Simple Requests – Simple Standards

How do simple requests turn into hostility? Consider the following situation that has perplexed me for some time. I’ve been taking yoga lessons at the same studio for years. In addition to standard request to turn off your cell phones during class, there’s one other simple rule – standard – students and instructors are expected to follow – no shoes in the rooms where the practice takes place. I never asked why, but I’m sure it’s to prevent tracking dirt onto the carpets in the practice rooms. Many of the poses involving lying down on the floor. Makes sense. There’s a place in the lobby to store your shoes and quickly retrieve them when you leave.

Once, at the beginning of a class, the instructor approached a student who wasn’t a regular in this particular session. The woman’s shoes were lying on the floor next to her yoga mat. The instructor respectfully reminded her that shoes were not allowed in the practice rooms. The woman got extremely defensive and argumentative, stating that she’d carried them in. When the instructor tried once again to very politely remind her of the rule – no shoes in the practice rooms – she became belligerent, arguing that she had to leave early and wanted all her belongings, shoes included, with her so she could make a quick getaway. One more gentle reminder from the instructor, and she grabbed her stuff and stormed out.

The poor instructor was bewildered and started asking those of us who overheard the exchange if we thought she’d been offensive. No she hadn’t – she was quiet and calm in her demeanor as she tried to explain the one, simple standard to which everyone is held. If anyone was offensive, it was that student.

Keep in mind, this is a yoga studio. People practice yoga for both their physical and mental wellbeing. For me, the time before the class begins is the time that I unplug from my day and focus on my own welfare. I try to be mindful that everyone else in attendance is there for the same purpose. Obviously, this belligerent woman didn’t get the memo! She was disturbing everyone else’s peace of mind. Her only concern was that she had to leave the session early. When other students have had to leave early and they are thoughtful enough to let the instructor know before they settle in and they usually take a spot near the door so they can slip away quietly without disruption. This woman had firmly planted herself in the middle of the room with all her stuff!

The no-shoes policy is based on an objective criteria – one that appeals and relates to the shared standards of all students who practice yoga in the studio. Even if the student in question carried her shoes in, let’s face it, shoes can emit odors and be offensive to other students, especially if your head is on the floor. Another shared standard of the community of yogis who practice in this studio is creating and maintaining a culture that is respectful, calming and peaceful. Other than the request to keep your cell phones off, there are no “rules” about this standard. It’s a value and an interest that all members of this community generally embrace. It’s a standard that shouldn’t need an explanation. When individuals don’t espouse the values of the greater community disruptive behavior and conflict can result.

This particular conflict was resolved by the student drawing a line in the sand and when she didn’t get her way, she left. No one asked her to do so, it was her decision. It was her choice not to accept one simple standard based on an objective criteria. It was her loss, but the rest of us enjoyed a delightful yoga practice filled with peace and harmony that evening.

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