If You Are a Yoga Teacher, Admit it: You are Co-dependent & Needy. ~ Hala Khouri

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on Jun 16, 2013
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My name is Hala. I am a yoga teacher. I am co-dependent and needy.

I had to admit this to myself in order to grow as a teacher and step into an authentic leadership role.

If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to do this too.

You see, I wasn’t a cool kid. I had frizzy hair, a strange name (no “Hala” is not a spiritual name I picked up in my 20’s—it’s a Lebanese name that I dreamed of changing, to Julianna or Irene, for most of my adolescence) and I never fit in. 

When I started teaching, it was the first time I felt really accepted by a large group of people. For a long time, I unconsciously got my need to feel accepted and liked met by my students. When I realized that my inner 12 year old was (partially) motivating me to teach, I had to examine it, unpack it and tend to the part of me that was in a lot of pain.

It is a particular type of person who wants to become a yoga teacher; not everyone is interested in standing up in front of a group of strangers and telling them what to do with their bodies and their breath.  Not everyone is interested in being a teacher or a healer.

Yet, for many of us who teach, we can’t imagine anything more fulfilling.

I’ve been training yoga teachers for over a decade now and I have seen that many of us have similar life experiences and issues that motivate us to teach.

Here are some of the common themes I have noticed in people interested in being yoga teachers—see if any of them relate to you (or your yoga teacher):

1. We had a parent that suffered from depression or mental illness; as a result we can be extremely empathetic and attuned to others, sometimes to a fault.

A child with an unavailable or unpredictable parent had to learn to tune into their parent in order to assess if their environment was safe or if their needs were going to be met.

As a result of that, we develop a keen sense of tuning into the mood and state of others, often at the expense of being tuned into ourselves. As teachers, our students often feel that we are speaking directly to them in a group class, or that we are intuitive about what others are going through.

It comes naturally to us to empathize and want to meet the needs of others. It does not, however, come naturally for us to ask for what we need.

2. Felt like they didn’t belong as children or adolescents and have a need to feel seen by others in a positive light.

Yoga teachers get to be the popular kid. Our students listen to us, like us, and often idealize us. This feeds the part of us that didn’t get that type of mirroring in our youth.

We are good at getting others to like us, but if our teaching is motivated by our need to be liked, we might limit some important lessons that our students need which may make them uncomfortable.

3. We can have a hard time setting boundaries and get overly invested in wanting to help others. 

This is probably due to #1.

You see, if my inner child didn’t have her needs met by mommy or daddy, I’m going to seek out people who have similar limitations/dysfunctions and try to fix them so that I can feel in control. Since I’m so good at tuning into someone’s pain, those people feel comfortable opening up to me because they feel seen by me.

I feel good because I’m they respond to me and listen to me (unlike my parent).

4. We need validation from others and will go to great lengths to ensure that others like us and even idealize us.

For those of us who really didn’t get much positive regard from our parents, we might become they type of teacher that thrives on the attention and adoration of our students.

We will also do whatever we can to make sure that no one questions us or sees our shadow side. We’ve all seen these folks—they’re charismatic, charming and often totally narcissistic.

They may claim to be above everyone, and somehow have transcended normal human challenges, they may subtly shame students in order to maintain a sense of power over them, some even claim to possess secret powers and abilities.

You may have other issues other than the one’s above, but in my decades of doing therapy, yoga trainings and transformational work, I have learned one important thing:  our wounds are often the source of our gifts, and if we don’t investigate our wounds, they will get in the way.

This is true for any profession, but particularly important for those who hold space for others to be vulnerable. It is our responsibility to do our personal work, otherwise, we can cause harm to those who are trusting us with their bodies, minds and hearts.

We all have a shadow side; no one is exempt from pain or trauma.

I love teaching yoga, and I have spent a lot of time tending to my own wounds so that they don’t get in the way of my teaching. This work is never ending and I’m constantly having to see my own blind spots, biases, limitations and fears.

Each time I courageously face these parts of myself that I’d rather stuff into a closet, I find that my ability to hold space for others gets stronger, and I’m able to see others for who they are without judgment.

If you teach yoga or hold space for others in any way, it is vital that you have a space that someone else is holding for you—a space where you get vulnerable and are seen; a space where you are held accountable and get nurtured in a compassionate way; a space where you can shed the teacher role and receive.

This way you can be empathetic not enmeshed, supportive not diminishing, empowered rather than oppressive and compassionate rather than needy.


halaHala Khouri, M.A. E-RYT is a somatic counselor and yoga teacher.  She leads a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training called Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind, and is co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World®. To find out more, please visit her website



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Ed: Bryonie Wise



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29 Responses to “If You Are a Yoga Teacher, Admit it: You are Co-dependent & Needy. ~ Hala Khouri”

  1. Jenny C says:

    Thank you Hala for calling attention to the personal work required to be a teacher or healer. I went into teaching blindly, and admittedly, because it fed my need to be seen. After a year of trying, I realized that I was really looking to get more than I could give. I had to heal, to dig up and see my stuff, to experience who I am fully before I returned to teach. Now before I step into something, I ask myself, "For the sake of what or whom am I doing this?" Not to place judgement on the answer, but to be clear on my why, so that I can make a decision that serves.

  2. Laura S. says:

    Thank you Hala, for your wise words! I feel truly fortunate to be your student and consider it invaluable that I am encouraged to begin this work before I start teaching students of my own!

  3. Meg says:

    This piece is SPOT ON! It's the same for teachers in any discipline. I see it in my work running an organization that teaches self-defense. People's self-care and ability to be self-reflective is often the most important qualification for the job. Without it people get overwhelmed and shut down.

  4. Lisa Avebury says:

    This piece is very insightful and I appreciate you putting it out there Hala. I do believe as well to continue to grow we must always be examining our own motivations and inner dialogue. For me, to be an effective healer requires using my own life as an "esoteric lab". Trust grows out of willingness to share your own challenges in a place that feels safe for all involved. Real healing can happen when you are wide open and willing to be there with the other person honoring the process. Its a blessing-you give healing-you get healing in return.

  5. bradd says:

    Of course, this applies almost exclusively to female yoga teachers . . . As a male teacher, I can say #1 sort of happened (neurotic mother), but the rest? NAAAAAAHHHHH. It reminds me of one of my favorite teachers, Rama Jordan, who once said to me after observing my shoulderstand, "It's so unusual to see a man who can keep his back straight in sarvangasana." I said "Thanks" but I thought, "where have you been? Plenty of men can do it." Thing is, she has no male students, at least not the fit kind. I suspect you don't get many guys coming through your programs, am I right?

  6. friend ship says:

    I think you're describing actors, not teachers

  7. Hala says:

    Very interesting Bradd. You may be right that my view is female-centric. Yet, to be honest, I see many male yoga teachers with issues that impact their students negatively. I imagine the source of their blind spots might be different than what my article suggests, definitely something for me to think about.

  8. Dearbhla says:

    Great article Hala. Particularly like the part about addressing wounds and shadows – so important to be able to hold deep transformational space.

  9. Dearbhla says:

    Really? I have been in class with some very needy male teachers over the years. I must say I find Bradd's essentialist view vis a vis gender and human proclivities anachronistic and ashtonishing.

  10. Francis says:

    You wear co-dependent and needy far better than anyone else I know! Thanks for sharing some deeply held insights, and always thanks for being you.

  11. Hala says:


  12. Hala says:

    Aw, thanks Francis!

  13. Hayley Johns says:

    Nailed it Hala, thank you. x

  14. I really appreciate this article. I think your description of the work as anyone who "holds space" for others is spot on. I love that description of the work, whether it be as therapists or teachers, our ability to hold that space is what calls us to be healers. The antitode, as you stated, is to have a place where someone else holds space for us so we can make friends with our shadows. Teaching is such amazing work, but it does require a great deal of personal work to stay grounded and honest with ourselves and our students. Thank you for shedding light on our shadows.

  15. Mia says:

    I completley relate to this. Its like your speaking about me. I also wasnt a cool kid with frizzy hair. Im still not a cool kid with frizzy hair. LOL. starting to embrace it finally.

  16. Ramdas says:

    "I am co-dependent and needy."

    "I had to admit this to myself in order to grow as a teacher and step into an authentic leadership role."

    "If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to do this too."

    I disagree. In a recent teacher training, one of the instructors said, "Yoga is always the last place people turn. None of you came to Yoga first, you came here after you exhausted everything else." This was also inaccurate.

    Both statements are true, when applied to those who made them. You clearly state that you are co-dependent and needy, E clearly stated that yoga was the last resort for him. The inaccuracy comes from applying personal experiences as a broad brush that covers everyone.

    I found great value in reading what you wrote but I had to completely ignore your leading premise because it simply does not reflect my own experience despite the injunction that, "If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to do this too." The rest of your article backs away from this absolute that all teachers are needy and co-dependent and that allowed me to gain from what you wrote rather having to dismiss it.

    Class, we're reviewing vrksasana today. I will demonstrate and you will all do it exactly as I do.
    Class, we're reviewing vrksasana today. I will demonstrate some variations of the pose. Use the variation that works best with your body today and I'll come around and assist if you need it.

    Which class would you rather attend, the broad stroke or the one with room for individual experience?

  17. mayayonika says:

    Love this Hala. I experienced both being the needy teacher being seen and validated for the first time, and becoming violated by a teacher (my partner at the time) who was unable and unwilling to look at his own shadows and manipulated his students into having sex with him via the spiritual card. It's a profound story…if you're interested let me know i can send you a kindle lend. This awareness is so important to share. "No Mud, No Lotus; a memoir of Sex, Betrayal and Spiritual Awakening" is my book. Let me know if you'd love a lend and I'll send it over. Bless and thank you for being honest and true with yourself, Hala. [email protected]

  18. catnipkiss says:

    hmmmm…. not sure if that's why I teach yoga, but then again I only teach part time. My full time job is a preschool teacher. Those kids flippin' ADORE ME…….. Muwahhahahaha 😉 – Alexa M

  19. Matthew says:

    so honest and clear. Your voice is really grounded and open. Such a great model whether or not people agree with your views. I think most people chose careers out of some kind of wounding/feeling of inadequacy/insecurity/need for validation etc. Why should yoga be any different, for men or women? But if you are going to teach the spiritual stuff, authentically, you sure as hell have an obligation to do some deep soul searching before you start going beyond asana. Thank you for making that point and making some clear distinctions.

  20. AnnaCC says:

    Great article! And a really useful wake-up call to keep questioning ourselves and our motivations as teachers. I recognize a lot of myself in what you describe, but even if I hadn't, the basic message wouldn't have lost its value. Being a teacher is a very privileged position to be in and power of any kind can be tricky to do with, so we need to watch it and ourselves. Thank you!

  21. Joe Sparks says:

    My perspective is that yoga teachers like everyone else needs to have emotional resource for themselves. Teaching and leading kicks up feelings, that need to be processed, felt and released. None of us escaped the harshness from this oppressive society. We need to be able to express our feelings, and stop the spiritual bypassing, because we all got hurt. We need to train yoga teachers to get emotional resource for themselves. To set their lives up as just as important as setting up the teaching and business end of it. Most teacher trainings do not offer that, if they did the co- dependency and neediness would not exist. It really comes down to people taking turns listening to each other, building these listening relationships overtime. Simple but lots of work.

  22. Hala says:

    I don't usually like to make sweeping statements Ramdas, but this one I feel passionately about. Who, in your opinion, does NOT need to self-reflect and uncover any unconsciousness to their teaching? There is no one exempt from this process, we are all human and have a shadow side that must be examined if we are holding space for others to be vulnerable. Being a teacher puts us in a position of power whether we like it or not, and it is our responsibility to do our work. What that is is unique to everyone, but the need to do the work is universal.

  23. Hala says:

    I agree Joe. I have the privilege to teach this material in my own 200hr teacher training as well as in the yogaworks teacher training. Trainees are often very grateful to get this perspective which is not emphasized enough in other trainings. Donna Farhi has a great book called Teaching Yoga which addresses many of the issues that can arise in the teacher-student relationship.

  24. Joe Sparks says:

    It is wonderful that you are creating this opportunity for your students. I have not read Donna Farhi book, but it sounds interesting. Because of our unmet needs as children, our patterns get hooked with the teacher- student relationship. In the teacher trainings hopefully it is emphasized having very clear, strong boundaries with students. To me that is so important, if we can respect each other by setting these boundaries, we have a chance to really help heal each other permanently.

  25. Ramdas says:

    Ah, I completely agree but that is not what you said in the article. Svadhyaya is absolutely essential to the practice, whether teacher or student.

    The problem is that you have predetermined what that "shadow side" is: Being needy and co-dependent. With that clearly stated, your "If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to do this too." says that I must admit that I am also needy and co-dependent not that I must also look inward and face my own demons. Had you instead shared your experience from your self-study and then taken the position you make above, that we all need to face our own demons, whatever they may be, then I would happily have spread your article far and wide.

  26. Ramdas says:

    Actually re-reading the article and our comments has shed some more light. In the article you wrote:

    "I am co-dependent and needy."

    "I had to admit this to myself in order to grow as a teacher and step into an authentic leadership role."

    "If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to do this too."

    From the context of the article, those three sentences are co-dependent. From your comment above, however, you may have meant something different with the third sentence. Something like this:

    "I looked at myself and saw I was co-dependent and needy."

    "If you are a teacher of any kind, you have to look at yourself and see who you really are too."

    I am not needy nor co-dependent but that doesn't mean I don't have my own demons. They are definitely there and I know them well.

  27. Rachel says:

    This is beautifully written and I am grateful you have shared your story. I can relate, and in reading it begin to consider that the journey of gaininv Wisdom from Yoga, whether in a teacher or student role never ends. I agree it is the responsibility of teachers to do the work, and also its important for student s to see their teachers as human.

  28. Ja ja says:

    Hi Hala. Where does Dharma (as in calling, natural order) fit in to this??

  29. Mich says:

    I find it rather fascinating that two of the three men who chose to comment on this essay vehemently stated they were "not needy and codependent" teachers. A trigger there. But also – our culture does not allow men to admit to weakness of any kind, and neediness is associated with weakness. So I can understand why they wrote so defensively.

    When we get really defensive about something, it usually is a red flag that something else is going on.

    The power to be vulnerable – to acknowledge the shadow side – gives us the power to evolve and grow as humans.