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Idol Teachings

Put your teacher on a pedestal? Tempted to date your students? Here’s a blueprint for a healthier teacher-student dynamic.

By Raphael Gunner

Rules of the Frame
The rules that govern the relationship between therapist and client are called the frame. They define the limits of acceptable behavior, creating a safe zone in which a relationship can unfold. These rules apply to the time, place, and length of the sessions, to the fees and cancellation policy, and to issues such as whether touch is used as part of the therapy. When these rules are broken, a sense of danger or discomfort arises that can jeopardize the relationship and make it difficult for the patient and analyst to work together.

The rules that govern the relationship between yoga teachers and students also make up a frame. These have to do with the time, place, and length of the class; personal hygiene; the kind of touch used; and the kind of contact teachers and students have between classes. When teachers go way overtime, give aggressive adjustments, or ask students on dates, they are pushing the limits of the frame. And so are students who consistently arrive well past the starting time, wear clothes stinking of last week’s sweat, demand excessive attention, or flirt with their teachers.

Crossing the Line
As a teacher, I apply the frame to yoga in four ways. First, I register when a challenge occurs—I usually feel that a boundary is being crossed. Second, I remind myself that the challenge contains a message, one of which the transgressor is usually unaware. Third, I ask myself what that message could be. And fourth, I try to find an appropriate response, one that deals with the message in the challenge and protects the emotional safety of the student and the class.

Success Mess
Simon, for example, was a regular in my Mysore class. He would frequently challenge the boundaries I had established by talking and laughing during class. When I paid closer attention to his behavior, I noticed that talking and laughing relaxed him; focusing on his practice made him feel uncomfortable. I wondered if the unconscious message in his behavior was a deep-seated fear of getting close to his feelings.

Since students in a Mysore class go at their own pace—they practice a memorized sequence with occasional help from the teacher—we had ample opportunity to talk during class. When Simon was distracted, I would step up to his mat, stress how hard it is to focus, and encourage him to be present. In doing so, I was trying to put his struggle into words, to show compassion for its magnitude, and to offer him a solution.

At first, it was difficult for Simon to improve his focus, and he was uncomfortable with the feelings that arose during practice. Eventually, he noticed that he was afraid of success, which in yoga meant mastering the postures and the breath. He came to believe that his distraction during class was an unconscious strategy to slow his progress in yoga and therefore avoid the discomfort of succeeding.

Still, Simon continued to concentrate. Over time, he was able to stay present for longer periods. As he slowly became more skilled at the postures, he was able to free himself from the safety of failure. What began as a breach of the frame led to an exploration of Self. The hidden message in Simon’s behavior was at least partly revealed, and he started to allow himself to succeed.

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Reader Comments


I have had very unpleasant experiences with a yoga teacher.Very judgmental,sticking her nose in my private life,really crossing the boundaries.So i appreciate the article

pooja bhimra

iam a yoga practioner&soon going to start teaching,but i've still to find or rather seeking a makes life less complexed when u know u are always a matter of fact the innerself always keeps guiding.i would like u answer my query.thanks pooja


These are very interesting ideas, which can really be applied to any form of teaching, indeed even to parenting. But I think it's also important to remember that unless you know the student very well, you are essentially speculating. e.g. Perhaps Elizabeth simply has a bad memory, not a psychological issue.

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