wild! Feel free to speak up if it suits the style or you teaching, but also feel free to not. There are a lot of variables to consider here, so trust your knowledge and gut feeling.

Have you ever dealt with a direction challenged yoga student? Share you experience!


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