Three years ago, when I was struggling with how to lay boundaries with a difficult student, another, much beloved, student, gave me a book. It was Teaching Yoga, by Donna Farhi. It prompted this post. I still agree with what I said there, although my understanding of how this might happen has deepened.
I used to hold my students at arm’s length, believing that was what was required to be ‘professional’. What this did, though, was limit the degree of intimacy in the teaching relationship. I am not suggesting that yoga teachers should over-disclose to their students, or even, necessarily, socialise with them. But certainly be real, be yourself. If life is hard, sometimes it helps your students to know that you are just a person, like them, going through some Stuff. You are not some levitating super-being.
At least, this is what people tell me. It’s the same when I tell them I struggle with certain poses: how nice to know that the bendy chick up the front battles with some asanas too, and that doing those asanas is not the point of doing yoga. The body-breath link is.
Mark Whitwell (you know, the guy I quote in practically every post I ever write) says there are only three requirements for a teacher:
- Have your own practice
- Have a good teacher yourself
Amen, brother. He also often says that learning happens when the teacher is
No more than a friend, no less than a friend
No power disparities, no weird game-playing, no rules about socialising or not socialising after class, just people coming together in caring.
That said, it’s sometimes a little hazy. When does the intimacy of the yoga room end and the intimacy of friendship begin? I host Free Form yoga events on the last Friday of every month, and also other events like yoga parties, and those have fostered a growing community of people who know each other from yoga, but are also becoming friendly and connected to one another outside the yoga room. Many of them tell me that this has added to their lives as much as the asana has. I, too, have developed friendships as a result of these events. I see no ethical problem here – these are people who know me as a person, not just a yoga teacher. I don’t hold myself as somehow above them, and they don’t see me in this way. I hope. And we share an integral interest, a common spirituality. Also, frankly, I work. All. The. Time. I am not going to meet people outside of yoga. It’s silly to expect yoga teachers to hold their social lives totally separate from their working ones. Especially since to those of us who teach, it’s such an important and integral part of our lives. Working-living-relating. All one. Jason Brown wrote an essay a few years ago talking about the difficulty of being a (then single) male yoga teacher. Read it. I agree with everything the man says, always have. What do you think?
Now, a qualifier. All this intimacy stuff is great, but there is no possibility that any teacher would end up being close friends with all his or her students. It’s a time thing, it’s a personality thing, and yes, it’s and appropriateness thing. I have certainly avoided deepening relationships with students when I could see that they didn’t understand the boundaries of what was being offered. Regular contact with your yoga teacher can lead to feeling that you know them when in fact you hardly do. Especially if that teacher, like me, is a blogger and shares some of their internal life in the public space. You will notice I said some. Not all. Not by a long stretch. Assuming that you know me from reading my blog is a bit like assuming you know Jaimal Yogis or Elizabeth Gilbert because you have read their books, in which they reveal aspects of their internal lives. I do actually know Jaimal a little, and I can tell you there is much more to him than the contents of his book.
What do you guys think? What are your feelings experiences been around being taught, and teaching?
To get you thinking, here is some further reading:
Sarah Courts’ blog post – pop over and read it.