The vast majority of my yoga students are absolute joys to work with, they feel like genuine gifts in my life. And then there are the students that make me think un-yogic things and push all of my buttons before we’ve even begun our first sun salutation. These students are also gifts, they just don’t feel like it in the moment. One student in particular has been a real struggle for me. She is demanding, obtrusive, and persistent (not in the good way). She’ll make demands about the lights, the fans, the windows, anything that alters the environment, if I do not give in to her demands she will poll the other students, often mid class, in an attempt to get her way. She came to a class a few months ago and starting making demands about stuff I had no control over the second she walked into the door. She got indignant when I did not cave and give in to her (I couldn’t, I had no control over the things she wanted to be changed). She was loud and demanding throughout the class, interrupting several times and asking that I do things differently or change things that I, again, had no control over. I ignored her or gave her very curt responses to get her to pipe down during class. I had hoped my cold shoulder approach would keep her away from my classes from that point forward. She not only upset me, but she upset a lot of my regular students. I went to one of my teachers, who has also had the pleasure of this woman in class, looking for advice just in case this student did decide to come back to my class.
Well, clearly I had not learned what I was meant to learn from this woman because she came to class again this week. I felt myself begin to brace for a fight. I noticed where tension had creeped into my body and the shallowness of my breath. I acknowledged the physical shifts and invited my body to relax as I called to mind a quote, attributed to Mother Teresa, one of my teachers shared with me recently while we were discussing difficult students – “Each on of them is Jesus.” I reminded myself that underneath the student’s craziness and underneath my craziness there is divine light. It was a matter of allowing that piece of myself to surface so it could touch that piece of the student. The studio’s theme this month is: Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (may all beings without exception be happy and free from suffering and may all of my thoughts, words, and actions contribute to that happiness and freedom from suffering). My dharma talk was about thinking, speaking, and acting in ways that cultivated happiness and freedom from suffering for the self and for others while on the mat.
Throughout class, I continually had to remind myself to stay open and loving toward the student I so desperately wanted to hate and ignore. When I saw her struggling with a pose and went to offer assistance she let me know she had fallen and hurt her knee. That was when my heart began to break open. She hadn’t been to class because she had been physically suffering. I felt great empathy for her in that moment and offered her some variations of the pose she could do without putting weight on her knee. Every time I sensed myself wanting to ignore her I would take a few deep breaths, let go of the annoyances she had created in past classes, focus on the moment, and if it was appropriate offer her a physical assist to help her with the pose we were doing. After class she thanked me profusely and told me it was a really wonderful class and she appreciated all of the assists.
I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly looking forward to the nest time this student comes to class, but I now see her as a true gift. Deep down we all just want to connect, to be seen and heard, and to be cared for. Some of us have had experiences that resulted in behaviors and attitudes that make it harder to get past the surface and find that divine light within. That does not mean it isn’t there, waiting to be discovered. If we can find enough vulnerability and strength to truly meet one another from a place of intentionally aiming to create greater happiness and less suffering for all involved true connection can occur.