Addendum on teacher [mis]conduct

… The teacher-student relationship is based on trust. As a teacher I want to build a relationship with the student that will withstand trouble over time. I must know how to hold the container within which the relationship occurs, one that protects both parties. Therefore I must not engage in so-called dual relationships with my students…

From “A Teacher’s Responsibility,” by Yvonne Rand, Zen Buddhist priest

My post “‘Cranking’ and ‘correcting'” was spurred by my fellow blogger Lauren Cahn’s HuffPost piece on the possible pitfalls of Ashtanga training and the Yoga Dork upload of that infamous Pattabhi Jois photo. In turn, my post led to Cahn’s subsequent Yoga Chickie post, “When I think about you, you touch my ass.”

Check out the comments to the string of posts regarding that touchy-feely photo. Some see Cahn (and any critic) as overreactors. Others see blatant misconduct (nevermind that it’s an old photo and one moment in a 93-year-long life). Whatever one’s opinion, it’s likely a gut reaction, based on who you are, not only as a person but as a yogi.

To me, the gaping split in opinion comes from one’s attitude about yoga. For some, it’s an occasional pastime, done as a workout, a social activity, or a stress reducer. For others, it’s a serious hobby, part of one’s daily routine and a guide to self study. For still others, it’s a deep personal endeavor, linked with commitment to a mentor and a way of life. And the list goes on.

Nowadays, yoga teachers are a dime a dozen; the majority are regular Joes and Janes with just a dash more experience (or merely the chutzpah to teach). Even the stellar teachers typically garner respect and loyalty, but not blind awe.

In any case, if a student is mature, rational, and clear on the boundaries between oneself and one’s teacher, all the controversy of teacher ethics is moot. That person would never end up in a vulnerable position (whether emotionally or upside-down, butt in air), nor would that person condone such behavior toward fellow students.

For some,  however, the teacher becomes a powerful figure. As powerful as a parent, a romantic partner, an authority figure or a religious leader.

These issues are nothing new. In fact, having followed scandals in Zen Buddhism, in yoga, in crazy cults, and in other such “paths,” I’m rather jaded on the subject.

But I hate the way critics of questionable conduct are painted as uptight vigilantes. While the vast majority of yoga students will never be even remotely harmed, there will always be the vulnerable few who, like sheep, will follow, follow, follow.

Then it behooves teachers to act wisely.

RECOMMENDED READING: In her remarkably clear-eyed piece “A Teacher’s Responsibility,” Zen Buddhist priest Yvonne Rand discusses essential elements of good teachers. Acknowledgment to Yoga Spy reader Marie Bainmarie for this recommendation.

4 thoughts on “Addendum on teacher [mis]conduct

  1. Thanks for the good summary, Yoga Spy.

    The only thing I want to add is that just because a guru/teacher behaves badly it doesn’t mean we have to disregard their writings and their life’s work.

    I read Swami Rama’s excellent book on Pranayama, “Path of Fire and Light”, for example, in spite of his conviction for sex abuse. It certainly made me read the parts about Yoga ethics a little differently. But even those were good. And I admire much of the work of the Himalayan Institute he created.

    He just wasn’t able to live up to his own instights and ethics.

    Bob Weisenberg

    1. I agree 100% with you and with Bob. We are all flawed, after all. There are countless people (think of the great artists, musicians, scientists, writers, politicians!) whom I respect despite their flaws. I can separate their genius in one aspect and their weakness in another. I do prefer if they acknowledge their mistakes, of course. Thanks for making this point.

      1. I think “respecting the person” is very different from respecting their work. I don’t, in fact, respect Swami Rama as a person. His offenses were too egregious and too wildly hypocritical. But I still respect his body of work and what he created. I’ll still read his books.

        I also think it’s different for a preacher or guru to be immoral or unethical than an artist, musician, scientist, or writer. Being a role model is an essential part of being a spiritual leader. It has nothing to do with these other professions. Politicians are somewhere in between.

        The worst, of course, are those spiritual leaders who claim to be above all ethical or moral judgement. There have been quite a few of these, unfortunately.

        Just some additional thoughts.

        Thanks for this important discussion.

        Bob Weisenberg

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