Interruptions As Teaching Tools

For the past year, almost all my teaching has been taking place at my home studio.  

It’s a beautiful set up that I worked long and hard to make possible. In my previous teaching life in NYC though, I taught anywhere and everywhere. I taught in all kinds of crazy places…gyms {like, literally right next to people running on the treadmill}, offices, parks, senior centers, schools and about two or three times a week I had the luxury of teaching in an actual yoga studio.

I always found teaching in a yoga studio to be much easier, because the sacred container was already created for me. When you’re teaching outside of a yoga studio setting you have the extra task of creating and holding safe and special space. That is often challenging because you’ll often have less control over the space. A huge challenge to teaching outside of a studio setting is that frequent interruptions are super common.

I found though, after YEARS of teaching that way, that I loved and welcomed the interruptions, because I was able to harness them as skillful teaching tools….if that sounds crazy to you…read on….

Interruptions Can Be Amazing Teaching Tools,
If You’re Prepared To Use Them That Way

Let’s start here:: The way you deal with interruptions is powerful because it is possible to use them to your advantage to do a few things:

  1. create a bond between you and your client
  2. continue to establish yourself as the leader in a warm and sweet way
  3. use them as mini mindfulness teachings
  4. show boundaries in action

When you’re teaching a group class in a non-traditional space, some of the  possible Interruptions include:

  • co-workers walking through the space or even talking to the class participants
  • school bell ringing / announcements made over loud speaker
  • fellow gym goers running on a treadmill, dropping weights, playing loud music
  • bugs crawling & bees flying around when teaching outside {ugh…this is my least favorite}
  • in places as different from a prison to an office, I have seen TVs on and BLARING

When you’re teaching a private lesson at someone’s home or office, some of the possible Interruptions include:

  • spouse coming in to talk {I’ve had people have full-on fights right in front of me}
  • phone ding ding ding ding dinging
  • animals running around
  • children requesting {demanding} attention, food, answers, etc.
  • doorbell ringing

When the interruptions happen in a private lesson I’ve seen a huge spectrum of reactions. Sometimes people are embarrassed and apologetic, others will completely pretend it didn’t happen, and everything in between.

In either case…here is the recommended framework:

  • Respectfully acknowledge what is happening without making the student(s) feel guilty or uncomfortable. If you pretend like an interruption isn’t happening, it makes it very awkward.
  • Once you’ve acknowledged it, you have to figure out a way to handle it.
  • Have a sweet, warm, approach. This means that you are clear in your instructions and the way you handle the interruptions, without having an attitude that shows frustration.
  • Make sure that you stay grounded and take a minute to re-ground yourself if you need to so you can help your students re-enter the practice skillfully.
  • You’ll show your students that you’ve got a strong hold of the energetic reins and that can be quite powerful.

Here’s a story:

A client that I taught twice a week for YEARS {and LOVED} didn’t always have the best boundaries around his yoga lessons. It was not uncommon for his husband to come in and try to talk to him while he was practicing. I could tell it annoyed my student, but he wasn’t comfortable just telling his husband to go away. I would stop talking and teaching because it was rude to speak over him, not to mention disrespectful of me and the practice.  Instead of dealing with his husband directly my student would crane his neck to look up at me from Downward Dog and ask “What should I be doing? What pose comes next?” He wanted me to deal with the boundary crossing, but that didn’t feel right to me.

…so I would respond…“Well… come up to stand, so you can have your conversation.

I didn’t  want him to feel guilty, and I truly wasn’t annoyed at all, but it felt like a good opportunity to teach a few things….

  1. It’s teaching them that the practice of yoga needn’t wait until things “slow down” {HA!} and that there is so much benefit to figuring out how to fit a practice into life, just as it is.
  2. I see this as a mini mindfulness training…if you want to have that conversation, that’s fine, but be fully present for it.
  3. It also is a place to set clear boundaries. I’m not going to deal with your husband and his lack of boundaries for you. That’s your job.
  4. It’s also sooo important to emphasize this: I was not annoyed. Not in the slightest. I just wanted to model for my student what clear and healthy boundaries look like in practice.

In an interruption like this, or one that happens in a raucous, non-traditional space for a group class, you might be able to pick up right where you left off, but you might need a new transition to bring the student(s) back into the practice.

Here’s another story:

Once I was teaching a group class for seniors in the cafeteria of a rec center. We were right in the middle of a pranayama practice when the entire boys basketball team bounded in to get the snacks and equipment that were {unbenounced to me} set up and waiting for them to come get them.

I said, “Hi!” to the loud group of young teenage boys running in and asked “Are you coming to join our yoga and meditation class?” with a huge smile on my face. The seniors opened their eyes and laughed and smiled at the whole situation. The boys looked surprised and so I said, with a twinkle in my eye, “You’re more than welcome to grab a chair and join us, but if you don’t want to do that, I need you to use your quietest inside voice, okay?”

I told my students “we’ll return to the quieting pranayama practice in a little bit, but for the moment, let’s move!’ I led them through a simple seated vinyasa of arm movements and twists. Ten minutes later when the boys were gone I took plenty of time to guide us back into the practice were had started before we’d been interrupted.

Far from being irritated or stressed out, I welcomed the interruption because I thought it was a good opportunity to teach a few things….

  1. We don’t have to be too precious about our practice. It’s more important to attempt it, than to have everything around it be perfect.
  2. It is possible to change gears at a moments notice without stress.
  3. It is possible to ask the interruptors for what you need {in this situation, “inside voices” were the best I was going to get} without being angry or grumpy.
  4. Boundaries get to be both clear AND friendly.

I think having this attitude of friendly clarity when it comes to dealing with interruptions has been one of my personal super powers. An attitude of irritation due to frequent interruptions can be a real barrier for building a warm relationship between you and your student.

When you use yoga class interruptions skillfully they become tools to create a bond between you and your client, continue to establish that you are the leader in a warm way, offer mini mindfulness teachings and show boundaries in action.

Cool right? Could that get you excited for the next time a co-worker barges into class? 😉

What kinds of interruptions have you dealt with in your teaching? How do YOU handle it? I want to learn from you! Share with us below! 


4 Responses to “Interruptions As Teaching Tools”

  1. Sue McAllister

    Hi Francesca,
    I just listened to the workshop you presented on Yoga Alliance. It was the best one I experienced so far. I just moved from NJ to AZ and hope to teach privately so thank you so much. Your approach is so warm and practical and I will be sure to follow your blog to learn even more. Thank you!!!!

    • Francesca Cervero

      Hi Sue! Thanks so much for being a part of our community here, we are thrilled to have you! Don’t hesitate to reach out and let me know how I can support you. XO

  2. Andree Lachapelle

    Great tips! I work in different settings where interruptions are common but the ones I find most troublesome are those that occur in Savasana — anything from late arrivals who are getting ready for the next class and feel the need to loudly greet my Savasana people and engage in conversation, to people leaving early (and loudly,) to those who see Savasana as a great opportunity to (grunt…grunt) do some ab work. I admire your grace and poise!! Thanks for sharing your ideas — it’s always nice to see how other instructors deal with challenging situations.

    • Francesca Cervero

      Hey Andree! Thanks for poppin in here. I’m so glad this article was helpful. Those sound like some difficult distractions to deal with! Is that in a yoga studio??

      {And…sorry for my delay in getting back to you…your note got lost in the shuffle while I got my podcast off the ground. 🙂 }


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