I got a telephone call from one of my yoga teacher training alumni, Marisa Parr, from 11 Exhale Yoga studio in Richland, Washington. She was telling me how full her classes were becoming with regular yoga students, and how happy she is that the same people are attending class every day of the week.
I was happy to hear from her and we began chatting about her busy routine as the mother of small children while serving as a yoga teacher in a growing community. Marisa said she loves her community so much, and she feels like she could grab lunch any day with the folks with whom she is growing ever closer. I thought it was great that she was establishing such rapport with her students, but I felt compelled to warn her against becoming friends with her students. Having been a group fitness instructor and yoga teacher trainer for the past 13 years, I have observed both good and bad outcomes from blurring the boundaries between students and friendships.
It’s so easy to fall into a friendship with a yoga student, or a group of them. Yoga naturally brings out the best in people: kindness, selflessness, community. When you make a positive impact in someone’s life, it becomes a very special connection for both parties. It is easy to feel this bond and fall into a mindset of Metta: The Philosophy and Practice of Universal Love. You could argue that it is this specific quality of the yogic tradition which forms the very basis of yoga’s power to heal the world. Going there, one could argue that without the genuine human connection inherent in the practice, a class devoid of loving-kindness is just exercise. True that.
But let’s also remember the First Limb of yoga. The Yamas, or the ethical underpinnings to the practice of yoga: Non-violence, Truth, Non-Stealing, Conservation of one’s vital energies and Non-Grasping. I am primarily looking right at Brahmacharya, conservation of one’s vital energies, as the basis from which I base my position on the matter of befriending yoga students. (And to a lesser extent, Asteya and Satya, come to think of it.)
In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, The Yamas clearly outline the ethical tenets upon which the tradition of Raja yoga tradition is based. We hold these rules, if you will, to be self-evident. That without kindness, honesty, equal exchange of karma, continence and generosity, the whole notion of asana is either a path to liberation, or mere exercise. In particular, Brahmacharya, the proper use of one’s vital energies, calls into question the wisdom of engaging in social obligations with yoga students.
I told Marisa, hey. There is only so much of you to go around. Trust me. You cannot attend every lunch invitation, birthday party, baby shower, bridal shower, wedding, engagement party, open house, retirement party, going away party, Tupperware party and invitation to coffee that comes along. You cannot text back, talk on the phone to, or Facebook-Support every yoga student that takes your class. Why not? Because by doing so, there is less time for you to be there for the people who are actually in your life.
Your friends, your spouse, your children, your family all might never attend your yoga classes. They are not even your super fans are they? The people you grew up with, made real commitments to, share blood and oaths with are a lot of the times the last peeps who like your Instagram photos of your latest handstand or vegan recipe ideas, huh? But are they less important to you? In reality, they are your entire world, are they not? They do not pay money to enjoy your company, correct?
I know it’s tough. Ahimsa, kindness compels a nice yoga teacher to say yes to going out to coffee with a student nice enough to ask. But is it in alignment with Satya, truth, to say you are available, when in fact you should be taking a yoga class yourself? And as far as Asteya goes, haven’t you done your best teaching great classes? Your time is your money as a teacher. You must know your worth and spend it on the things that fill you up, not stretch you thin.
When yoga students ask about our weekend, our family, our health, we are at our best always directing it back to them. “I had a great weekend prepping for this class. What would you like to work on?” “My family is so grateful I am teaching, because I come home happier.” “I feel great. Aren’t you glad we get to practice yoga today? How are you feeling, head to toe?”
I love my friend Marisa. I love all the teachers at her incredible studio. I love my friend Julie Thiry who owns the studio and cares for it like one of her kids. I love these people, and all alumni enough to support them in my heart, and celebrate them in my memories of our teacher training. When any one of them really needs me, they pick up the phone. I’m glad. But after training over 400 people to be yoga teachers, I have a policy that I decline invitations to parties, baby showers and the like. I love them truly, and all the yoga students I have cared for over the years.
But I love best of all, my fiancé, my child, my pets and my friends and family. May I never short-change them of my attention in exchange for basking in the glory of a “Following.”
Thank you for listening,
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