Power and Strength Given to Yoga Teachers

Written by Cathy Geier.

We all respect power. We use it. We respect strength. We practice yoga, exercise and lift weights to maintain and develop strength. We respect our yoga teachers.

yoga teachers

In attending their yoga classes we give them some power over us for a class period, one class at a time. We develop our power and strength in the class through physical exercises. When we pay for a class or sign a contract with a yoga studio we engage in an agreement which implies that in entering the yoga classes we will be good class citizens; ergo give respect and thus, power to the teacher. And that the teacher will be respectful in his/her actions.

I have some question about this. I am all for teacher respect, having been a public school teacher over 20 years. As a yoga student I become confused, frustrated and hurt when I feel a teacher has used his/her power unfairly or hurtfully. Think about it please. We enter class generally subdued, preparing for a journey- partly physical, partly spiritual, sometimes just a good workout. In class only the teacher speaks. We follow. We copy movement or respond to directions for movement. We may join in a chant if requested, but the teacher is the accepted, unchallenged speaker and leader. I am fine with this generally. I have attended thousands of yoga classes- this is routine, nothing to question or out of the ordinary.

I am not fine when a teacher is hurtful with comments to a student or to the entire class. I am not fine with comments which exhort students to go beyond their level of flexibility or to push until they are almost passing out. I am not fine with this relationship when a teacher's words and theme choice become didactic, dictatorial or so filled with spiritual growth lessons that alignment, cues to breathe, rest, modify, flow with intention become lost or are simply not given.

I and most students enter a yoga class with respect and expectation that physical safety as well as emotional safety will be honored and maintained. If, when this is broken - a teacher calls someone out! I am shocked, startled. Trust is broken. I do not know what my best reaction/response is or should be. If a teacher yells at an entire class in a derogatory or unfair way, I am unsure what to do.

If the teacher has singled me out I do not wish to remain in a room where I feel humiliated. I know that it is considered discourteous to leave a yoga class without an instructor's permission and/or knowledge. However, if it is the instructor who has 'called me out' I am posed with a dilemma.To me, tenants of courtesy since broken, do not now apply. Certainly I am not going to cause a scene, but I wish to simply leave; to assert my own need for distance from an emotionally unsafe situation.

Who has what power? I allow power of another to affect my feelings. I usually am in charge of my feelings. I choose to be open, surrendering in a yoga class. I choose to be 'soft', but I choose to not be broken. I have to choose to not give my power away. I choose to be open, soft, vulnerable, willing to listen and learn - every day. I choose to not retort openly in a conflictive manner in a yoga class. I am still pondering what to do in some of these infrequent occurrences. I had an experience with this last winter. I had time to process as well as talk it over with a few teachers and students. All have had different points of view. The views range from never go back" to "breathe, be thankful that you have enough money to pay to go to a yoga class" to many in-between ideas for action and advice.

To really grow and to gain from experiences one may reflect on his/her own actions and needs. I feel a basic human need of safety. I prefer that in yoga classes. I prefer to not be startled with cross or insulting words in a yoga class. To me, yoga is almost like church, in that I feel and seek a divine presence as well as my physical development.

As we traverse the wonderful, deeply encompassing path of yoga one has opportunities of surprise. Developing ones power and strength as our teachers do is new for me. I would be honored to hear from other practitioners their comments and thoughts.

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