Letter to a Bitchy Student
I had a woman in class recently who was downright disrespectful and unkind to me. She scoffed at my use of Sanskrit. She flagrantly disregarded my instructions. She even whispered under her breath a few times. Though I didn't hear what she said, it was very clear she was not enjoying my class.
I went through several stages of emotional response.
First was defensiveness. Who does this lady think she is? I’m a great teacher and Ashtanga is a beautiful practice. She’s just an asshole. She can take that rotten attitude and get the hell out of my class.
Then came insecurity. Maybe I am a bad teacher. What if everyone hates my classes? I don’t have what it takes. I’m making a fool of myself. I am too weak to handle criticism.
I vacillated between those two responses for much of the day. Thanks to yoga, I knew to simply observe that chaos rather than get caught up in it. I pictured myself as a person on a bridge observing the raging river below.
Then, hours later, came compassion. Deep, unfettered compassion. I doubt I’ll ever see that student again. Even if I did, I don’t know that I would have the courage to talk to her. But, I still need to get a few things off my chest for my own peace of mind. So here is my open letter to her, and any other student who’s struggled with their attitude in class.
I see you. I don’t mean your physical presence. I mean you. Your heart. Your fear. Your hurt. You have been through something. Maybe your child is in the hospital and the vulnerability that crept in during my class was just too much. That’s okay. I can hold that space for you. I have also acted out when stressed. Just like children, the more unloveable we behave, the more love we need. Maybe it’s not your child. Perhaps your parents were overbearing and abusive. If you weren’t the best at something, they would hurt or shame you. If that’s the case, I bet being in a new yoga class with strange words and different poses made you feel deeply uncomfortable because of your trauma. That’s okay, too. We all have our defenses, and I understand how hard it is to feel imperfect and unloveable. I want you to know that you are safe to experience even the nastiest of emotions in my class. But maybe it was nothing like that. Maybe you just honest to goodness hated my class and felt I deserved poor treatment. That’s also okay. I can take it because I know it’s not your responsibility to validate me. My sense of self worth doesn’t come from the praise of my students. It can’t. That is a losing battle because you simply cannot please everyone all the time. But more importantly, as a teacher, it is my job to be a force for growth in my students. That can’t happen if I burden them with my personal needs. It’s my job to be there for them, not vice versa. Behind every outburst is a wound, and as a yoga teacher I have to be fully aware of that in each moment to properly serve my students.
So, bitchy student, I see you, I love you, and it's okay.
All my love,