In case you haven’t heard, John Friend of Anusara was recently accused of many things and has said that he did have relationships with students. The blogsphere has gotten hectic. You can follow a gillion links from the most recent Yoga Dork posting, if you are hungry for the details. My favorite post so far is Naomi’s which reminds us to calm down. I agree.
Predictably, we have seen other postings that remind all teachers not to have relationships with students. My teacher Peg posted a thoughtful teacher reminder list today where #4 spoke to this. My friend Michael Hall posted a very clear statement today entitled Why Fcking your Students is Wrong. Let’s leave the JF Anusara scandal for a second and think about this…
I am not defending John Friend and I’m not suggesting that teacher should have free reign to sleep with the student of their choice. I am saying that a broad sweeping statements saying that a relationship between a yoga teacher and a student is categorically wrong might go too far. It is just not that black and white.
I am well qualified to speak to this since I’m hopelessly in love with and about to marry someone who took my class once. Furthermore, in my six years of teaching, I have dated people I met at Yoga. Many of these relationships were great, some were mistakes but most were the beginnings of good friendships. It was just like real life.
Here are 5 discrete thoughts to consider, take or leave them. But please think a bit before letting this scandal result in throwing lots of stones and making lots of rules that might not serve us.
Community: We talk about the Yoga community all the time. This group of friends that forms around a shared experience is just wonderful. Whenever I have a single friend who tells me they want to “find someone,” I always respond with: “Go do what you love and find them there.” If that person loves Yoga, joins that community and finds someone there, so be it. If that person loves Yoga enough to be teaching it… still ok.
Reality check: I remember in one of the TT’s I took, this question came up: can we date people we meet taking class? There was discussion and one fellow male teacher said it best, I will paraphrase and if he wants to claim or amend this comment he can:
…let me get this straight, I love Yoga. I teach Yoga. All I do is teach, travel and do Yoga. I am single and I would like to find a partner. My classes are full of wonderful women who also love yoga. If I have a connection with one of them, am I supposed to turn my back and… go to a bar in the hopes of meeting someone? That seems silly.
We are not religious leaders: Yoga is a spiritual practice and as “teachers” we are helping other Yogis explore this great and mysterious practice. But that’s it. Here is what I know, here is my experience of it, take what you want leave the rest behind. I have not and will never claim to be enlightened or a ‘guru’, nor do I tell my students to do anything that they disagree with. (I only say “trust me” when I’m teaching handstand.) I did not take a vow of celibacy nor do I confuse myself with a priest.
I am a seeker who offers classes, some people take them. Some take them often and some people call me a teacher and I consider them students. And we have mutual respect and enjoy time together. If I violated that relationship to exploit them sexually that would clearly be wrong. If, however, two grown adults meet in a classroom and they experience a connection and want to explore that outside the studio, then I don’t see that as wrong. If that morphs into a romantic relationship… it is nothing more than part of the human experience.
Use your judgement: Having said all this, there are times when young attractive students come up to teachers after class and they are in a zone and have confused the wonderful state of higher connection they are feeling with other forms of connection. And they would like to connect. If you have been teaching long, you are nodding right now. I completely agree that it is our responsibility to kindly give these students space rather than to suggest we talk about a down dog over a nice martini. This is a obvious case where Yoga Ethics are clear.
Bottom line? If I had seen my fiance and said “Wow, that woman might just be the one.” But then said “shame I met her in my class, guess I can’t talk to her.” That would have been a huge mistake. Like most other things in Yoga and real life, when in doubt, leave it out. But to live our lives with an abundance of rules dogma and a minimum of judgement, that just doesn’t feel right.
The events around John Friend and Anusara will play themselves out. But come on Yogis, righteous indignation and broad sweeping commandments do not become us. Let us instead reflect and practice.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.