As the founder/director of an international yoga school, I am hyper-aware of the scandals, trends, gossip, and falls from grace that make the headlines of yoga publications.
As yoga teacher trainers, we are entrusted to create a safe environment, a sort of nurturing cocoon within which our students can grow and evolve before emerging as teachers, ready to fly off on their own. When I started my own school, I set in place rules that would protect both us as teachers and the students from slipping up, acting too human, and playing into urges.
At our yoga school, it is absolutely forbidden for the staff to have any kind of sexual relationships with students during the teacher training and for a determined grace period afterward. No kissing, no touching, nada. Additionally, it is written into contracts that if romantic student-teacher inklings do develop, the teacher must immediately inform another staff member to discuss these feelings.
Why? Because when you live in a close environment in paradise for a month together and create a community built on love and trust, give lots of hugs, have massage circles, eat meals together, and cultivate gratitude as a way of being, it is all too easy to fall into lust with other attractive yogis.
Moreover, this is an opportunity for our students to abstain, to see what it feels like to practice brahmacharya and heal themselves emotionally without being distracted by sex. They don’t have to by any means, but we try to offer a space where they can should they choose.
We cultivate an environment where there is no peer pressure, and where it isn’t easy to just reach for a drink, roll up that joint, call that guy, text that girl, or self-medicate when heavy feelings happen. It is an opportunity to check in and see when and where you might want to turn to usual vices and what those vices actually are.
Also, it takes just one person to go home and say “I felt taken advantage of” for my entire school to fall apart. This school is my life. Financially, personally, emotionally, and energetically, I am one million percent invested, with no backup plan. I have all of my jade eggs in this ethically-harvested wicker basket.
It happened once—a teacher and student fell in love on my training. They waited until the last night of the program before getting physical—the night of graduation—but I still saw several issues with this:
1. It was clear that something was emerging between the two of them and the teacher never spoke to fellow faculty members about it.
2. Teacher training technically ended on the last day (not the graduation night) so they were still teacher/student when they hooked up.
3. They became physically intimate in a scenario where the student was paying to be there, the teacher was being paid to attend, and I was paying to rent the entire space.
It was embarrassing. It was unethical. It was completely against the rules of our yoga teacher training (YTT) community. I fired the teacher for being in breach of contract.
Now imagine how blindsided I felt by the universe when less than one year later, I found myself attracted to a student at my own training.
Maybe I just like his energy, I thought. This can’t be a sexual thing. He’s my yoga student. Maybe it is just his kindness.
But the attraction was there and I couldn’t ignore it.
I found myself avoiding him and afraid to adjust him during asana practices. I feared that if I answered his questions in lectures and I looked directly at him, my eyes would let on what my body was feeling. I was nervous that if he made a comment that struck a chord with me, my smile might give me away.
As the founder/director of the school and the leader of our community, I felt that this time, I had to lead by example. It was imperative to me that I follow the protocol I had written out for just this situation. Obviously, I didn’t have a physical piece of paper signed between myself and myself. Regardless, I wanted to follow my own guidelines.
As per the contracts I wrote for my staff, I sought out counselling from my fellow teachers. I told them my feelings. I said I knew I wouldn’t act on them—I would never compromise the school like that—but I needed support. I also expressed how important it was to me that the student not be aware of my feelings because I did not want to make him feel uncomfortable. I also did not want to cause awkwardness or dissent amongst the student group if they knew.
Just the act sharing with my co-teachers was helpful. Knowing that the secret was out made the whole thing feel a tiny bit less scandalous. They checked in with me often. I felt very supported and loved, rather than judged as I feared. They asked me if he felt the same way. I didn’t know. There was an energy between us I just could not explain. Could he sense it?
Slowly, I noticed him taking coy glances at me. He started asking many more questions and making more direct eye contact. When he looked at me, his gaze would soften. He would often take his plate at meals after mine and sit next to me, lingering afterward and engaging in more personal conversations. He began to hang around after class to tidy up the studio, but I could feel it was just to be near me. Most of the time, we would say nothing at all. When I approached him, I could feel myself getting warm. Could he?
On the first day, when most other students went to town, he lingered behind. With no one around, I caught us in a blasphemous moment: he flirted with me and I flirted back! I caught myself, excused myself, and like an ashamed child, told my co-teacher. Later in the day, he asked me to go for lunch with him. I honestly said, “I think we are getting too close. I’m noticing myself getting close to you. I want you to have a free and undistracted experience here. So I am going to take some distance today. But thank you for the invitation.”
Somehow, that same evening we ended up at a restaurant together with another two girls from YTT. Sitting across from each other at a candlelit restaurant, he started having date conversations with me. I felt so uncomfortable. Did the others notice? The energy made me so uneasy.
I liked his demeanor with me, but not that it was coming from my student. I did not like him treating me this way next to his peers, nor did I feel good about enjoying his company in that way. By the time we all returned back to the YTT space, it was late. The girls went to bed and I decided to lay out under the stars for a few moments. He asked if he could join me. I obliged.
We laid so close to each other. But I made sure we did not touch.
I was afraid—I could feel his every cell, his excitement and his joy. He told me that he had mounting feelings for me. He also expressed that he wanted to respect me and this space and he would not make any physical or sexual moves without my explicit permission. I responded that I also felt something for him but could not identify the feelings. I shared that it was confusing for me and also that I felt it completely inappropriate to explore them at the time. I told him of our school’s rules and protocol. I shared how inappropriate I felt my feelings were. We spoke slowly, in turn, and for a long time.
From this conversation, we created our own private set of guidelines between us. We agreed that we would not touch unnecessarily. We would not sit next to each other at meals anymore. We agreed not to hug or hold hands and even to avoid being alone together.
It felt safe. It felt better. It felt liberating.
After the teacher training ended, I had to wait until we were no longer staying on the same property before spending alone time together. For me, there needed to be a distinct physical separation of spaces to cut the line between student and teacher. We had to both be in neutral spaces where we were just a woman and a man in a beach town. There, we could kiss, cuddle, and be alone together. Sex was definitely still out of the question, however.
We took a day apart and then met up that evening. After a month of waiting, we finally got to explore being together. It started with a simple snuggle in a hammock, holding hands, and a hug.
When we kissed, it was surreal. Our physical connection was even more intense than I could’ve imagined. Was it the waiting? The secrecy? The naughtiness of it all? Or were there real sparks? I didn’t know.
A few days later, we went together on a trip. Finally, we crossed an imaginary line that had been set up years earlier. For some reason, being in a different country put me in a different mindset. It was like the stamp on my passport flattened the illusion between student and teacher, and suddenly, we were just humans traveling together. He was patient and kind and on our last days together, we had sex. It was beautiful.
What did I learn from this?
Life isn’t always so black and white. There are 50 shades of grey. Okay, seriously—I was afraid of scandal, of my school falling apart, and of my students and peer teachers judging me. I was afraid that the yoga world would cast me out or admonish me the way I’ve seen so many yoga teachers dissolve in the past.
Most people I’ve shared this story with don’t think it is a big deal.
I can’t help but wonder, would this scenario be different if I were a man and my student a younger woman? Would it seem more like I was taking advantage of a power position—manipulating someone who looked up to me, or aggressively making moves—if our genders were switched?
I feel like this is something we need to ask ourselves in the yoga world. Where do the lines between power and friendship blur? Where does consent meet authority? What are our own rules for interacting with others in a sexual way? How does our yoga play into all of this?
In this story I did find my yoga practice. I followed satya, truthfulness, by being honest with my own feelings, speaking about it to my staff, and sharing my honesty with the student. I practiced ahimsa, compassion for myself and my feelings, compassion for my other students by not singling one out or paying explicit attention to him. Aparigraha, non-hoarding, came in to play when I let go of my attachment to the person and situation and let it play out after our month of teacher training was over. I practiced brahmacharya by being mindful of my sexual energy and directing my creative nature elsewhere, rather than on my student. I engaged in swadhyaya, self-study, to see how I truly felt. I withdrew myself in order to find more mindfulness, dhyana, and found dharana, focus to stay present in running the teacher training.
In the end, I am comfortable with how it played out. Enough to publicly announce this event to the yoga world.
To be clear, I read and edited this article with that man, my former student, before submitting and publishing this story. He has been fully supportive of sharing our story, and we are still spending time together. I’ve learned that transparency trumps talk and an honest heart will always pull through in the face of struggle.
Outing myself to my fellow teachers made everything feel lighter. I didn’t have to hide or sneak around. They knew everything. Having an honest talk with that student allowed us to set down parameters that we agreed to follow when interacting with each other. It all felt very safe, mindful, and even ethical.
Ultimately through this experience, the biggest lesson was that even being a yogi does not release me from first being human.
Author: Lauren Rudick
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy & Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen