What would you do?

by Annie Carlin

I love assisting – at times love it more than teaching. You get to spend individual time with students, support their particular needs, give someone a little boost that gets them into the pose, see the smiles as students finally “get it” – it’s awesome. I assisted at Mala for a month or so a few years ago and it was truly one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Also, it’s what convinced me not only that I wanted to become a yoga teacher but that I needed to. I have been known to jump off my mat in the course of classes I’m taking and assist. Luckily, my teachers are pretty tolerant of my intrusion, though I do recall Stephanie yelling at me across the room once, exasperated, telling me to get my butt back on my own mat and to do my own practice. (Love you, Steph!)

There is a wonderful organization here in DC called Yoga Activist. Yoga Activist brings yoga to underserved populations including low-income adults and youth, minorities, the homeless, survivors of sexual assault, among others. They ask yoga teachers to both teach and assist these classes on a volunteer basis. I signed up and was placed with a program that offers free classes at a DC library. Yesterday evening was my first class and I was slotted to assist/understudy. I had a slight moment of panic when the main teacher was a few minutes late – no class plan, ack! But then she showed up so all was well. I did get a chance, as I was preparing to teach the class, to talk to the students who came on time, including one intrepid soul who was 38 weeks pregnant.

Now, I used to be really nervous about teaching very pregnant ladies, but pre-natal training, some experience and maturity has helped a lot with that. I calmly told her congratulations and asked about her yoga practice. She assured me she had been to this class before, had been practicing yoga regularly throughout her pregnancy and knew how to modify. I gave her the usual spiel on making space for the baby, not doing anything that felt bad or weird and to take it easy. She smiled and agreed.

As the class got underway, the teacher suggested I demonstrate as she was working on not doing the class along with the students. I agreed, but asked if it was ok if I also kept an eye on some of the students with injuries and special needs. She seemed ok with that and off we went. It was a nice class. The teacher didn’t do things exactly like I would have, but the speed was right and students seemed to be enjoying it…and then I caught the pregnant lady out of the corner of my eye trying to do an intense closed twist. As calmly as I could, I stopped demonstrating and ran over to her side the room, got her attention and asked her to do an open twist instead. After she looked at me like I had three heads, I showed her what I meant and she tried it (thank god), smiling once she understood and must have felt better. This happened every time a closed twist was taught.

Now – maybe the main teacher felt like I had it under control, but she said and did nothing. No instruction for her pregnant student to do subsequent open twists instead of closed, no intervention, nothing. She just went along with her sequence like nothing had happened. At the time, the safety of mom and baby was my priority and I didn’t really think beyond that. But as this happened again and again, I wondered. Had this mom-to-be been doing closed twists for her entire pregnancy? Had this teacher ever said anything? Did the teacher know that closed twists during most if not all stages of pregnancy were a bad idea? If not, where did she do her training? I would hope that “don’t squish the baby” is part of every 200 hour training, but maybe not?

As the “junior” teacher in this scenario, I didn’t bring it up with the main teacher. I did chat with the pregnant student afterward and made sure she was ok. I figured I had averted disaster, but what if I hadn’t been there? I have no idea if the teacher would have intervened. Considering the student had been to the class before and didn’t know about the open twists, signs point to non-intervention. As I drove home, I started to wonder if I should have said something to the teacher, which would have likely resulted in her being insulted and would have strained our working relationship, or whether my demonstrated intervention was enough.

I still don’t know…so I’m asking you. What would you have done?

NEWBIE chronicles the journey of a new yoga teacher.  From teacher training to building a business, follow Annie Carlin as she details the highs and lows of finding her place amidst one of the worlds oldest practices.


About The Mala Yoga Blog

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2 Responses to Newbie

  1. Pat Manchester says:

    Hi Annie
    I’ve been smiling over your posts for weeks now – it’s time to comment – finally. Just so you know, one of those times that you leapt off your mat to offer advice was to me. You told me to set my feet further apart in urdhva dandurasana (sp? anyway, full wheel) and the pose has felt ever so much better ever since.

    As for the matter at hand, sometimes politeness and protocol have to be cast aside, and concern for someone’s safety provided you with one of those times. Should you have talked with the senior teacher? I think yes, but it’s easy to think and say that in retrospect – much harder in the moment. If you see her again, maybe you could say something like, “Something’s been on my mind since the evening we worked together. I enjoyed that class (maybe give an example) and I could see that you are a thoughtful teacher. I wouldn’t bring it up if it weren’t an issue of safety, but it’s something that was included in my training but perhaps not in yours.” Then tell her about closed twists in pregnancy. She might thank you or she might think you’re a total jerk, but, either way, she’ll probably be more aware in the future.

  2. Annie says:

    Hi Pat – I just tried to leave a reply but it seems to have gotten eaten. Thanks so much for responding – and I’m so glad you like the posts! I think you have a very good point since it was an issue of safety. Luckily, I will be teaching the class next time I go, so I’ll be able to address it then should it come up!

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