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Can Yoga Teachers Date their Students? (Part 2)

(continued from Part 1, May 31)

So what should you do when you’re a yoga teacher and you have a crush on one of your students?

Like with most things, it depends.

Let’s look at a couple scenarios:

Scenario 1:

You teach a few classes a week at a local yoga studio. You have a student you find attractive and appealing who comes to your classes a lot. If you met this student out in the world, you would definitely ask them out, invite them to hang out with you again, or generally try to find a way to get to know them better. But since you’re one of their yoga teachers, you feel a little awkward about it. What do you do?

First, I’ll say that it’s a good sign if you feel a little awkward. Because when you feel awkward, that means you’re aware of how your actions might affect others - you’re not just living in your own world, doing whatever you want with no regard for anyone else. Feeling awkward is a sign of empathy.

So, staying connected to that awkwardness, you might ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why do I feel an attraction to this person right now? Is it this specific person, or is it the feeling of being wanted, the fun of flirting, the sense of newness or mystery? If it is the person (not just the situation), what is it about this person that I am drawn to?

  • Does it seem like this person is interested in me, too? And if so, do I feel like their interest goes beyond teacherly admiration? Do they try to talk to me after class, and if so, does it feel respectful and kind, not like they’re lurking?

  • What is my social location, and how does it compare to my student’s? How might my gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. (not to mention the fact that I am their teacher, by nature, a position of power) impact the power dynamics if I were to ask this student out?

There are no correct answers to these questions (though in my humble opinion, it is a good idea to feel confident that the answer to the second question is “yes” before taking any action). They are meant to encourage you to be mindful and kind with your actions.

Scenario 2:

You have a student you see one-on-one for private sessions or mentorship. You didn’t start out with a crush on them (if you had noticed it earlier, you probably wouldn’t have taken them on as a private student!), but you’ve gotten to know each other pretty well by now, and you feel a strong attraction that you just can’t ignore. What do you do?

Again, I recommend starting with questions. This time, the most important question is:

  • Does the attraction feel mutual?

And here’s the hard truth:

Whatever the answer is, I highly recommend that you suggest your student find a new teacher.

Because if the answer is “yes” and you continue teaching them, your relationship gets murky. At the same time you are both consenting adults, you remain in a position of power if you continue to be their teacher. This is okay if you are only their teacher (and not romantically involved), but if you are their teacher while also trying to cultivate a mutual, romantic relationship.*

And if the answer is “no” and you continue teaching them, it puts you in an odd position. No matter how hard you try, your judgment may be compromised, and you might be less than your most professional self in the hopes that the student will notice you and return your crush.

In my humble opinion, Scenario 2 has far more potential to cause unnecessary harm than Scenario 1. Why?

Because studying one-on-one with a teacher is a far more potent means of learning than studying in a group setting. This means that the power dynamic is also more concentrated: one student per one teacher.

In a similar vein, committing to a retreat, immersion, or teacher training are all more intense means of learning than a drop-in class. The power dynamics in these situations are also heightened by this intensity.

Whatever the scenario:

Remember that energy moves in all directions, and that repression is the enemy of honesty. If we ignore our feelings or urges, we miss an opportunity to learn from them. Similarly, if we act on our feelings or urges without considering how they might affect others, we risk causing unnecessary harm.

When in doubt, come back to the Yamas:

Ahimsa - Is what I’m doing or thinking kind - to myself, and to others?

Satya - Am I being honest - with myself, and with others?

Asteya - Am I acting out of a feeling of scarcity?

Bramacharya - Am I using my energy wisely?

Aparigraha - Am I holding stubbornly to an idea or fantasy?

Remember that we are all humans, trying to learn to be humans, together.

Remember that when you make a mistake, you have the power to apologize, and to do better next time.

Remember that sometimes the best thing you can do as a teacher is to stop being someone’s teacher.

*I do know of some couples where one partner is a teacher and the other partner is a student of theirs, but this is (in my opinion) most appropriate and successful only after the romantic relationship has been clearly established, and as long as the teacher in the relationship is not their partner’s primary teacher.

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