Picture the scene: a lithe yoga teacher in his twenties is demonstrating asanas to a class full of attentive, scantily clad female students. Some are new to yoga; some are experienced – all are eager to learn and not unreceptive to the teacher’s charms. A few might even request extra attention from him in the name of a sore back or creaky knee.
Over the next few weeks, the flirtatious exchanges between the teacher and one of these female students grows in intensity. The relationship develops and it’s not long before teacher and student have embarked on a full-blown affair.
It’s not difficult to imagine a similar scene being played out in yoga classes up and down the country.
By its nature, the teaching of yoga involves a physical contact between teacher and student – the asanas are precise, and adjusting students and encouraging them into better alignment is the mark of a good yoga teacher.
But despite anecdotal evidence to suggest that sexual relationships between teachers of yoga and their students are less than rare, the subject is very much still taboo.
Janice Gates, author of the forthcoming book Yogini, interviewed a dozen well-known female teachers for her book and repeatedly heard accounts of abuse of the teacher-student role.
In a recent article on www.wholelifetimes.com, Gates says: “A male teacher in a room full of mostly women, dressed in tight clothing, moving, breathing and sweating—all looking to him for direction. Most teacher training programs simply don’t prepare them to handle that skillfully.”
This is a sensitive subject area and one that throws up a raft of questions: are student/teacher relationships necessarily wrong? Should teacher training programmes cover this scenario – and how to handle it – in depth? Should teachers encourage students to who them are attracted to teach with someone else instead?
In the wholelifetimes article yoga teacher Ana Forrest has a few, rather direct pointers on the subject: “This is what I tell my teacher trainees. Number one, if you fuck your student, you lose a paying student.
"Two, when your roving eye goes elsewhere, you lose a student period. Three, when you do this, it is very evident to everybody else and you create havoc, so it’s really lousy business.”
Judith Hanson Lasater, author of 30 Essential Yoga Poses: For Students and Their Teachers, has even more to say.
"This situation interferes with the teacher’s ability to teach the student,” she says, “and it confuses things for the other people in the class. At any given moment, is this about the sexual relationship or about the student/teacher relationship?
"The person who stands to lose is the student. Because when the break-up occurs—which it almost always does—the student has lost not only her romantic interest, she has lost her teacher.”
This is a serious issue, and there is a strong argument for bringing it out in the open by establishing a set of student/teacher guidelines that the yoga world can work to.
There is also a powerful case for covering the issue in teacher training courses so that prospective teachers are at least prepared to handle the situation when and if it arises.
This may not be a comfortable topic for the yoga community to get its head around. But it's an issue that's not about to go away.
Image source: © ximagination - FOTOLIA