I have been teaching yoga and fitness classes for almost 3 decades. I have learned a lot. Teaching fitness classes and dealing with fitness professionals is a much easier task then being a yoga teacher.
Fitness instruction is a different skill set. Most people who go to fitness classes are looking for a great sweat and an amazing physical challenge. People who practice yoga are looking at finding themselves through their breath, movement, and connection. There is a huge difference between the two. Yoga can be so much more than a workout; it is an experience.
You can feel a social and psychological component to yoga that fitness classes seem to miss. People are looking to find something more than just the physical challenge at yoga, they are looking to connect with something bigger. Sometimes when students are seeking self-fulfillment, yoga teachers get pulled into their orbit; this connection can be dangerous.
"Be Friendly, Not Familiar"
I took my very first formal yoga teacher training in 2006. I trained with this amazing yoga teacher named Maureen Rae. She is a registered nurse-turned-fitness instructor and now is an accomplished yoga teacher. She taught me a very valuable lesson which I struggle with every day. One of the first things she said was not to become friends with your students.
It is good to be friendly, not familiar. I have failed at this miserably. I have made some friends at yoga, and I lost some friends along the way.
As a studio owner, I am interested in building community. Part of creating community is building relationships with your students. I am honestly interested in knowing about my students and serving them in the best way possible. When you own a studio you become its heart. I love our studio for the community that it creates. It is a wonderful family of people from all walks of life. We are a small studio with a huge heart.
I love my students. They motivate me, they inspire me and they teach me so much about myself. I have made real friends at my studio, but I have also had people who put me on a pedestal and when I fall off or make a mistake, I get crucified. It’s then I remember that I can’t be friends with all of my students and I really shouldn’t be.
Feelings Belong Within
As a yoga teacher it’s important to protect yourself. People’s feelings of success in their practice can sometimes be attributed to you. When you lead a student through a difficult posture and they have success in achieving their goal, or they find themselves opening up to intense emotions during a hip-opening class, transference of deep feelings of admiration and love can be passed on to the teacher.
Those feelings don’t belong there; they belong within. These successes are solely that of the practitioner. The yoga teacher was simply there holding the space at the time. These feelings can lead to unrealistic expectations from the student to the teacher. This adoration becomes a breeding ground for disappointment when at some point in the future, the teacher falls short of the student’s expectations.
Advice For Teachers
My advice to our teachers, be friendly but not too familiar. Create relationship on equal footings with your students and remind the student that their successes are just that—theirs. The adoration they feel for you can create a false sense of confidence and lead to a raging ego problem. When you start believing your own hype, you have a big problem. You will lose the essence of the practice.
It’s good to remind your students that you are human too. You will make mis-steps, you may swear in classes, you have bad days like everyone else. You can let them know you might even disappoint them by not living up to their expectations. This is all part of being human and learning about you. Remember we are all on this path together. No one is perfect and everyone is trying to find their own way.
The best way to cultivate the teacher student relationship is to keep it real and honest and try not to get too close. If you do, you may just get your heart broken.