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In praise of anonymity as equanimity

Show of hands: how many of us have ever been a student in a yoga class and heard the teacher say, in the midst of a series of alignment cues, "Epic crow pose, Rachel!"

We've all been there. If, by some stroke of luck, you are Rachel that day, you might have felt special. First of all, the teacher knows your name. Secondly, s/he was looking at you at just the right moment when your feet lifted off the mat and you found a little bit of flight. And finally, s/he was so impressed by your asana performance that s/he announced it to the rest of the class.

But what if you are Rachel and you didn't want to be the focus of public attention at yoga that day? Or what if you are one of the other 29 people in class that day who never got called out by name and publicly praised? How does it feel then?

I've been thinking about this a lot recently. I know some teachers intentionally use this tactic of calling people out by name and giving feedback and praise during classes, and I certainly understand why they might do this. First of all, it personalises the experience and fosters an immediate sense of connection. People like to feel "seen" and if you feel your teacher knows your name and is noticing your "progress" in yoga, you might be more likely to return to that class over and over and over again.

However, as a teacher, I made a decision years ago to try my hardest not to single people out by name in class. Why would I do this? Because I believe that as a teacher, it is my job to offer a class that treats everyone equally and doesn't single people out, even if it is to praise them. The only fair way I know how to create this kind of environment is to try my hardest to never single anyone out by name during class. (Which doesn't mean I don't learn names or chat to people before or after class.)

I've been a student in classes with teachers who use this "calling out and praising" tactic. And as a yoga practitioner with a strong asana practice, I've been the student who was verbally praised and called out by name. How did it make me feel? Honestly, pretty uncomfortable. It's distracting and fosters all sorts of mind chatter that yoga is trying to quiet, as well as competition, with self and with others. And when I hear other students called out by name, I can't help but look around a bit and wonder what it was that they did that "earned" them such public praise.

And beyond that, consider for a moment what happens in this scenario: you are a student who is used to being called out by name and praised in class. You have come to expect it, and on some level, you like it (because you are human and this is normal). But one week, the teacher doesn't say your name at all. It's like you aren't even there. Are they mad at you because you haven't been in class as often recently because you are busy at work or caring for an ill family member or dealing with life? Is your practice a mess this week? Does your teacher think you aren't working hard enough? Do they have a new favourite student? What do you do then? Start to show off or push beyond your limits to get the teacher's attention and earn their public praise? And what about the other students in the class, perhaps the ones who have been practising in that class for a few weeks rather than a few years? Do they walk out of class feeling like they are 'second-class citizens' feeling overlooked because nobody said their name in class? In all potential outcomes of this scenario, ego wins and yoga loses.

I'm also sensitive to the people who come to yoga and have no interest in personal interaction with their teacher or the other students. I've observed people who come to my class for months or years, very regularly, who enter very quietly, 2 minutes before class starts, practice in an incredibly focused way, and leave at the end, equally quietly. Sometimes they say a quick "thank you" after class, but there's not much chat beyond that. I feel that as a teacher, it is my job to respect and be sensitive to the diverse reasons why people come to yoga. And some people really just want a 60-90 minute chance to switch off and be anonymous. They don't want to make friends with their teacher. They don't want to be the point of focus of the other students in the class. And they don't need me to publicly praise or validate their efforts.

The longer I teach yoga, the more I value the classes where I can go and practice "anonymously." I don't want to go to class and be the focus of attention. I want to roll out in a dark corner in the back, do my thing, and learn what I can from the teacher. I know I'm not the only one, too. In chatting to my yoga teacher friends, I hear them express similar sentiments.

I have tactics I use to give students direct and personal feedback in classes. Hands-on assists are one of the best tools for this. I frequently give students gentle "taps" on the shoulder as I walk around if I see them working through something with a lot of focus and discipline. And if I'm standing near someone or giving an adjustment and notice their strong, steady breath, I will quietly say to them "strong breath."

All that said, I'm really curious to hear what other people think about this. Do you have an intentional approach to how you deal with this?

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