I recently encountered a pair of posts on the New Zealand-based website The Yoga Lunchbox. Taken together, they create some food for thought about the nature of teacher-student ethics, boundaries, consent, power dynamics (real or perceived), interpretations of “friendship,” and whether a healthy close personal relationship necessarily runs counter to a healthy teacher-student dynamic.
Both posts are focused on the environment of Yoga classes, but I suspect many of the ideas can be extrapolated to other teacher-student situations.
Of course, with Yoga, we get the question of how an ancient ‘spiritual’ practice with such an emphasized physical component (at least in popular culture) might add layers of complexity to the questions posed.
In the first piece, Kara-Leah Grant interviews author and Yoga teacher Donna Farhi. Much of the interview centers on Donna’s responses regarding the nature of the relationship between a Yoga teacher and their student. Farhi asserts that to become a personal ‘friend’ to a student weakens or subverts an effective teacher-student dynamic in Yoga, and clearly holds herself and others to high ethical standards.
This topic stems from Grant’s introduction of yoga teacher Mark Whitwell’s assertion that Yoga can only be transmitted in relationship, and that he defines that relationship as friendship. Normally I do not advocate reading the comments sections on most websites, but the comments under this piece contain the suggestion by a man that perhaps men and women define “friendship” differently and have different expectations around it, and that perhaps that is contributing to a misunderstanding.
In the second Yoga Lunchbox piece, Kara-Leah Grant introduces a video interview with Yoga teacher Cameron Shayne, who kicked up a shitstorm in the Yoga community when he wrote an article asserting that two consenting adults in teacher-student roles should be free to decide for themselves whether they want to engage in a sexual relationship.
As Grant notes, regarding the vitriolic comments and rebuttal articles Shayne’s piece engendered, “This is a hot topic — power, sex, ethics and the teacher/student relationship. The difficulty lies not in determining what is right or wrong but in our ability to communicate with each other when these buttons are being pushed.”
I encourage you to watch the full interview, no matter how much Shayne might rub you the wrong way at times. Apropos of Eric’s recent writings about Saturn conjunct the Great Attractor, Shayne’s stance and personality are polarizing. Are many of his statements just a cop-out on having personal and professional ethics? Or are his remarks about fear — how it teaches us, and how it shows us where our inner work is in this lifetime — right on the mark? If he pushes your buttons or provokes your fear (which might come through as anger), are you still able to listen?
I’m not sure I’ve entirely made up my mind about Shayne. But I think both he and Farhi raise important questions, and I offer kudos to Grant for holding space for the conversation.