Yesterday Tara Parker-Pope wrote “An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders” in her New York Times health column. It caught my eye because it profiles a 58-year-old yoga teacher who developed anorexia in her late 30s. “At 53, carrying just 85 pounds on her 5-foot-3 frame,” Parker-Pope writes, “Ms. Shaw checked herself in to an eating disorders program.”
Skimming readers’ comments, it’s clear that there are multiple issues involved. But here’s what struck me: Can someone personally unhealthy (or unhappy) nevertheless be a decent yoga teacher? (Granted, Shaw might be only a casual, occasional teacher and not the best subject to analyze. In this interview, she doesn’t even mention yoga.)
I once knew a therapist who by all accounts greatly helped her clients. She seemed self-confident, realistic, and content with her own life. So I was surprised when she got liposuction in her thighs and an eyelid lift. Some might argue that she was taking charge of her body and face. To me, there’s no good reason for risky elective plastic surgery; she must have been struggling with major self criticism. Yet there she was: an effective therapist with secret hangups of her own.
All in all, I’ve found that the best yoga teachers are relatively healthy and happy: neurotic, maybe; psychotic, no. At least one person in a yoga class must be stable and in control, and shouldn’t that person be the teacher?
Of course, we’ve all heard about teachers who behave badly (boundary crossing, materialism, you name it) and yet are revered by students. Can teachers be “bad” and yet “good”? Do we even know if our teachers are truly who they seem to be? If we are teachers ourselves, do our public and private selves match?
Perhaps it’s all a matter of degree. We’re all human with quirks and foibles. Perhaps if one is relatively “together,” one can help others despite needing a bit of help oneself.