Teachers, Keep it in Your Pants.

Via on Mar 1, 2012

My answer to the sex question is simple.

Six years ago, I stopped seeing male clients.

Invariably, they’d ask me out, often while their wife was in the next room. When I informed an unmarried private client that I didn’t date students, he promptly replied “You’re fired. I’ll pick you up at 8.”

At the time, the invitation was flattering. Older, French-Argentine, wealthy, powerful, charismatic and handsome. Anyone with an unresolved father issue was going to jump on that. Later, after therapy and cornering the Haagen Daz market, I understood the come-on to be more about power than it ever was about sex. Fortunately, I never slept with him. A warped Catholic, he enjoyed that. Later, I learned he went through yoga, spin and Pilates instructors like tissues.

Twice, social acquaintances circled back as students, and I dated them. Although I am friends with both now, the power imbalance at the time was palpable. I couldn’t articulate it then and no doubt I chalked it up to my own mesmerizing sexual charisma, but I see now that they were more interested in what I represented as a spiritual teacher than in me as an individual. So I was left as a pedestal-ized figure unable to conduct the relationship as an equal. The discovery that I was a normal person with problems was unwelcome and spelled relationship doom.

Along the way, male teachers hit on me regularly and I received enough assists that screamed “Inappropriate!”to make me go deaf. The first class I ever took class in LA, the teacher taught while simultaneously getting Lisa Bonet’s phone number while she was in downdog. Granted, it’s LA, but still.

As a teacher who learned the hard way, I cannot state strongly enough how wholly antithetical to our humanity these breaches of trust are.  Moreover, when we choose selfishly, it is usually at the expense of women. Not much new or different there. Blaming them is nothing new, either. In some myopic, uneducated yogic circles, they blame ‘karma’ and call it a day. Anything to avoid honest self-assessment. We call this “turning dharma into filth.”

Emotional and spiritual development cannot take place in an unsafe environment. Anyone who comes to a person entrusted with bringing them to a state of health and wholeness, be they a teacher, a priest, a shrink or a doctor, in their precious mind and body deserves physical and emotional safety, at the very least.

Further complicating these breaches is the troubling statistic that that in the U.S., 3 out of 5 women are sexually assaulted by someone they know before the age of 17. For men, the estimates are between 5-10%.  Those women/men are in our classes, ripe to recreate unsatisfactory childhoods and everything that was screwed up about it, all over again. Are we going to meet them at the level their parents did or are we going to actually educate, elevate and eventually, if this is a real yoga experience, liberate?

No doubt these figures are higher, given the reluctance of victims to come forward. As in most families where alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and child abuse take place, the name of the game is shhhhh, don’t tell anyone and never, ever, under any circumstances, disclose against your parent (or who ever perpetrated the crime). It’s the same in Grown-Up Land; rarely do students, employees, parishioners or patients blow the whistle on their chosen “savior.”

The mental health field identified the unstoppable force of transference—the conflation we make between the person who hurt us most and our new found spiritual savior. In intelligent response, the mental health field enacted explicit prohibitions against sexual contact between patient and practitioner.  The persistence of the repetition compulsion (re-creating Mom and Dad and the rest, ad nauseum until you land on a shrink’s couch or married to your Mom) makes it easy, for any of us, to succumb to the power of these unconscious processes. It’s a very strong pull and it’s why there are laws prohibiting any sexual contact.

In my judgment, any teacher who parleys the sacred trust of a student into his/her own “secret” sex club obviously should not be teaching.  All the posturing about light, love and unicorns not surprisingly betrays an unacknowledged and un-integrated dark side, what Jung coined “the shadow.”

Darkness isn’t the problem; denying it and then acting on it inappropriately is.

While we all deserve forgiveness, premature forgiveness is a close cousin to the Stockholm Syndrome.  People who are dysfunctionally devoted to their teacher refuse to believe that their “guru” can do any real wrong, and thus the culture of sweeping our teachers’ dirt under the collective rug perpetuates itself. We see spiritual communities collapse again and again and yet still people defend their “right” to sleep with their students. With all the fish in the sea…really?

This type of catastrophe happens all the time when western ideas of ‘freedom’ collide with eastern theologies that espouse deference as a model for growth. In Tibet, if a monk was caught doing anything remotely out of line, he would be expelled from his community. His parents would have to make back-breaking restitution in order for him to return. We don’t have a cultural system of checks and balances in the West. Here, the party line is “Don’t tell me what to do. I am an adult (as if a true adult would ever take advantage of a weaker person) and she/he is a consenting adult and that’s the end of that.”

There is no such thing as consensual in a relationship predicated on a power inequity. Period. Whether it’s your boss, your shrink, your guru, political leader, your rabbi or your priest, each one has a sacred duty to say “Tom/Sally, put your clothes back on. Now.”

Open discussion of the pros (What are they, again? Oh yes, sleep with me and get closer the God.) and cons, personally and professionally, for both students and teachers is crucial.  In my own program, Conquering Lion Yoga, we recently invited John Merz, Priest-In-Charge of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island to join the faculty to educate my trainees on the ethics of student/teacher relations. No priest cracks, please, many are better versed given the ongoing scandals faced by the Catholic Church.  For me, given my strong feelings on this issue, this is very exciting and I’d like it to be a part of every teacher training program. It would be nice if there was at least one place in the world where sleeping your way to power wasn’t an option.

And for teachers who want the “right” to sleep with their students, maybe they should have a waiver form students sign before taking your class. The waiver could say something like “I understand that I am wearing tight spandex with my ass in the air with 50 other (mostly) women and that while I am there to get my spiritual on, I understand that the teacher is going to be evaluating both my practice and how fuckable I am.” And if the women are down with that, let the party begin. Otherwise, do the job you were hired to do and teach yoga.

But please know this: on three separate occasions, I asked a class of 50 students to write down on a piece of paper anonymously the worst thing that ever happened to them. I then read each one out loud to the class. By the 15th confession, the room was crying, men and women. Overwhelmingly, the papers described sexual abuse at the hands of a loved one and every single person in that room understood immediately the sacred nature of our shared space and experience.

I suggest to any teacher who feels his or her mat be a ‘grey area’ to try this in their next class and see for yourself the historical content in the room. Its sad, vulnerable and needs defending, not exploiting.

~ Kelly Morris

~

Editor: Kate Bartolotta

 

 

About Kelly Morris

Kelly Morris is unapologetically, famously frank, jacked up on compassion. Like no other yoga teacher you’ve ever seen. Founder of the renowned Conquering Lion Yoga Teacher Training Program/NYC. New York Magazine: “Best Of” 3 Years in a row. New York Times and Yoga Journal: “One of NYC’s foremost teachers.” Loved by celebrities, beginners, and advanced students alike. Kelly Morris blows the mind, rocks the body and opens the heart. Every time.

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92 Responses to “Teachers, Keep it in Your Pants.”

  1. Charlotte says:

    This article touches on something very important to me and yet I feel it was completely disjointed and poorly written. Instead of opening an intelligent conversation you skimmed on issues, made sensational comments, and let your own ego and judgement get in the way, not to mention predominantly blame male yoga teachers for these issues.

    First, I must agree with Abbie Galvin's comment. Having 50 people write down their worst memories in a class and read them aloud is completely out of line. Are you a psychologist or mental health counselor? Did you let people know prior to the class that they would be delving into traumatic events in their lives?
    "Those women/men are in our classes, ripe to recreate unsatisfactory childhoods and everything that was screwed up about it, all over again." – then why bring it to the forefront of your class? Why have people relive those memories just to establish that your class is a "safe place"? That seems to me like an abuse of power on your side. When people share those kinds of intimate stories they make a strong but ultimately superficial bond built on emotional trauma which is not appropriate or healthy.

    If you want people to know your class is a safe space, tell them so.
    Communication is something you seem to be missing here (with all due respect). Like Sydney P states, there are power inequalities in EVERY relationship and those can be navigated through open and honest communication. To make a sweeping generalization that every student teacher relationship is unethical is unfair and uninformed (you came to this conclusion based solely on your poor relationships with students?)

    Finally, you are a student of Michael Roach and Christie McNally. Do you disapprove of their relationship as McNally was a disciple of Roach when they entered into a partnership? And, maybe I am wrong, but didn't that relationship end when McNally began a new relationship with another one of their students? Do you believe those are a non-consensual relationships?

    Lastly, thank you for you words and sharing your experience. I think you touched on some serious issues here. I just can't stand behind the article as a whole.

  2. Charlotte P says:

    This article touches on something very important to me and yet I feel it was completely disjointed and more like yellow journalism than competent writing. Instead of opening an intelligent conversation you skimmed on issues, made sensational comments, and let your own ego and judgement get in the way, not to mention predominantly blame male yoga teachers for these issues.

    First, I have to agree with Abbie Galvin. Having 50 people write down their worst memories in a class and read them aloud is completely out of line. Are you a psychologist or mental health counselor? Did you let people know prior to the class that they would be delving into traumatic events in their lives? "Those women/men are in our classes, ripe to recreate
    unsatisfactory childhoods and everything that was screwed up about it, all over again." – then why bring it to the forefront of your class? Why have people relive those memories just to establish that your class is a "safe place"? That seems to me like an abuse of power on your side. When people share those kinds of intimate stories they make a strong but ultimately superficial bond built on emotional trauma which is not appropriate or healthy.

    If you want people to know your class is a safe space, tell them so.
    Communication is something you seem to be missing here (with all due respect). There are power inequalities in EVERY relationship and those can be navigated through open and honest communication. To make a sweeping generalization that every student teacher relationship is unethical is unfair and uninformed (you came to this conclusion based solely on your bad experiences with men?)

    Finally, you are a student of Michael Roach and Christie McNally. Do you disapprove of their relationship as McNally was a disciple of Roach when they entered into a partnership? And, maybe I am wrong, but didn't that relationship end when McNally began a new relationship with another one of their students? Do you believe these relationships were unethical and non-consensual?

    Lastly, thank you for your words and sharing your experience. I believe you touched on some serious issues here, I just can't stand behind the article as a whole.

  3. Charlotte P says:

    This article touches on something very important to me and yet I feel it was completely disjointed and more like yellow journalism than an insightful piece. Instead of opening an intelligent conversation you skimmed on issues, made sensational comments, and let your own ego and judgement get in the way, not to mention predominantly blame male yoga teachers for these issues.

    First, I have to agree with Abbie. Having 50 people write down their worst memories in a class and read them aloud is completely out of line. Are you a psychologist or mental health counselor? Did you let people know prior to the class that they would be delving into traumatic events in their lives? "Those women/men are in our classes, ripe to recreate unsatisfactory childhoods and everything that was screwed up about it, all over again." – then why bring it to the forefront of your class? Why have people relive those memories just to establish that your class is a "safe place"? That seems to me like an abuse of power on your side.
    When people share those kinds of intimate stories they make a strong but ultimately superficial bond built on emotional trauma which is not appropriate or healthy.

    If you want people to know your class is a safe space, tell them so.
    Communication is something you seem to be missing here (with all due respect). Like Sydney P states, there are power inequalities in EVERY relationship and those can be navigated through open and honest communication. To make a sweeping generalization that every student teacher relationship is unethical is unfair and uninformed (you came
    to this conclusion based solely on your bad experiences with men?)

    Finally, you are a student of Michael Roach and Christie McNally. Do you disapprove of their relationship as McNally was a disciple of Roach when they entered into a partnership? And, maybe I am wrong, but didn't that relationship end when McNally began a new relationship with another one of their students? Do you believe these relationships
    were unethical and non-consensual?

    Lastly, thank you for you words and sharing your experience. I believe you touched on some serious issues here, I just can't stand behind the article as a whole.

  4. A Moga says:

    Kelly I must say that your vision is gravely clouded by avidya. You are playing your argument out in a dualistic non-Reality. One created by eons of mis-perception and now, sustained by you.

    I would hope you are aware of this. And if you were, that you would then take it a step further, and understand that your response is feeding the very system you seem to think you "get" and can comment on with authority. Which, you don't. Nor do you represent this clearly to readers who might abdicate their own power of judgement and right-seeing for the views and teachings of a teacher such as yourself. Or whomever.

    Your argument holds up in a paradigm created as a defense, by the people who were self-victimized at the hands of their own abdication of power to another, forced or chosen.

    By postulating that there is a power struggle you are immediately creating a division of right and wrong, happy, unhappy. Other (with power, knowledge) and self (who can't access that power and is thereby, weaker). Were you to remain truly at your center you would stop pretending so that your opinion could fit neatly into these false constructs which you seem to want to be above.

    I wouldn't say this article is pushing people as much as you pushing your power-tinged opinion onto them (the supporters who can't read past the words to the meaning, at least).

    The 'teachings' that you might believe you embody are sorely limited by this view that, as a teacher, you have power. Teach from a place of no power, replace it with a measure of ignorance and you'd actually be a step close to truth (whatever that is).

  5. [...] relationships between yoga teachers and students. One NYC-based yoga teacher went as far as to suggest that a yoga teacher sleeping with students is a form of sexual [...]

  6. cathywaveyoga says:

    Pick a Section! Emergency Orgs National Orgs Publications Online Resources Global Resources Facts About Violence
    F A C T S * A B O U T * V I O L E N C E U.S. Statistics / Global / Links to Statistics

    Fact #1: 18.3 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape. Of these, 12.3% were younger than age 12 when they were first raped, and 29.9% were between the ages of 11 and 17. (National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010)
    *****
    from Wikipedia-See also: Rape statistics "Rape prevalence among women in the U.S. (the percentage of women who experienced rape at least once in their lifetime so far) is in the range of 15%–20%, with different studies agreeing with each other. (National Violence against Women survey, 1995, found 17.6% prevalence rate;[4] a 2007 national study for the Department of Justice on rape found 18% prevalence rate.[5])"

  7. cathywaveyoga says:

    Neither of these is the last word-thet are far from the 3 of 5, exactly 60% statistic. Another way to play with numbers is to say with your 60% that since 90% of rape is not reported then 90% of the remaining 40% (100-60) is 36%.. so add 60+36; then 96% of women have been raped. Numbers can be manipulated. Shame, fear, pain and long lasting effects of abuse, rape and devalidating actions against anyone are serious and should not be diminished with silliness( I am soo hot) nor with statistics which pull the real issue out of focus.

  8. cathywaveyoga says:

    One of my favorite and most skilled yoga teachers of all time and Ive practiced over 30 years gave a note to one of his woman students asking if she'd like to date. They married and as his wife she became immersed in yoga and teaching. Sadly they separated after many years, she remained a gifted very loved yoga teacher.

  9. [...] So, what happens when a student begins to think of, or refer to, you as their “special friend?” [...]

  10. [...] This poses a significant responsibility for yoga teachers. [...]

  11. Anna Gordh Humlesjö says:

    Somehow strange that this article was written more then a year ago, cause when I read it I seriously thought it was a very right-on response to C.S. recent “confession”. History seem to repeat it self. Always good to read people who cut the crap. :) brilliant, thank you!

  12. Stewart J. Lawrence says:

    Very thought-provoking. Raised a larger issue for me about the viability of transplanting Eastern spiritual concepts that are drawn from such a vastly different social and cultural context to the West. If it's true of "dharma," though, what else might it be true of?

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