Thursday, March 8, 2012

Is it okay for the student-teacher relationship to become romantic?

There’s a part of me that really doesn’t want to publish this post I am drafting.  As the allegations of financial and sexual misconduct began to surface involving one of yoga's most famous instructors, John Friend, I told myself that I would not add to the noise that surrounded the issue., but then an article asked a question regarding the issue caught my attention:

Does having sex with a yoga student make you a pervert?

The title raises a big ethics question.  One that I would like to address in hopes that maybe we can set aside the claims by those all too ready to over-generalize the community because of a few individuals actions, to educate the general public that yoga is not some cover up for a sex cult, and eventually move past this to create a more aware and safe community.

So, does having sex with a yoga student make you a pervert?  I don’t think there is a simple yes, or no answer, but I do think that there are definite situations in which it is and is not appropriate for the teacher-student to engage in an intimate relationship.  Philip Goldberg brings up an interesting fact:

He[John Friend] did not take a vow of celibacy, and he did not run an ashram where devotees were required or encouraged to be celibate.

This by no means Friend is exempt from the consequences he is currently facing, nor does it mean that it was not immoral.  However, it also does not mean that every teacher who has a sexual relationship with a student is a pervert, and it doesn’t mean all women are incapable of saying no when approached with sexual advances.  We are adults, and most of us are capable of making adult choices. 

As a personal choice, I would never date on of my students, and in the past when asked on dates by students I have been quick to express my boundaries.  There are even times, when they suggest finding another teacher, and though my response is always “I hate to lose you as a student, but if you are distracted from your practice I recommend (Insert teachers name,)" it my personal choice because it would be a relationship based on false emotions for both parties.

I realize that my student just has a case of teacher crush, and if I obliged it would be based on flattery that I was put on a pedestal.  I also think it’s asking for trouble do you really want a lovers quarrel or hurt feelings in your classroom?….I don’t.

But, again, I think that depends entirely on each teachers personal code of ethics, and motives.  People should be able to date who they choose.  That being said, I think there are ways to protect yourself whether you’re a teacher or a student of being the topic of discussion, and to prevent being taken advantage of.  

1. If a teacher and student become romantically involved it should probably not be kept a secret.  As a teacher if you feel like you have nothing to hide you shouldn’t act like you do, and as a romantic partner you shouldn’t have to hide in the shadows.
2. Find another teacher.  That doesn’t mean you can’t take your partners class, but on a regular basis it may be wise to go else where. 

It breaks my heart that this is even an issue, but maybe we can develop a better sense of boundaries as a collective voice.

How do you feel about student-teacher relationships becoming romantic?  Setting aside the example of John Friend, do you think that it’s a clear black and white issue or is there some grey area?


Great piece, Patience. I agree, lots of grey area.

In the past I have been involved with someone and they also happened to be a student. They were my partner first and while interested in yoga before we dated their interest was peaked because it's such a big part of my life.

I was always happy to teach my partner but also kept very clear boundaries that practice was not foreplay and suggested they see other teachers too, to maintain clarity about why they practice (not just doing it for me) and to see other styles.

I think there is no black an white. The important thing is that both are able to make a real choice as an independent person.

Thank you both for your responses. And I should clarify too that when I choose not to date "students" that I have however welcomed partners(especially so they can understand my passion) to take my class, and like you too, Tali I set very clear boundaries with the practice.

Another grey area that I may explore further too is dating amongst yoga teachers, because at that point we are just as much students as we are teachers...How do you feel about being involved romantically with other yoga instructors?

I think it would depend on if you work at the same studio(s) and if your relationship makes others uncomfortable. Dating in any work place is hard when things are going well and public displays of affection and such can make people feel awkward. Add in the rough spots and break ups and those around youwith may be involved with drama, which isn't fair.

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