What This Teacher Learned From Her Students

I experienced something unexpected recently in a yoga class I taught, and I want to share my insights and the lessons I learned with you.

I was at my first class in a new location, fully prepared, I thought, to teach chair yoga. I figured I knew what to expect, as I teach several chair yoga classes. However, the 2 students who showed up for this class were different from other students I ever had in any of my classes.

One person (I’ll call her Annie) appeared to be only in her 30s, but in addition to walking with a cane, she was clearly mentally handicapped. Her friend, Susie (fabricated name), appeared to be in her late 30s, with no apparent physical disability, but oddly over-communicative, asking too many questions that had, to me, obvious answers. My assessment of her was that she too had some cognitive deficits. All of this became even more apparent when I asked them to fill out the obligatory first class intake form and liability waiver.

I consider myself to be a compassionate, fairly nonjudgmental person.  So why was I feeling annoyed? I became even more upset with myself because I was annoyed.  “How am I supposed to teach these students?” was the question running through my mind. Quickly, I realized that I was asking the wrong question. The question I began to consider was, “What are these students here to teach me?”.

While these 2 friends spent a considerable amount of time filling out the simple form, I contemplated the “right question”, noticing my annoyance and upset disappeared. And in the open space granted by my inquiry, I observed one of the most beautiful displays of friendship, caring and compassion I remember seeing. Susie was helping her friend Annie answer each question on the form, even though she herself was struggling to complete it. At one point she asked me for a new form for Annie, so she could have a fresh attempt to complete the form as required.

While doing her very best to answer the questions in the paperwork for both of them, Susie told me she suffered the effects of “fetal alcohol syndrome”, and that’s why she talked so much and asked so many questions. “My mom drank when she was pregnant with me. I’ve always been like this.”, she said.

It was at that moment that I realized that Susie saw herself as inherently flawed, and had been apologizing for being “different”, even “defective”, her whole life. My heart sank to hear Susie justify her perceived inadequacies in light of the most beautiful display of love, patience and kindness with her friend Annie.

I realized the lesson that Susie and Annie showed up to teach me in my yoga class that day. I must be the person to reflect Susie’s perfection back to her. I no longer saw her “flaws”, but her beautiful heart. I was moved by her empathy and compassion at a level I rarely experienced, and I was inspired to exemplify and become those qualities for Susie, Annie, and hopefully, all my students.

The 3 of us enjoyed our remaining time when we did the “yoga” (movement) part of the class. Really, the whole experience embodied the teachings of yoga. Awareness, Be with what IS, and Unity - of self and with another.

My powerful lessons from these 2 beautiful students:  The teacher is always a student; Continuously be in the inquiry of my thoughts and feelings –  if I am unsettled, unhappy, annoyed - there is something for me to get; and most importantly, strive to be as heart-centered, compassionate, and yes even perfect, as Susie.

I am reminded of the quote by the late Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

I’d love to hear your comments, and also your stories of situations and people that were initially challenging, but ultimately taught you a valuable lesson. Please share them on the blog.