Setting Healthy Boundaries: Humility & Boundaries

  • Allow students to have their own experience.
  • Create healthy boundaries between teacher and student while avoiding unnecessary distance.
  • Refrain from giving advice in psychotherapy or other areas outside of your teaching expertise.

Allow Students to Have Their Own Experience

Consider that a teacher’s role is to lead students to having their own experience as opposed to dictating it. Avoid burdening them with your expectations, whether conscious or unconscious.

This 2-1/2 minute video encourages teachers to avoid describing an expectation that students will feel something in particular. Amy Matthews (with Leslie Kaminoff) points out that she can ask students what they experienced after a pose and hear that some loved it, some hated it; some felt energized, some agitated, some relaxed; etc.

See also: Your Voice: Consider Invitational Language

Beware of Unconscious Expectations

[It has been said] that the psychoanalyst must be free from memory and desire if he is to be of any use to his patients. To think about the end of a session, to wonder what time it is, even to hope for a cure is to add an agenda that becomes an interference because it is sensed as a demand. People are sensitive to each other, especially in a stripped-down relationship like a therapeutic one. The yoga student-teacher relationship seems to be similar… [With my new yoga teacher,] something else was coming through the sound [of his leading a chant], an insistent quality, not quite a demand but an expectation. I felt a wall going up around me and noticed that he got a tepid response from the class… As I continue to take classes with my yoga teacher, I can see how much he wants to create a spiritual environment for us. While his intention is noble, our yoga postures are burdened by his desire for them to be special… It recapitulates an all-too-familiar childhood drama, in which parental expectations can overwhelm a child’s burgeoning self-expression. – Mark Epstein

Responding to Questions Outside Your Expertise

What can you do when student questions or comments seem to be pointing to a topic outside of yoga or your expertise?

  • Endeavor to respond to all questions from the yoga canon. That is, frame your response based on your training and study as a yoga teacher and your experience with yourself and other students within the context of yoga. This may include teaching from the Yoga Sutra and other philosophy. Keeping the communication centered on yoga will help guide your focus and keep you within your area of expertise.
  • Of course, those teachers who hold professional training in other fields such as psychotherapy, physical therapy or energy medicine may choose a larger body of knowledge from which to draw.
  • Endeavor to build a list of referrals for directing students to psychotherapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, naturopaths, MDs, energy workers, psychologists, nutritionists etc.
  • Don’t forget the incredibly miraculous effect of creating space, paying attention, listening. So often, human beings are comforted and able to find their inner compass when seen, witnessed with compassion and non-judgment.
  • Be willing to say, “I don’t know.”
  • See also: Injuries & Conditions: When to Refer Out

You’re a Yoga Teacher, Not a Therapist

“You’re a yoga teacher. You are not a therapist,” says Alison Campbell… “If people share with you before or after class, do what a good teacher does—listen. That’s all!” … “When students are moving their body in yoga class, they’re connecting to the emotional body. They’re connecting to themselves in spiritual and emotional ways,” Forbes says. “It’s natural for them to ask the person who is leading the experience about what’s going on.” The teacher’s role, though, is to guide—not to give advice. Teachers should facilitate the student’s process and evolution, explains Eddie Modestini… “It’s their responsibility to look at the congestion in their minds and hearts and take personal responsibility.” [Chris Santamaria adds,] “Students will come to us for answers. It’s okay to say we don’t have them.” – Kristen Kemp