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Should Your Teacher Be Your Friend?

By on August 2nd, 2011 — Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

yoga timeIn the early traditions of yoga, your teacher was your master, and you’d sit at his feet and obey what you were told. The teacher was the guru, someone who had reached a higher level than you, someone you revered and, to a degree, probably also feared. The guru and the student probably did not go out for lattes and discuss their respective romantic relationships.

But the United States, for better or for worse (and likely a little bit of both), doesn’t have a guru-student culture. This is a country of innovation, not tradition. This is a culture where we not only lack respect for authority, we see it as something to be challenged. We are a youth-driven culture where many think the ideas of our elders are dated (and some of them are). And, we like to keep things casual. We are so casual that, really, we are just “cas”. Even college students often call their multi-degreed professors by their first names. Our very language (of English) lacks the linguistic variations used in other languages to denote someone older or wiser. Here, we just say “Hey” to everyone: our grandparents, doctors, and best friends. So, what does all of this mean for yoga? It means that the lines get blurred between teacher and friend. It means that yoga teachers have lunch with their students, go to parties with their students, and even–yes–date their students.

Part of me does enjoy a certain casualness in my student-teacher relationships (both as a student and a teacher) because it is less alienating and can create a real opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas between students and teachers. I also think there are inherent problems with blindly following a guru for years on end without ever seeking out your own truth. That said, an uber casual relationship between student and teacher lacks certain necessary boundaries. And, on the path of self-development, a little bit of reverence for (and maybe even fear of) your teacher can be useful—for learning discipline and how to manage your own ego. While we cover a lot of similar terrain in yoga as we might in psychotherapy, we’re certainly not going to the movies with our therapists.

What do you think? Are you friends with your teacher? Do you fear him or her? Do you prefer a strict student-teacher relationship with firm boundaries, or a looser one where you can hang out together after class? If you are a teacher, do you think too much socializing crosses necessary boundaries? Write in and tell us what you think!


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5 Reader Comments

  1. Posted By: Chloe 8/3/2011 @ 2:28 am

    As a teacher, I have never become close friends with a student, though I have had close friends who came to my classes. That being said, I feel it’s fine to socialize with students, though I’m not sure I’d talk about relationship issues! And I would never date a student. I’m not sure if I see this as rigidly as you would in psychotherapy where there’s the notion that “once a client, always a client”. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad if you date someone who came to one class. However, a regular student, or someone you are likely to have to interact with on a professional level in the future (ie. if they come to the studio where you teach all the time) doesn’t feel like a good idea to me.
    Just my personal take, and I’ll be interested to read what others think.

  2. Posted By: Daniel 8/3/2011 @ 4:45 am

    It would not be proper for a simple asana instructor to think of himself or herself as a guru. There is so much more to being a guru than teaching someone to do a few postures and breathing exercises. If some asana teacher would present himself as my guru, I would run for the hills. Not just because I’d be afraid to get ripped of by some scam artist, but also because it’s disrespectful to the yoga tradition. It would be like someone pretending to be a math professor after learning some simple arithmetic. Many yogis, like Swami Rampuri, have said that there are no real yogis anymore in this day and age. There are a lot of scam artists and frauds though. I see a someone who has more experience practicing yoga and is teaching asanas, pranayama, meditation as a senior co-student of the yoga tradition who does deserve respect, but teal gurus are very very rare. Most, if not all, yoga teachers lack the qualifications that are necessary to be a guru and they won’t get it from some certification course.

  3. Posted By: meredith 8/3/2011 @ 9:43 am

    I am all for students and teachers creating friendships, and I have found it to be the natural evolution of the relationship as I study with a teacher over time. There is so much I have learned from my teachers in the time outside the studio, in social settings, and I am grateful for this.

    That said, I think teachers need to be mindful of how they socialize in the studio…I think it’s great to chat after class, but I have been in far too many classes that start late because students and teachers are busy having social hour (including one last night that started nearly 10 minutes late as the teacher talked with various student/friends). I feel teachers should honor their commitment to start all classes on time, and save the lengthy socializing for after class.

  4. Posted By: Kate 8/3/2011 @ 12:12 pm

    Having been both a student and a teacher, it seems quite natural to develop friendships. You see someone once or twice a week for several years and you naturally develop a connection. There is an element of trust and closeness that makes it almost difficult not to become friends. That said, I agree with the previous comment about being careful how this manifests in the studio. I would never want students to feel left out because I was socializing with another student. I try to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable in my class.

  5. Posted By: noor 11/25/2011 @ 3:44 am

    thank u thank u very much