Let’s play a little word association game. When I write, “teacher-student relationship,” what comes to mind? Does it trigger thoughts about your deepest motivations to teach yoga or your need to be witnessed by others? Of course not—you think about sex, right? That is, whether teachers and students should be having it with each other.
Perhaps, I’m not doing the topic justice, but I’d like to shorten the conversation about sex so that we can move on to the more nuanced, day-to-day issues that teachers face. Let me simply say that teachers and students should avoid shagging each other at all cost. Yet, if life, love and Shakespeare have taught you nothing, I’ll remind you that matters of this kind are not always easy to escape. So if you find yourself in this boat, step back, talk to your loved ones and put your therapist on speed-dial. You’ll need some help navigating these waters.
In order to dig into the heart of the teacher-student relationship, we need to unpack it—just like good sequencing deconstructs complex postures into their basic parts. We’ll start by looking at the inner-landscape of being a teacher and the fundamental questions that you need to explore if you want to understand who you are in this role. I’ll address other aspects of this relationship—and the internal challenges of being a yoga teacher—in my next few posts.
- What is the scope and role of a yoga teacher?
It’s important to have clear boundaries in your relationships. It’s easier to do this if you’re clear about your role as a teacher. I see myself as having 2 primary responsibilities: to educate students about yoga; and, to provide a safe, neutral space for students to experience what is happening in the mind, body, and emotions. I don’t give medical advice, I don’t give relationship advice, I don’t give financial advice, and I don’t make time for tea or coffee. Becoming clear with yourself about your role will help you manage your personal and professional boundaries.
- What are your motivations for teaching yoga?
I don’t say this with pride but I don’t teach yoga as an act of service to anyone other than myself. My motivations are very self-centered: I love the practice, I love the subject matter of yoga, and I love the process of educating students and developing content. I like that teaching yoga brings out the best in me by reminding me to be kind, helpful, and encouraging to others. Yet, I’d be lying about my motivations through omission if I didn’t tell you that I’m attached to people liking, that I enjoy having the occasional soap box to stand on, and I like earning enough to pay a mortgage (with the help of my wife). So, spend some time and be honest with the scope of your motivations. Contemplate them—yes, all of them.
- What are the strengths of your personality with regards to teaching yoga?
Yoga is not all about you or your personality—the teachings are much bigger than that. But, the teachings will come through your personality like light goes through a prism. Your personality will add color and nuance to the teachings. Understanding the strengths of your personality will help you understand some of the reasons certain students are drawn to your class and others aren’t. You have to develop a clear sense of you are in order to be an authentic teacher—and to develop a student-base that gets you and your worldview.
- What are the challenges that your personality presents to teaching yoga?
For better and worse, personality plays a big role in teacher/student relationships. Understanding the challenges that your personality may present will help you work with them. For example, I’m an introvert which means that I need a lot of quiet time when I’m not teaching in order to be happy (and sane) when I am teaching. Knowing this has helped me maintain personal boundaries and take care of myself without getting burned out by the process of engaging with groups all the time. Spend some time reflecting on the nature of your personality and you will learn to accommodate it more skillfully.
- What triggers your issues in class?
Most yoga teachers are pretty sensitive creatures and sensitive people tend to be opinionated. So, if certain student behaviors get under your skin, you wouldn’t be the first teacher to feel this way. If you get a little chapped when students arrive late or leave early—or, when students decide to do their own sequence instead of the one you’re instructing—notice how you feel inside. Ask yourself is this a legitimate concern or if it is just a pet peeve of yours that you’re taking too personally.