“Our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food or water.” -Matthew Lieberman, PhD
Teaching a physically challenging yoga class with an emphasis on mindfulness isn’t easy in a culture driven by competition and speed.
In a difficult experience with a rude student at the start of her career, Dori Thomsen, Founder of the Soluna Yoga+Spa in Jacksonville, Fla., demonstrated that she can pull it off with grace.
In 2010, Dori began teaching yoga in a glass-enclosed studio in a lush, Costa Rican jungle. Into this paradise walked a student who had just flown into town from a big American city.
To set the tone and intention for the class, Dori began with a 5-minute meditation. It quickly became clear that the student, who was chewing gum, tapping her toes and drumming her fingers on her lap, could become a disruptive force in the class.
As the class continued, the student ploughed through the poses, rolled her eyes and groaned to express her annoyance. Tension was building. The other students sensed it.
“She really threw me off my game,” Dori said. “I was new and a little insecure as a teacher. I didn’t know how to hold space. My voice was shaky and nervous.”
Dori wanted to handle the situation peacefully, but a flurry of questions ran through her mind. Should she ramp up the pace? Ask the woman to leave? Was she really cut out to teach yoga?
Dori took a deep breath and the path became clear: “I’m not going to let this one disruptive person change who I am.”
With a heart of compassion for the woman, and the experiences that shaped her, Dori asked the class to take child’s pose. She approached the woman, gave her a tissue, and in a soft whisper asked her to spit out her gum.
Thus began what felt like the longest hour of Dori’s life. Several times the woman broke out of pose and started to walk out. Several times Dori nearly asked her to leave.
Surprisingly, the student stuck with it, all the way through Savasana. She was uncharacteristically still as she rested in corpse pose.
Afterward, as other students hugged Dori and said goodbye, the woman stood off to the side with her mat. Dori was stunned when the woman came up, with tears in her eyes, and thanked her.
“You know, I needed that,” Dori recalled the woman saying. “I needed to slow things down. It wasn’t until Savasana that I realized how grateful I was for not walking out.”
Then she reached out and gave Dori a huge hug.
“That class was very life changing,” Dori said. “That’s when I really stepped into my power as a teacher and developed confidence and ease. At that moment I realized, ‘Yes! This is why I’m teaching yoga.’ ”
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