Updated: Jun 5
I remember during my first teacher training, we had a discussion about the ethics of being a yoga teacher. I don’t remember many of the specifics, but I do remember our teacher saying one thing very clearly:
“Just don’t date your yoga students.”
I remember this because I was annoyed at how overly simplified it seemed.
Even though I was in a relationship at the time and didn’t anticipate wanting to date my students any time soon, I felt indignant on behalf of all the people out there who were in search of intimate connection.
What if the love of your life walked into your class?
What if, despite your best intentions, you simply developed a strong connection with a student that you both wanted to explore, mutually and consensually?
Are we supposed to shut off our human desire for connection and intimacy, or our sense of attraction? And if so, how??
I understood that dating a student should not be taken lightly, and that there was certainly the potential for abuse of power (just look at Choudhury, Friend, Trungpa…), but to simply say, “just don’t date your students,” felt unhelpful.
Teaching yoga can take many forms. Sometimes, a student dedicates their life to working with a particular teacher or mentor. Sometimes, a student signs up for an intensive weekend, a retreat, or a several-months-long teacher training. Most of the time, however, students just drop into an asana class, then leave.*
Yes, teaching yoga is a deeply spiritual endeavor, and yes, sometimes we see our students in vulnerable states, and yes, we as teachers have a duty to uphold our students’ trust. And we are adult humans with the capacity to establish and negotiate boundaries, and to have difficult, nuanced conversations.
Now, before you start to think that I’m “pro dating students,” I would like to draw a parallel: Abstinence education. In abstinence education, children are told one simple rule: “Don’t have sex until you’re married.” It sounds so simple and easy - and at first, it works! It works, that is, until the children get older and their sexuality develops and they encounter people with whom they want to have sex with - then, the rule feels ridiculous and constricting and we all know what happens.
The same is true with the rule “Don’t date your students.” At first, it works. It works until we encounter someone we’re very attracted to and want to go on a date with.
Again, I’d like to clarify: We do not need to act on every attraction we feel. Sometimes, it is a very good idea to ask ourselves, “Why do I feel an attraction to this person right now? Is it the specific person, or is it the feeling of being wanted, the fun of flirting, the sense of newness or mystery?” This is especially true in a setting where people are joined by a common desire to see each other more deeply and spiritually, when people are at their most relaxed and embodied. Pretty much everyone is at their best after a good savasana, so to say, “I must date this student!” when you’ve only seen them during the best 75 minutes of their day is a little extreme.
Sometimes it is more than just a good, superficial feeling. Sometimes, there really is a connection between a teacher and student that is mutual, respectful, and grounded. If this is the case, I do not think it makes sense to simply say, “We cannot get to know each other, because you are my student.”
So what do we do then?
Like with most things, it depends…
(continued in Part 2)
*I am speaking from the perspective of living in the US, where yoga is largely practiced in the context of a group asana class in a studio.