Hi, I’m Your Yoga Teacher…Wanna Fuck?
Yoga teachers hold a special place, and a special responsibility. Students come to us for a safe space, a space in which to grow. Safety is fundamental to growth and change. It is an ostensibly unsafe world out there, and to many, the yoga studio is the one safe place in a world of potential danger and non-safety. It is critical to be aware of that, and to honor it. We need to hold that space, to keep it sacred. People depend on us for that.
No, we are not gurus, just humans like you. As a heterosexual male, I like women…a lot. Yet I somehow feel that a yoga studio is not the proper place to manifest my sexuality. The students trust me (to a degree); they assume they can fart in class, or cry, or their breasts can pop out of their tops without it becoming a big deal. They assume I won’t try to ‘hit on’ them…and also assume I won’t have my focus distracted by the presence of a lover or potential lover in class.
That is a fair assumption.
Most yoga teachers would agree with me on this. Some contend however, that if a female student asks me the same thing, it is somehow appropriate to take her up on the offer. Now, I am not saying that an unequivocal ‘no’ is required. I am saying that if I decide to say yes, perhaps it would be best if she then found another yoga instructor, and kept me as her lover. Or if perhaps best if I quit teaching there and found somewhere else (if she is so special to me, why not?). Trying to do both (continue teaching and taking a student as a lover) can cause a number of problems, obvious to most of us.
It’s those who it is not obvious to that I am addressing this post. Once I have entered into a relationship where I am paid to provide a service (or even if I offer the classes for free), I am in a position that can easily be undermined by personal intimacy. It is incumbent on me to be strong enough to gently and courteously decline, or to offer alternatives (yeah, I’d love to, but we need to change our relationship then…maybe you need to find another yoga class).
Not doing so is like trying to ‘have your cake and eat it too’ (pardon the unintentional pun). Not doing so not only dishonors her, but also dishonors myself and all yoga instructors. Yoga is based on ahimsa (non-harming), and the number of ways this type of action could harm people is beyond counting.
I am not a big fan of business or workplace ‘ethics,’ but there is a reason people are discouraged from engaging in intimate relationships in the workplace or business place. There is a reason that we are asked to choose between the job and using the job to find lovers. That reason is clear to most of us…but not all. That is why there are policies regarding this type of behavior. Now, I am not advocating bringing those business policies into the yoga studio, but I am saying that the reasons they are in effect are also valid reasons for us in the yoga studio.
Of course, rules are ‘made to be broken,’ and provide guidelines for behavior, not hard and fast, unbreakable rules. The discretion of the individual and the unique circumstances can sometimes provide situations where we feel those rules can be broken. (This is called situational morality by moral philosophers).
Yet these rules are not imposed from the outside, by governing bodies or by the Yoga Morality Council (God forbid!). These ‘rules’ we impose upon ourselves, as ‘right behavior’ we agree to abide by, for the ease, comfort, and security of the community we are in (in this case, the community of yoga students at the studio). These rules are in alignment with the basic and fundamental principles of yoga (the yama and niyama). We accept these as our dharma or duty, and do not lightly perform actions counter to our beliefs.
As yoga beliefs are (at the core, if you are practicing something called yoga) based on non-violence, non-harming, we avoid circumstances where there is even a likelihood of harming (as intimate relationships in a space designed for something else are apt to).
When we dilute, dismiss, or disregard the core principles of yoga, or of good human behavior and common sense, we are making a travesty of yoga and our human relationships. We are not practicing our ‘alternate, personal interpretation’ of yoga (especially if our actions go against the wisdom of the sages and countless yogis throughout history).
The potential problem is easily illustrated by that of intimate relationships in the workplace. If the two people do not belong to the same workgroup or report to the same supervisor, there is theoretically no problem. Yet we all know that many intimate relationships eventually end, and often not amicably. At bare minimum, the presence of a former lover (in or near the work environment) could be distracting to one or both parties, and may make one or both parties uncomfortable. Typically, one party or the other feels so uncomfortable they leave the workgroup. Now our theoretically copacetic relationship has caused one party to lose the job they had, perhaps lose their livelihood or seniority in the company. That is violence, something we do not support in yoga.
We may have seen this in yoga studios. Two people meet, resonate with each other, and perhaps fall in love. At some point, they break up. It may not be pretty. Hearts are broken. How comfortable do those people feel in class next to their former lovers? Behavior shows not very comfortable; they often go to classes at different times, or (most often) change studios entirely. Being next to a former lover can give rise to feelings of unease, the exact opposite of what we aim for in yoga.
The situation is exacerbated further when one of the parties is a teacher, instructor, or guide (choose your term). The student most likely quits going to the studio (losing business for the teacher’s employer, or for the teacher directly). If not, the teacher may feel uncomfortable around a student who was once a former lover. Uncomfortable teachers are not effective yoga teachers, as we all know. Distracted yoga teachers are not providing the care and attention their students may expect (and come to class for).
These things seem obvious to a teacher with any amount of experience, or yoga practitioners of any relatively broad human experience and common sense. Those who do not see (or acknowledge) these obvious issues (or potential issues) become a concern to the studio, the other teachers, the yoga students, and ultimately to the community at large. We are all trying to create atmospheres of peace and calm with our yoga, both inside ourselves and inside our studios. Anything that threatens that calm goes against our explicit intentions, and thus serves to divide us, rather than unite us. As yoga’s definition is union, these actions are (by definition) anathema to yoga, and have no place in a yoga studio.
Okay, maybe there are different standards for martial arts studios, or for Pilates studios, or something (yet in none I’ve seen). However, if you claim to be a yoga teacher, and are in a yoga studio, then it is only right that you try to uphold the standards of yoga. If you do not agree with the fundamentals of yoga, and the standards teachers and students are trying to set for it, perhaps you do not need to be teaching yoga. Perhaps you are not teaching yoga, even if you think you are.
Ultimately, we live in a free society, and are free to do whatever doesn’t harm others or break the law. I argue that this behavior either harms or has a high potential or likelihood for harming others, and thus does not belong in environments that are for something else, such as workplaces, yoga studios, and such places. If you want to meet lovers, try going to a dance, or a drumming session, perhaps a sip house or even a bar: someplace designed to meet others, someplace where it is expected and welcomed. The yoga studio is not that place.
About the Author:
Mark-Francis Mullen is just some guy, just one aspirant and practitioner (sadhaka) on the path of yoga. He is not famous, nor is he rich or successful according to the standards of commercial society. He is a happy guy, and wishes that all beings experience peace, love, and happiness, that all yogis and yoginis find safety in their studios, safety to blossom and grow. : )