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Mixing the Personal and Professional

Students often share personal information with me (including details about their relationships, addictions, therapy, and so on). Others have informally invited me to join them for a cup of coffee or a bite to eat after class, or even to catch a movie on the weekend. What are the pros and cons of instructors socializing with students, or sharing their own current life challenges (divorce, parenting, loss) versus keeping their private lives private?

Dean Lerner's Reply:

Dear Jenna,

Many teachers can relate to this question. It brings up an interesting and complex aspect of the teacher-student relationship.

By its nature, yoga encourages students to tell the teacher of any problems—physical, physiological, and even psychological—because they have a bearing on what and how the student should practice. The teacher's job is to guide the student toward wholeness. This requires skill, both in setting a high standard and in pointing the way to realizing the goal. In order to teach and not simply preach, the teacher's actions and lifestyle should be held to the same high standard. This implies a certain level of visibility. At the same time, common sense dictates a degree of privacy.

Your answer is implied in your question. There are times when it is appropriate and enriching to share time with a student, and to share your own life experiences as a means to guide, inspire, and direct the student toward a positive transformation. In more public or social settings, revealing your personal situation might not be appropriate and could actually have a negative effect on your role as a teacher. Practically speaking, general socializing during a fun gala, studio opening, or community gathering is important to enhance personal rapport with students and build community, and it is good public relations for your business.

You cannot overestimate the impact a good teacher has on her students. Whether in public or private, discretion and good judgment are the rule. Our role as a teacher carries with it a responsibility, and it is our duty to act accordingly to help the students face and overcome difficulties, physical or mental, on the path of yoga.

Certified Advanced Iyengar instructor Dean Lerner is co-director of the Center for Well-being in Lemont, Pennsylvania and teaches workshop across the United States. He is a longtime student of B.K.S. Iyengar and served a four-year term as president of the Iyengar National Association of the United States. Known for his ability to teach yoga with clarity and precision, as well as warmth and humor, Dean has conducted teacher training classes at Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana and other locations.

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