How to Respect A (Male) Yoga Teacher.

Via on Feb 3, 2014

Photo: Barry Silver

The real title for this article is How to Respect Your Yoga Teacher, Astrologer and Other People Who Live Their Truth and Have the Courage to Present Themselves to the World and Try to Earn a Living Doing What They Love, Most Especially Men Who Do This.

But because that title is too long, I had to cut it short.

As a male yoga instructor, I’ve had some particular challenges being in front of a class. It is rare to find men who enjoy yoga—and even more rare to find instructors who put themselves out there to earn a living with yoga.

I’ve read numerous articles from female yoga instructors that tell male students to not check out the women in class, and that the female yoga instructor in front of the classroom is off-limits—but I can’t tell you how many women are just as misguided when it comes to how they relate to men that are in front of the classroom.

If I shared some of the comments, come-ons and insinuations that women have said to me, your hair would stand on end in amazement.

In short, the raunchiest come-ons in my entire life have been expressed by women in my yoga classes.

It is sexual harassment and totally inappropriate.

I mean…really ?! If women came onto a massage therapist in these ways, they’d get kicked out of the club—and they wouldn’t ever hit on a minister, swami or rabbi so blatently—so why is a male yoga instructor ‘fair game?’

Hitting on your yoga teacher is the height of disrespectful, reprehensible and immature behavior. And I know that this isn’t just a problem that male instructors face in yoga; it is an issue that men who are spiritually inclined face in any type of spiritual, artistic or field that involves sensitivity.

I’d say that any field that is predominantly participated in by women and where men are rare, this can be a real issue.

To to clarify for all who attend yoga and who may have a male yoga instructor: all of these points are valid for other spiritual and creative industries, but I will use the word yoga. Please interchange it as you wish for other industries.

This also applies in the other direction for men who hit on their female instructors.

Some women look for strong men, who have sensitivity, are self-empowered and leaders and that man who is front of class may or may not be all that. It doesn’t make him a target for your attraction or sexual predations.

If anything, it is a chance to see your own disconnects in regards to sexuality and how you relate to men. I have found most people don’t have the understanding of spiritual practices to do this, and instead disrespect the instructor and violate the student-teacher trust.

Once a come-on happens or attraction is expressed, it puts the teacher in a vulnerable position. It is my opinion that such a student needs to be asked to leave and never return to class because the trust has been violated. They’ve demonstrated that they are not interested in yoga, but in materialism, pleasure and lust.

I teach yoga because my experiences with it cause me to value it, authentically.

At a time in my life when everything was in question and chaos, I discovered yoga as a path for me to discover and live my inner most truth. It has helped me become authentic, true, and powerful. At a spiritual level, I value these practices because they work. I am not religious, though I believe in God, Christ and the validity of spiritual teachings and practices from a multitude of schools. I embraced yoga because I find the same core ethics, morals and spirit in can be found in all prominent spiritual paths ; except that yoga took ideals and concepts and gave me a practical, scientific approach.

This means that I put those ethics and morals first; I couldn’t care less about anything my students bring to class except for their intention to learn. A spiritual focus is all that matters. I don’t want to have an emotional relationship with my students—I am not a counselor; I am not even a friend.

My purpose in teaching yoga is to earn a living by sharing something I find value in. I don’t have to teach yoga to make money—I am talented and have a variety of paths to bring in the bling.

Out of respect for the time given to me before death claims me, I put the truth of devotion and action into play first—I would hope that my students arrive to my class for the same reason.

The only thing I care about is that each student is in class to learn about their truth, to discover and empower themselves to be the most potent humans that they could ever be. My only hope for my students is to take what I share and to apply it to their own lives.

Just because I am a man teaching a yoga class does not mean I am interested in you—I would think that this is obvious.

Female yoga instructors have had to express this many times to male students—and it is a cliche that men show up in yoga class to check out ‘yoga babes.’ But in my perspective, it is just as much a cliche for women to show up to find a ‘spiritual man.’

A yoga class is not a dating scene. It is the last place for dating, hooking up and finding a soul mate.

In my perspective, a yoga class is where all the spiritual detritus and crap arises. If we really want to be attracted to spiritual ‘junk’, then we are all in for a world of hurt.

Take the teachings home, apply it to your family, to the person you already love and leave the guy at the front of class alone.

You aren’t attracted to the person—you are attracted to your idea of what that person is.

In my experience, so many women seem to want a spiritually awakened man—but just because the guy in front of class is going AUMMMMM, doesn’t make him super human. Rest assured, that man has their own emotional issues, baggage, sensitivities and shadows that plague him.

He is probably facing issues at home, with his family or children, has insecurities and is just as human as the next person. As soon as you get to try and know him because you think he is some spiritual person, you will receive a healthy dose of disillusionment.

I suggest a balanced perspective, value what is being offered, make it impersonal, and put it into practice.

The ideals of what a spiritual human being should be like always fall short when compared to how human beings are. The goal is peace, love, sensitivity, understanding and compassion—the truth is I have yet to find a person who totally embodies those ideals all the time and who is able to exemplify these spiritual truths consistently.

We all have triggers that bring up fury, insecurities and the ugly shadow side of personality.

Expressing and living with attraction to spiritual ‘men’ will bring you face to face with the hard truth that every human is simply human.

When facing a male yoga instructor, or men who are in spiritual leadership roles, a lot of deep seated personal issues can arise for a women. Sometimes she will have to face father issues, or abandonment and trauma, or abuse, or concepts of attraction and sexuality.

Honor that the personal issues are becoming visible, and work with them internally and leave the instructor out of it.

Learn to be the witness, and recognize that these emotions, sensitivities and perceptions will pass. That is the power of the masculine in yoga; it is represented by Shiva, the observer, purusha the seer, who observes all that changes in time.

Face your attractions and the sense of discontentment in yourself. Learn to value and listen to what the person in front of class has to offer, and put it into practice in your own life—and allow him be free to be who he is without being burdened by your emotional needs.

Allow yourself the freedom of enjoying a yoga class just for the opportunity to enjoy the class.

That is the best form of respect for oneself, others and the person in front of the room.

Remember the golden rule; do unto others as you would have done unto you…and take that yoga practice off the mat into day to day life.

Relephant:

Why the Best Yoga Teachers Remain Humble.

How I Made My First Yoga Class (as a Male) Less-Absolutely Terrifying. 

Love elephant and want to go steady?

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

 Photo: Barry Silver

About Keith Artisan

Keith Artisan is merely a human being, not too different yet certainly not the same as anyone else. He found himself on this planet many years ago and enjoys exploring the mystery of life because it makes him laugh a lot. Keith loves earning a living with his talents as a musician, artist, writer, and yoga instructor. He is most frequently found at music jams and the rest of the time exploring nature, climbing boulders, playing video games, reading, and hanging out with family and friends. He is online at Facebook and his website, Living Artisan .

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27 Responses to “How to Respect A (Male) Yoga Teacher.”

  1. moonring says:

    While I agree with most of this article, comparing hatha teachers to spiritual leaders is completely preposterous. Doing 500 hours of training in the physical poses of yoga and reading a few spiritual texts does not make an instructor equivalent to a swami. This part of the article made the rest hard to digest. I did, however, like what you said about male hatha teachers being human, like anyone else–obviously! Women who romanticize these men are clearly very new to yoga and probably need a good dose of Kali in their lives. That said, I've lived in Ashrams for the past few years, and let's keep it real, here: when your heart centre has burst open and you find someone else as quirky and real and human as you, it totally is a dating scene. Though I guess Ashrams are quite different from hatha classes.

    • Keith Artisan LivingArtisan says:

      Having lived in an ashram for three years, my belief is this :

      There are no spiritual leaders.

      Everybody is human.

      And, I completely agree with the idea that yoga teachers are spiritual leaders ss preposterous … yet it happens.

  2. evanstb says:

    As a male instructor, I was curious about this article. But, to be honest, things became very assumptive, and very cold quickly. Let me be clear in what I mean when I say that sexual harassment in any form is inappropriate, regardless of gender/sex. As a person, respect another person. But, that being said:

    People are, in fact, people. We are subject to a host of desires that pop up day to day and moment to moment. Sometimes we react appropriately, and sometimes we get it really really wrong. I think that taking a hard line against anybody so quickly, i.e. kicking someone out of a class never to return upon expressing attraction, is wrong. That attraction might not be permanent or malignant. We all experience phases in our lives, some last longer than others. I think attraction, if handled correctly by the teacher, can lead to a real willingness in the student to try things they normally would otherwise avoid (and I'm not talking about between the sheets).

    I also feel that things got very accusatory very quickly, speaking about the disillusionment of others, their "daddy issues", if you will, and making grandiose assumptions that women want a "spiritual men"? This caused a knee jerk reaction, to be honest, and I was very ready to rip you a new one about feminine and masculine identity and projection of perceived desire/perceived "issues". It comes off and incredibly arrogant and self-centered, in my opinion. And who cares? If someone comes in with their "daddy issues", let them have them. We're all on our mats to work out our stuff. Maybe that's their "stuff" and by turning them away we are just solidifying perceptions.

    Teachers should be human. Conscious of boundaries for sure, I think a skilled teacher can set those even when forced nestled deeper in our brains, and possibly our pants, come into play. Navigate rough waters carefully, but don't jump out of the canoe just because rapids are approaching.

    Perhaps you have an experience that has greatly impacted your perception on this matter. But as a male instructor, I don't support the message given in this articles and its assumptions about women, students in general, and the role of the teacher to be so distant from the people they're teaching.

    • Edward says:

      I too am a male yoga instructor, and in short, "what evanstb said". pulled in by the article, but disagree with its content.

    • Jane says:

      Thank you for your comment, evanstb. Your opinion of the article is similar to mine.

      Sorry Keith, but you really do come across here as quite arrogant, self-centered, presumptuous, and cold. I am usually too concerned with my own practice to be checking anyone out in class, though i imagine if there was someone in the room that i was attracted to it might be difficult to not ‘notice’ them occasionally, but i would do my best to remain respectful. And yes, if I were teaching I certainly wouldn’t want people coming onto me constantly or repeatedly. But I think the way you are dealing with your reaction to people doing that (and/or to your imagination projecting those kinda of things onto people, which I suspect is a part of the story here) is something for you to deal with yourself before trying to lecture anyone else about the issue.

      • George says:

        A lot of response is coming up in me on what everyone is saying.

        I'm also a male yoga teacher, a hatha yoga instructor if you will. I find it odd that a previous commenter said "comparing hatha yoga teachers to spiritual leaders is presposterous". Why? Hatha Yoga, with awareness of it's purpose, can be as spiritual as any practice.

        What makes someone a spiritual facilitator I find has oddly little to do with what role they fill in life or "how spiritual" that role is perceived to be. It comes more from who they are, how they treat others, and how they manage themselves. If they are a facilitator, it comes from how much they embody the practices which they teach and are able to pass them on in a way that helps people transform themselves, the only way that really sticks, from within.

        I also agree with a lot of the other replies. To me, the overall emphasis of this article is on things perceived as incorrect or incomplete. In the theme of something the author says however, about the qualities of the unaffected observer, wouldn't it then be possible to just roll with whatever comes up in your students, reflect their identifications back to them in a compassionate, even friendly manner, and bring them back to the focus of the practice while staying on your own even keel. That to me is spiritual. In my own teaching I find a friendship offered free of expectations and with the hope of facilitating others to discover the source of their being to be liberating and a blessing for all involved.

    • Keith Artisan LivingArtisan says:

      Thanks for the feedback !

      Perhaps the tone is a little off-putting for you ; yet it is what it is.

      The dynamics that have not been worked out with the masculine is what arises for women in relationship to a male yoga instructor.

  3. Anon says:

    Great piece! I'm a female student of male yoga teachers and I appreciate your perspective. I haven't seen this type of behavior at my studio (luckily) but know gender bias and sexual harrasment does exist and is something we should all be mindful to avoid. You bring up great points that maintaining a respectful student / teacher relationship is not just on the teacher but the student as well.

  4. Lila says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share your experience. While I agree that this might be difficult to understand if this is not something witnessed, there is truth in your words. I want to take the time to honor this reality. Frequenting a power yoga studio in which the room is heated and the clothing is light, I have seen the sexualization that can ensue. When I began practicing several of the men I met there opened up to me about being on the prowl for a yoga girl. Living in ashrams I saw the same. Yes, Swamis are also treated inappropriately. The things I have heard female friends say about these men is sad and does expose their issues. I could validate this completely, but it would be an article, not a post. Your articles are wonderful, I sincerely hope you will keep them coming.

  5. inescaldas1 says:

    wow! :)

  6. Lori says:

    You don’t want to have an emotional connection with your students. I don’t get that. It is a community building practice. I have been teaching for 15 years and practicing for almost 20. It is about connection.

  7. Kimberly Lo kimberlylowriter says:

    I can honestly say in all the years I have practiced yoga, I have never once been attracted to any of my male instructors. Perhaps this happens more in larger cities where they are more of them.

  8. Yogini108 says:

    A little compassion for these female students would go a long way, especially if you’re the guru you proclaim to be.

  9. Erica says:

    This was definitely an interesting piece considering my boyfriend and I are both yoga teachers and have talked about these types of interactions with students. At the same time, we met during my teacher training when I took one of his classes and a beautiful relationship has blossomed since. Needless to say there was a mutual attraction but also the maturity of two teachers who have respect for the practice, a little bit of a different scenario than described in the article. Perhaps it is all about intention, or it is solely dependent upon the circumstances of each unique situation. I will wholeheartedly agree that the yoga studio is not a place for sexual predation from either gender, and that is a problem replete in any yoga studio I have stepped into. It is even something that has challenged my relationship with my partner since it is difficult to watch women flirt with him while teaching. I say women because it is not just students, but studio owners and other teachers. Which makes me think that it is not just a problem with yoga students, but in the industry as a whole. I will say that I have always felt of the yoga studios where I teach to be communities where I would encourage students, students and teachers, and teachers to interact. But it is those interactions described in this article that truly do need to stop. In my opinion, kicking students out is not the best answer. I think the best way to prevent these situations is to educate the industry as a whole, students, teachers, and studio owners alike.

  10. Mr Tang says:

    Really enjoyed the pretext of the article and the final paragraphs. I did get tense reading some parts of it and I surmise that it's something that has really hit a nerve over the time teaching. I found the end was beautiful, thoughtful, instructive, guiding and kind – that tone was definitely a lovely way to end. A really thought-provoking read and as a man who is training to be a yoga teacher, real food for thought. Thank you Keith

  11. John H says:

    A couple to thoughts come to mind reading your article. First, my wife is a licensed psychotherapist and there are very strict rules concerning emotional and sexual conduct with clients and vis-versa. As you point out, yoga teachers are taught yoga, not psychotherapy and they have few sanctions around sexual and emotional transference in the studio. Because there is limited or nonexistent oversight it is important for the individual teacher to communicate and enforce strong boundaries around what the yoga instruction relationship entails. I, like Keith, would suggest erring on the harsh side because it is a slippery slope when momentum takes over.

    Secondly, as a male I am sensitive to (and paranoid even) sexual harassment to women, but I am shocked when I have experienced unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances from women as if I had no other choice than to submit. I see Keith's point about respecting the male teacher. We are not sex toys so needy that we must submit to every seduction. Conscious men are trying to be more vulnerable and it is a real violation when that openness is disrespected. Thank you for the harsh reality, Keith. It is something needing to be said and is broader than just yoga instructors.

  12. There is only a 'come- ons' if you allow it to be a 'come -ons' . If you don't like the heat get out of the fire. Being a yoga teacher is all about being burdened by others emotional needs . It makes no difference what gets thrown at you in class or out side of class , you're supposed to be teaching non harming , truthfulness , not taking what doesn't belong to you, non exploiting, and non stockpiling.Stop complaining and do your job!!!!!!

  13. There is only a 'come- ons' if you perceive there to be a 'come -ons' . If you don't like the heat get out of the fire. Being a yoga teacher is all about being burdened by others 'emotional needs' . It makes no difference what gets thrown at you in class or out side of class your job should be to teach non-harming,truthfulness , not taking what doesn't belong to you,non exploiting and non stockpiling. People should be so lucky to have the problems your complaining about.

  14. yogibattle says:

    I am a male yoga teacher in my 40s and have been teaching for 10 years. I have never had this author's problems with raunchy come ons from female students. Granted I don't play a flute, but I am pretty clear about what I am teaching, which is yoga. What exactly are you putting out there to your female students that causes you to have these bothersome propositions? I sense that somehow you are not getting the sympathy you may have wanted.

  15. Joe Sparks says:

    Hi Keith, Thanks for sharing your experience and sorry it is hard on you. Apparently you care a lot for your students. I have been teaching Yoga since 1998. An amazing journey from day one. This is what I figured out. Anytime one teaches, stuff like this will come up and your radar is for whatever reason is sensitive to these behaviors. Try not to take it personally, because it is clearly not about you and about them. Woman are targeted everyday in this way. So this reactive pattern is going to spill out, especially if it looks like you have some attention for them. They is nothing wrong with the woman in your yoga classes. They are completely good, but you have feelings about being disrespected. In my perspective we were disrespected as children, if that wasn't the case, we would be able to interrupt with skill and compassion whatever problematic behavior came our way in the present. I try to appreciate every effort anyone makes to come to my yoga classes. I set clear healthy boundaries with my students and do not take what they say personally. Humor really helps, to me yoga is supposed to be enjoyable.

  16. Tomasz Goetel [Hot Yoga] says:

    In my humble opinion, this article is loaded with assumptions, and then makes many judgments based on those assumptions, creating totally inappropriate conclusions. as much as I appreciate the Author's freedom to express himself, the tone might be rather arrogant, patronizing – that really put me off.

    Quote: "It is my opinion that such a student needs to be asked to leave and never return to class because the trust has been violated. They’ve demonstrated that they are not interested in yoga, but in materialism, pleasure and lust."???

    Let me put it this way, if we as teachers, want to teach "perfect" students – we are going to be looking at an empty room.

    For me, it is the GREAT part of our work to continuously strive to achieve balance between allowing people the space to be incorrect, wrong, imperfect – while creating healthy boundaries and maintaining a safe, non-abusive, happy space for us to practice yoga in.

  17. Anna Cowper says:

    Keith, are there some issues from Christianity to do with woman and sexuality in there that are causing you to become tense about certain things?(And I'm asking the question because I think I recognize certain feelings from my own previous experience as a practising Christian). Sexuality and sexual feelings are part of being a human being and we have to deal with them, not repress them (or be 'disgusted' by them). The powerful practice of yoga can bring many things to the surface and it is our job as yoga teachers to deal with them – but hopefully with compassion, humanity and love. Transference – and all the issues that go with it – is one of the things that may go on in a yoga class: teachers may become objects of a desire which is actually transferred spiritual longing, it isn't even sexual in it's origin, but because of the times we live in, such feelings aren't easily recognized and get attributed to the only popularly acknowledged source of such strong feelings, which is sexual love. So, it's really important not to take it too personally to start with! Possibly these women wouldn't look at you twice if you didn't happen to be their yoga teacher. Remember that. Tell that to your ego and see how it feels. It's not you, it's the power of the practice. And even if some of your female students sometimes fancy you, well then come on, you can deal with that! Aren't you overreacting a bit? It doesn't mean that they are wicked fallen Jezebels or whatever: you can kindly and firmly make it clear that you are not available – mention your girlfriend, wife, partner, whatever in class. I have seen it happen many times with my male yoga teachers (I'm a woman by the way, if you haven't already picked up on it). and most of the time they have managed it just fine. Yes, because there are many more women than men in yoga, then the men do get a lot of attention – well, lucky you! It is true, however, that this might also mean that you are exposed to more temptation (and be careful about denying that you are ever tempted because what claims would you then be making about yourself?) From some of your rather violent language here, one could read between the lines and conclude that what you're actually afraid of somewhere deep inside is that you might succumb and that in fact is why you're getting so agitated and down on the women. But it's by following this logic that women have ended up in a burka or a behind a veil. My teacher, BKS Iyengar, talks about the importance of 'good, honest human relationships' in yoga and I personally find this useful to hang on to when I feel myself getting caught up in the dance of sexual attraction and sexual feelings. We ALL have those and they aren't (which I think is the unfortunate hangover from some interpretations of Christianity) proof of our bestial, fallen natures. They are a rich and creative expression of our humanity. However, these powerful impulses must be handled with absolute honesty, compassion and above all enormous, enormous amounts of love (including towards ourselves). In my opinion, yoga teachers are of little use if they set themselves up as aloof, distant high priests; it is our job to be accessible and available for our students, but in ways that will help them (and ourselves) along the path of self discovery, enlightenment and eventually towards that great and universal Love.

  18. sabine says:

    Good article. Sounds like you've learned a lot about yourself from this experience.

  19. PJWells says:

    I definitely feel you are entitled to your own way of dealing with these types of situations but I feel that being a yogi means that we should be living by the yamas – and kicking someone out of your class for any reason seems to be incredibly lacking in compassion, could be harmful to a student and does not address the issue. Being a yoga teacher is more than just teaching asanas; I believe we have a responsibility to help people apply the wisdom of yoga to their lives. If you feel that their behaviour is inappropriate then perhaps a heartfelt conversation is the best way to deal with it, or at the very least a firm and simple "thank you for your interest but I do not believe it is appropriate to have a relationship with students". Take it as a compliment, not an insult. As a woman I am sexually harassed frequently, however I chose to believe that most of it comes with the best and kindest of intentions. I would like to think that if I had a moment of vulnerability or stupidity that I would be granted the same kind forgiveness.

  20. Not a sex toy / not a flutesy says:

    I think the article was parody. I hope so, anyway, beacuse it was very funny.

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