I know it can be really disappointing when your regular yoga teacher is absent from her class. Maybe she had a last minute emergency, or maybe it was a long-planned vacation. It’s important to acknowledge when this feeling comes up. The feeling is perfectly normal, and it's also a great opportunity for yogic inquiry and personal growth.
There are typically two ways that you end up with a sub teacher. Either you know in advance that your teacher is going to be away, or you walk into class expecting to see your teacher and are surprised to find another teacher at the front of the room.
If you know in advance that your favorite teacher is going to be away, you may be tempted to skip class, or you may decide to attend anyway but feel wary of the sub.
If you walk into class expecting to see your regular teacher and find someone else at the front of the room, you might feel a pang of stress or uncertainty, or you might even be tempted to turn around and walk out.
First, it’s important to recognize that it’s normal to feel unsettled when something is new, different, or unexpected.
Recognizing your situation is part of the yogic practice called svadhyaya, which means self-study in Sanskrit. Svadhyaya is one of my personal favorites because it provides unlimited potential for personal growth.
Once you recognize your situation, you can move forward to practice another yogic concept: equanimity.
Equanimity is practicing and learning to be comfortable and peaceful, even in unknown, uncertain, or uncomfortable situations.
On the yoga mat, for example, we practice equanimity when we try to remain peaceful in a pose doesn’t work for our body. We have options: we can modify the pose, we can take a break, or we can do a different pose. The real trick is to figure out how to be ok with doing some different than or even “less than” what is expected.
So then, in the example of when your regular yoga teacher is absent, how can you practice equanimity?
First, recognize that it can be challenging for both the students and the sub because each doesn’t know what to expect from the other.
Naturally, your substitute teacher's style will be different than that of your regular teacher. It’s a perfect opportunity to practice being peaceful and ok in an uncertain situation. Know that the teacher may use different language or may lead you into poses in a different way, but it doesn’t mean their teaching is better than or worse than, it’s just a different.
There is always something to learn from a new teacher, even if it's not what you were expecting to learn. The challenge is to be open to whatever it is the teacher offers.
Maybe you’ll learn how to get into a pose that was previously inaccessible to you, maybe you’ll learn a new variation or modification of one of your favorite poses, maybe you’ll learn a new subtlety about breathing, or maybe you’ll learn that there’s challenge and benefit in learning how to practice more slowly. The potential learnings are truly infinite.
So I encourage you, the next time your regular teacher has to miss a class, be open what you can learn from the sub. You might just learn something special that shifts your awareness or transforms your practice.