Teaching Yoga in a Cyber-age: Keeping Connectivity and Distance.

Via on Feb 28, 2011
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There have been a couple of fantastic blog posts lately about what makes good teachers.  Some of these have been in response to the Newsweek article about egocentric types who tend to give yoga a bad name, and others a reflection on teaching yoga. Both styles of posts have been making me think a lot about what it takes to make a good teacher, what I love in the teachers who inspire me and what drives me cuckoo. Indeed, one of the best aspects about the increase in the number yoga teachers is the fact that there is some style/person/approach out there for everyone.

For me there are two very important aspects of teaching that are required for me to return to any teacher’s classes:  1.) they share with you a bit of themselves 2.) they don’t over share themselves.  Ah, herein lies the rub, dear readers.  One of the hardest balances to keep while you are standing in front of a class is the ability to be truthful to who you are without making the class all about you.  This challenge is a very difficult tight rope to walk, and one frankly the majority of yoga teachers are unable to traverse without falling.  I hate classes where the teacher is disconnected from the students and you leave feeling like you have no idea who they are, and I also am not a fan of classes where I feel like I know too much about what is going on his/her life outside the studio.  When yoga students step into the room it is their time to work out their characters and their plots and not to follow the path of yours.  Yoga teachers have to watch whether they tip the balance towards themselves and away from those they are supposed to be teaching.

When I teach I often sprinkle stories that have happened to me into my classes, thoughts, inspirations or just moments that have affected me.  I offer bits of my personality and truth, but try to keep lots of specific details of my personal life outside of the classroom.  I do not feel that discussing an argument with your significant other or sharing how you cried about something is really pertinent to a class or to the students that are there to practice yoga.  Most of the time these intimate details can be transcribed in a way that are less, well, detailed and more universal.  I think it’s possible to share yourself without actually telling all about yourself.

As teachers it is really important to steep your class in your truth, your approach and yourself.  But it is also really important to make sure you don’t open the pages of your personal book too much and show the students all your stories.  In the social media world of today it is easy to connect with your students and fellow teachers in the blogosphere, on Twitter and on Facebook.  While these connections are fabulous and offer lots of learning and sharing opportunities, I am often wondering if sometimes the line between our stories and others can become blurred.  For teachers it can be hard to maintain the control of your own personal path/stories/issues when connecting with students outside of the studio.  At the same time knowing what is going on with students off the mat can enhance your ability to teach.  The line between distance and connectivity is all of a sudden very fuzzy.  The web has opened many doors of communication for teachers and students and yet there are also new walls that have to be constructed around ourselves.

How as teachers and students do you navigate the amazing tools we have to connect outside of the studio while maintaining your own space on the mat? Can you create a community and still create a self when there are so many ways to learn about each other and to share?  When does line between connection and over sharing cross?

Does the ability to have a cyber closeness with your teachers/students enhance your practice or does it make you want to engage in a 100 yard dash away from that class?

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About Nancy Alder

Nancy Alder is a 200H Registered Yoga Teacher in Connecticut. She teaches her students to connect with space and breath from a place of safety and humor. She writes for many yoga blogs and chronicles her daily practice to find the beginners mind on and off the mat at her own blog,ww.flyingyogini.com. She is co-founder of Teachasana,www.teachasana.com, a site by yoga teachers for yoga teachers. When not writing or doing yoga she is in awe of her elves, busting asanas in crazy places and counting the days until the next snowfall.

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16 Responses to “Teaching Yoga in a Cyber-age: Keeping Connectivity and Distance.”

  1. I read this blog last night and appreciated that you brought this topic up. We as teachers of this wonderful mystical practice we have maintain a professional distance. Even though I teach that we are all one and that we are connected through the breath I still have keep an ethical distance. There is a business relationship that has been formed when the student plunks down their class fee – they are telling me that they respect my knowledge and they are trusting me to keep them safe during class.

    I am friends with a few of my students on Facebook but they are people that I have a relationship with outside of the studio. Mostly my yoga friends on FB are other teachers. Twitter anyone can follow me and we can engage in open conversation about yoga; that for me is more of on going cyber yoga workshop.

  2. AMO says:

    I have no idea what the video is doing here. Yes, the dance of how much of yourself to share and how to do so is ONE of the many things yoga teachers must figure out to serve their students well…

  3. adan says:

    interesring article, raising lots of good pts, and questions

    how, for instance, besides conscious attentiveness, does a teacher, or friend, decide when enough is enough of either personal or neutral info-sharing?

    different times, different technologies, different individuals – that’s a lot of variables ;-)

  4. Insightful blog and great questions, Nancy. Thank you.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  5. I'm with you, Nancy. It's a fine line. I like to feel that a teacher has generously offered something of himself or herself but not that I'm held captive to some kind of impromptu therapy session. I think it's critical that a teacher create context, and make it clear how whatever is shared can be universally applicable to the students' lives and practice. I also thing that whatever is shared–especially if relates to some challenge–ultimately uplifts students. No student should ever leave feeling like they should ask the teacher, "are you okay"? Great post.

    • Nancy A says:

      you nailed exactly what I was saying… the need to check in with the teacher shows that the teacher isn't checking their story/issue/drama at the door.

      • This is an excellent point. After we put Nicki down last April I was seriously depressed for a month. I continued to teach for normalcy sake but avoided making a public announcement about my pain. After a month though I did share with the class what had been going on in the context of allowing yourself to feel and experience whatever the Universe serves up.

  6. Great, thought-provoking post as usual, Nancy! I first had to find this balance when teaching high school and college English because students often want to befriend you outside of class. For me, teaching (and blogging) is about bringing my true self to bear but not so much that students feel like they can't learn without me. My hope is for them to feel empowered to shape a practice that works for them.

  7. It's one of the hardest things in the world to get right now, keeping the right distance from those you love, those you work and those you consider "friends". Facebook has really opened up your diary/journal. All those things you'd normal keep secret can sometimes be accidentally sprayed to the world – there are too many cases floating around the inter-tubes of where people have just been so stupid and not realised that social networking is almost an open market for all to see (why not stand in the street and hand passers by all the photos you just took?)

    With teachers it is even harder. You connect with your students in class, gaining that rapport, that trust, that closeness. But if they were to turn around and add you as a friend on your Facebook account what do you do? Well the girl that gives me my monthly massage (Thai Yogic Massage to help fix my computer desk shoulders!) did the right thing. I found her personal account on Facebook, after talking to her for a few hours, and added her as a friend, but she denied that and added me as a friend on her Business Facebook account. She is keeping the right distance and I respect her fully for that.

    But if you don't have a Business Facebook account…how do you not upset your student by not adding them? It's a tough one! You could try a third party tool (sorry for the blatant plug everyone) http://iheartmyyogi.com. But that's all am going to say on that subject :P

  8. Mish says:

    WOW, makes me think. I am very close with my students. Have two classes with same students over seven years now. We all share and with both classes, they have been over my home for holiday parties. We have lunches, do mani, pedis together, etc… One of the classes (a senior group) we often take field trips and make it a yoga day. I have attended funerals, taken some of my students for chemo therapy…..

    I'm sure some would think that is too close. I guess it just depends on what you like.
    As a teacher I want my students to know I am just like them working through issues and following a path. As a student, I do not like a teacher that is removed, one that teaches and doesn't engage with their students. I don't teach for any other than sharing my love of yoga. I would imagine if this is a career choice to support oneself it would be handled differently.

    I do agree with you Nancy that there needs to be a line drawn for that relationship/respect to be maintained but for me I like it a little more personal. I am what I am and that is authentic.

    That's what is great about the so many "Flavors" of teachers. If ya don't like one, there's another one to try.

    Thanks for the great read N.A.

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