Let’s Not Bow Down to the Yoga Teacher.

Via on Mar 3, 2014

yoga teacher

It seems every couple of months, there is some new scandal about yoga teachers behaving badly.

The most recent one involves claims that Dechen Thurman, a popular yoga teacher at the Jivamukti Yoga School in NYC, is a “sex addict” who slept with numerous students. Even when yogis are not allegedly sleeping with their students, many of them still come across as jerks.

A recent Newsweek article cited several examples of yoga instructors acting like they were too big for their boots. One of the highlights included a teacher who, after taking a whiff of a student, declared that he could tell she was “not a vegetarian” in front of the entire class. As I read it, all I could think was, “Really?”

As someone who both practices and teaches yoga, I am truly surprised by some of the overinflated egos in the yoga community.

While some will (rightfully) argue that every community has its share of divas and such individuals are the exceptions rather than the rule, there is something so incredibly off-putting about a yoga instructor with an ego the size of an island, especially when one of the main goals of yoga practice is to let go of the ego.

It’s tempting to spend time dissecting the psychology of such individuals and speculating as to why they have such a high opinion of themselves, but I take another approach: Why do we, as students, allow them to get away with such things in the first place?

Such in the case of many things, I don’t believe there is a single simple answer to that question. I think part of it is the desire for many of us to be good students and good people as well as our need to appease authority figures. While some may roll their eyes at the mere mention of a yoga instructor being an authority figure, the truth is that any student-teacher relationship has the potential to become a powerful thing. Plus, many people who come to yoga and immerse themselves in it do so following major life transitions when they are in vulnerable places.

There is something reassuring to think that if we follow the right formula, our lives will be greatly improved. Yoga can give us a greater sense of well-being and peace of mind—not to mention a fitter body. Who doesn’t want that?

However, it’s important to keep perspective and say that the emperor is wearing no clothes when he is not. A “perfect” asana practice does not equal a perfect life. Nor does it necessarily have anything to do with the purpose of yoga.

As an instructor, I always make it clear to say that at the end of the day, I am just someone who teaches yoga classes. I am not an expert on health, nutrition, and certainly not on life. I don’t have most—much less all—of the answers, and it’s important to remind both my students and myself of that fact.

Despite the lip-service paid that yoga is for everyone, some yoga communities can be quite clique-ish and the thought of challenging or speaking out against a popular teacher can lead to fears of exclusion. However, it’s impossible to be a teacher without students. These teachers who are dubbed as “grandiose” by publications like Newsweek can only exist because of their students.

Therefore, it’s up to us, the students, to remind them of the symbiotic relationship they have with their students. As a parent, I tell my young child that if something feels wrong, then it probably is, and that is true in the case of adults as well (being bullied, harassed, humiliated or pressured into a sexual relationship is about as wrong of a feeling as it gets).

When we encounter such things, it’s imperative to speak out not only for the sake of our fellow students, but also for the sake of the teacher. Unlike some, I tend to think that the majority of yoga instructors—even those who develop massive egos—start out with the best of intentions. At the very least, reminding ourselves that these people are no more or less human than the rest of us can help us avoid being caught up in many of the yoga dramas that seem to dominate the community these days.

Much like high-end yoga clothing, the teacher with the massive ego is not something we need to get the benefits of yoga. Indeed, I would argue that the latter could actually be more of an impediment in the long-run. A great instructor is an incredible find, and can positively affect our practice in ways we never thought possible. But ultimately, each one of us is our own best teacher.


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Editor: Jenna Penielle Lyons

Photo: elephant archives







About Kimberly Lo

Kimberly Lo is a yoga instructor and freelance editor & writer based in Charlottesville, VA. In her spare time, she enjoys needlework and photography. Connect with her on Facebook.


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8 Responses to “Let’s Not Bow Down to the Yoga Teacher.”

  1. Lalana says:

    We teachers put our leggings on just like everyone else…one leg at a time..though some probably do try to jump or handstand in:)

  2. Maryin says:

    Hmmmm ~ do not worry with these yoga teachers – what they do, or do not do is none of your business.

  3. Kimberly Lo kimberlylowriter says:

    Could you clarify? If someone is humiliating students or acting in any of the ways cited, I believe it is everyone's business.

  4. Maria Sliwa says:

    Thank you for this excellent article.

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