I was inspired to write this because of a sub-optimal experience I had at a yoga class today - a yoga class that I usually enjoy. However, the list I created below can relate to just about any setting and contains habits anyone teaching on any professional level would benefit from not indulging in. Some of them may seem obvious at first, but I see them all the time, I’ve done some of them, and you probably do at least one of them yourself. But, please…stop!
I spend most of my time around parkour and freerunning coaches (see What is Art Du Deplacement), personal trainers, CrossFiters, yoga teachers and chiropractors. If you’re in a different field, I encourage you to read on, see how this applies to you and your profession or area of expertise, and start a conversation below.
AUTHOR BACKGROUND: Cameron Pratto is a professional Parkour & MovNat coach with over 15 years of teaching experience. He has travelled all over the world to deliver natural movement workshops and certifications. Cameron is also a co-founder and CEO of Urban Movement. “UMove” improves and advances the human experience through mindfulness, community and the culture of movement.
Here's a little snippet of my experience today for those of you who haven’t scrolled straight to the list. Hint: If you don’t want to read the short story about what happened today, scroll down the page to see the list.
This is about the fifth time I’ve been to this guy’s class. He has a reputation for being the most experienced yogi in town. The first few classes were the best, most complete yoga sessions I had in a while and they were delivered in a way that profoundly resonated with me. Most yoga teachers speak as if they’re trying to hypnotize you throughout the whole class, or they play music or go too fast. Not that it’s bad, obviously people like it because it’s super-popular, it’s just not my preferred style. In my experience, most mainstream yoga these days is like yoga for exercise instead of yoga for relaxation. This guys class has been different, and although I’ll probably go back at least one more time to make sure he wasn’t just having a couple of bad weeks, I’ve already started writing this. So, I’m going to finish…because it’s important.
I got to class just a few minutes before the scheduled start time. See, already I’m a little late myself as I’d prefer to be there at least five minutes early as a student. I got my little mat on the floor and start my own joint mobility before teacher shows up. Ten minutes go by with nothing, and even though most of the class is in their own space either meditating or doing their version of a yoga warm-up, there’s the group that’s always talking until we get started. This time they’re complaining about how the teacher just keeps arriving to class later and later. There wasn’t a negative tone in their voices, but it wasn’t positive. It seems like it’s normal for him to be late. Weird.
He finally shows up a little more than 15 minutes late. The first and only thing he said when he walked in the room was, “Wow (calmly), there’s all kinds of people in here.” No smile yet and no attempt to connect with the room as he entered. It was as if he had already lost control of the class. I didn’t expect a hug, but a hello around the room would have been cool. He didn’t even acknowledge the fact that he was 15 minutes late. Someone in the class, from the chatty group, actually brought him up on it. The only thing he said was that he couldn’t find parking. Nothing else. “You’re joking, right?”, is what I said in my mind…”whatever, roll with it, it’s yoga class.” Mind you, the class is not in a part of town that takes that long to park. It was all good. I’m late sometimes, too. A few deep breaths later and I was centered enough again to want to continue following him. My threshold of having my time disrespected hadn’t been met, yet.
It was interesting to note that the only other thing he said before starting to move was the normal check-in, “How’s everyone feeling, any aches or pains I should know about?” There’s usually at least a couple of people that say something and are eager to respond so they can maybe get some special attention in the way he organically shifts the direction of class, but it was crickets. He even seemed shocked that nobody had anything to say. I think it was pretty consistent across the board that we just wanted him to start class already. It was almost 20 minutes passed the scheduled start time at this point.
We were only a few minutes in and a student who is always sitting right in front of every class, in the same spot, starts taking pictures of the teacher. Pictures! In a yoga class. The funny part about it is that she had one of those older digital cameras that beeps when you zoom in and take each shot. I already have a super heightened sensitivity to unnecessary sounds, things that are out of place, etc. So, I said something. I was super-nice and even walked up next to her and whispered in her ear. Sweet older lady…she couldn’t hear very well. She couldn’t even hear the sound of her own camera. Ha! All the while, it seemed like I was the only person in the room who hears this fu#$ing beeping.
Why isn’t the coach saying anything? Again, I tried to get back into the brain space to even want to be there anymore.
So, when the photographer left the room I thought it was to figure out how to turn off the beeping noise. Nope. She came back in and started walking around the class taking pictures like she was doing a magazine or blog article. Again, why isn’t the coach saying anything? Why doesn’t he have control of the room? Why didn’t anyone ask if they could take our pictures like that? Why is there this consistent camera beeping in yoga class? Why was this guy so late?
Although I’ve been through some pretty bad yoga classes, that was the first one I walked out of.
I go to China in a couple of weeks to teach a few courses. I think I’ll take a break from his class until I get back to see if they’ve had a chance to realign.
In the mean time, here’s my current top five list of habits teachers and coaches of all kinds should avoid:
1. Being late
I used to think that being 15 minutes early was on time. Then, I met a guy that told me that being 15 minutes early means you’re already 15 minutes late (that’s arriving 30 minutes early for those of you who aren’t good with that sort of thing). Like I mentioned in the article above, optimal arrival time for any student should be about five minutes early. Coaches on the other hand, should be there at least 15 minutes early. It sways back and forth a bit, because sh!# happens, but it’s a good standard to aim for.
2. Not making eye contact
So much of teaching is learning how to read a room and understand its energy. Mindfulness and presence in the moment, in most situations, is more important than the physical movement itself. If you’re teaching and looking at the floor or the ceiling, how are you going to absorb the body language your students are responding to your teaching with? How are you going to connect with your students? There is even a simple, silent exchange that happens just through eye contact, and it enhances these experiences if we’re open to it.
3. Using your phone
Unless it’s an emergency or has something to do with what you’re teaching, your phone should be stowed away somewhere. I would suggest not even having your phone within grasp while you’re teaching unless it’s a tool like a training app or time keeper. Even then, you should be up front and just casually mention to your students or class that you’re going to use your phone for time or to record a video of them to more effectively show them corrections, etc. It is not acceptable for anyone coaching or teaching anything to be texting or searching the Internet during a session…period.
4. Eating anything
It’s unprofessional to not have managed your time well enough if you have to eat in front of your client(s). It’s gross to then leave the container of what you’ve eaten just randomly lying around the gym and forget to pick it up. Hopefully you’ve never had to experience this, but I wouldn’t be saying it if I hadn’t seen it many times. These are not isolated events. I see it around the world. Regardless of how cool you are with your people, you shouldn’t be eating in front of them unless you have lunch together after your session. If you’re running late, ask them for five minutes, and chow down a snack that’ll give you enough energy to eat proper when you’re done.
5. Having poor hygiene
Brush your teeth and get the sleep out of your eyes. It’s one thing to have messy hair, but don’t show up with straight-up bed head. If I can see food in your teeth, so can everyone else. Baggy pants are a big thing in the movement world, but don’t show up with holes or stains in them. Body odor is also more prevalent in our community because we train hard together, but if you show up to class already smelling like a dirty sock, some laundry management skill may be necessary. Or, bring a change of clothes (at least a shirt) if you’ve trained before teaching.