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When Your Students Become Your Teachers

It's not unusual to see yourself in your students. How do you learn from them while maintaining the neutral distance?

By Dan Charnas

Recognize that the other person is you: Any issue or problem that students bring into your classroom can be a mirror of your own. By simply remembering this truth, you can bring a tremendous amount of compassion to bear for your students ... and for yourself, too. Sudden emotions—such as anger or embarrassment—are good clues that you're dealing with a mirror issue.

Call for guidance: Once you recognize your own lesson in your student's, do two things. First, call for guidance from your own teacher, in the energetic sense, with a quick prayer or silent chant. Then make a conscious decision to address the issue. But don't be hard on your student just because you're hard on yourself. "I try not to confront students directly," Rizopoulous says. Ask of yourself, in that moment, what your student needs.

Take an oath: Your own reflection on personal lessons is best done before or after you teach. During the class, stay present with the practice and get your ego out of the way. Before you begin a class, reaffirm your responsibilities and privileges as a teacher. This can be done with a meditation, chant, or ritual. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition, Yogi Bhajan would ask his teachers to affirm this aphorism: "I am not a man. I am not a woman. I am not a person. I am not myself. I am a Teacher." Neutrality is paramount for yoga teachers, but it doesn't just arrive on its own. It must be cultivated.

Don't pull an "Oprah": "If a student comes up to you with a problem," Gurmukh says, "never say, 'Yeah, I know how it feels,' and then tell them your situation."

"The moment you drag in your own personal issues, you are no longer a teacher," adds Gurushabd Singh Khalsa, Gurmukh's husband and partner in her Los Angeles studio, Golden Bridge.

Still, Gurmukh agrees that under certain circumstances—such as the lecture at the beginning of class—telling a bit of your own story can be a great gift to students. Rizopoulous agrees that this can be tremendously effective. "I think it's self-indulgent to talk about yourself too much," she says. "But I also think it's useful, so that students don't have you on a pedestal, so that they understand that you also have struggles."

But here's the shift you need to make: It is almost as if you are telling a story about someone else, the person you were before you took your seat on the teacher's bench. You are telling it not for yourself, but for the benefit of your students.

Ultimately, every bit of learning that happens in our yoga class—even our own—is for them.

Dan Charnas has been teaching Kundalini Yoga for more than a decade and studied under Gurmukh and the late Yogi Bhajan, Ph.D. He lives, writes, and teaches in New York City.

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Reader Comments


As both a Life Coach and a Yoga Teacher, I wholeheartedly agree that my clients/students mirror my own issues. If I want a sure way to check in with where I am on my journey, I just need to listen deeply to my coaching clients. Don't you just love the way the universe works!


I find this site to be a bit non user friendly. Even when trying to find links it keeps taking me back to the same page.

Confused & Confounded in Toronto

How do the words 'renowned' and 'famed' fit into the yoga philosophy as being descriptive of yoga teachers?????

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