It’s happened to everyone. You walk into your regular weekly class, the one you love with the teacher you love, and — OH NO! — there is someone else on a mat at the front of the room. It’s happened to me as a student and I’ve also been that unfamiliar, spurious person nervously smiling at the sea of unfamiliar faces.
What to do? Well, you have two choices: You can stay or leave. Yes, leaving is an option. You can suddenly remember that you have a dentist appointment, mumble a few words, and scurry out. For folks who know they will not enjoy the class, maybe who just aren’t in the mood for something different, it is probably the best choice. Grumpy yoga is not good for anyone. Better to make productive use of the found time (go back to bed, go out for ice cream). You might be more willing to stay the next time…or not. Knowing and honoring yourself is the most important part here.
If you do stay, my advice is to NOT expect the substitute teacher to do or say the same things your regular teacher does. There are so many ways to present and apply basic yoga principles; so many ways to explain or cue the poses, so many ways to link the poses in different sequences. On top of that, every teacher brings their own energy and personality to the mix. You might get lucky and the two teachers might have lots of similarities. But, if they don’t, be prepared and approach the class with a beginner’s mind. Have (or try to have) no preconceptions and open yourself to the new experience.
When I first started yoga, back in the day —before the Internet, when yoga was not widely known and when no one did it on paddle boards or with goats (yes, really, it’s a thing)— I only took ashtanga classes. We did the same poses in the same order every single class and said the same prayers and chants at the beginning and end. When we had a sub, we still did the same sequence, maybe with some variation on the instructions to get in and out of the poses, but basically it was the same class. I thought this was yoga, the ONLY yoga. After a year, I went to a week-long yoga retreat in Costa Rica and the teachers there did EVERYTHING different. At first, I was confused and dismayed, thinking this is WRONG, and then I just decided to go with it. To me it wasn’t yoga, but it was similar and helpful, and it all turned out fine. I still laugh about how ignorant I was.
Now I think it is a good idea for everyone to try several types of yoga classes: yin, restorative, kundalini, even in the water or on paddle boards. In some areas, studios offer the first class free, a great way to survey the offerings. If you have had a wide sampling of yoga teachers and styles, the prospect of a substitute, while still a downer, won’t be a show-stopper.
At the end of class (hopefully you make it that far), I suggest that you give the substitute teacher helpful feedback. It’s nice to say “I enjoyed the class” or “Thank you for filling in”, but it is more important to let the instructor know in a constructive way what did and didn’t work for you. Maybe the cueing was vague or you didn’t understand a particular instruction. Or, maybe there was a new pose that really felt good. As a teacher, I always appreciate this. Even in a small class, it is hard to know what is going on with everyone and your feedback gives teachers the chance to reflect and improve.
In the worse case, if the class was really sub-par for whatever reason, you should tell the studio manager. You can still be kind but, again, it is important for the managers to know. The bright side of all this? Whether you leave or stay, you will appreciate your favorite teacher even more! Gratitude is a wonderful thing.