Yes - of course you can have sex with your yoga teacher. You can have sex with who ever you want to. You are an adult, with full agency, and freedom to choose for yourself what you need, and want. Freedom of choice and responsibility for that choice is what in fact implies adulthood. What is not so fun about adulthood is managing poor choices, unmet expectations and disappoints in our lives. And there is no place we make up more shit around our disappointments than in our relationships.
So is an intimate relationship between two consenting adults in a teacher student dynamic complex? Yes. Is it morally or ethically wrong? No. And here's why.
Before I met my wife, most every woman that I have ever been in an adult relationship with, I met doing what I love, and feel most passionate about, teaching. Many of my relationships, and my amazing marriage are the result of relationships with women who I met in the yoga, martial arts community, or in my class. This for many people is unethical, unfair, and unbalanced. I see it very differently. Each relationship is unique in regard to its balance, fairness and ethics. The context of a relationship does not determine its merits, but rather the qualities of the individuals operating within it. My partners were not vulnerable or weak women seeking refuge or healing. They were on the contrary intelligent, capable and powerful consenting adults who made a choice. This essay is offered as an examination of the pro-choice position, and hopes to expose the obvious fact that two consenting adults should have the freedom to exercise personal choices without judgement or condemnation.
First, suggesting that a consenting adult teacher/student relationship, in any field of study, is social, ethical or even criminal misconduct, is a social opinion, not a demonstrable fact. Only when one person has control over another person's financial future or physical well-being is there even an observable power differential. Social opinion is simply not enough to warrant policing people. It was quite resent that social opinion suggested that black people and women were inferior, and should be subordinate to the white men - so I do not use social opinion as a moral compass. Second, this is a conversation about adults’ personal liberties - NOT rape, sexual exploitation, criminal misconduct, or financial manipulation. No, this is about two consenting adults choosing to interact intimately absent of any leviable power differential other than the title of student and teacher.
PRO-CHOICE DOES NOT EQUAL PRO-EXPLOITATION
Pro-choice does not imply the abuse or mistreatment of another person. It implies the right to exercise personal liberties on the part of consenting adults. I do not support or promote exploitation of women or men, as students or teachers. I do not support the use of a yoga classroom as a space to seek out sexual partners. It is not, and should not be. Engaging a person sexually, in a deceiving way, is contradictory to all ethics I uphold. Using authority or power for personal gain is in stark contrast to transparency, honesty and consideration of others. I also believe it is absolutely safe and ethical for consenting adults in modern yoga environments to date. Why? Because these same consenting adults can die in war, procreate, and vote. The suggestion that they are competent only until, they enter a classroom, stretch their bodies, and consider that they may be more than a permanent physical manifestation, is contradictory to high standards of reason.
As a teacher and a student, I emphatically support the freedom to exercise my personal judgment and ethics, as long as they include the careful consideration of others. I also strongly support any yogi who has a personal policy that restricts themselves from dating another consenting adult student or teacher. And I remind both parties to mind your own business. It is not either parties place to manage, police or judge the other.
Adult students can and do assign meanings to experiences they are having with adult teachers in any field of study, i.e., linking their improved state of mind to the teacher. This projection or transference of feeling onto a person due to circumstances, means that caution and care must be taken by both parties to be clear. And least we not overlook the indisputable point that projection of feelings onto people who inspire us, occurs under numerous uncontrollable conditions.
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW
The Yoga classroom environment has changed to include different styles, props, and women, as they were once forbidden to participate. The relationship between teacher and student has changed in the west from “guru”, to “certified teacher.” Western teachers instruct and offer knowledge, juxtapositioned with eastern gurus who took on disciples and followers. Traditional Indian cultural values, which promote cast systems, restrictive gender roles, religious ideologies, and guru worship, do not work in the west. Making policy for modern western yoga using transitional Indian yoga values, simply does not work. Orthodox yoga practitioners, who strictly adhere to lineage ideologies, should be respected, as they should respect those who choose an unorthodox approach to yoga. There is space for everyone's views and practices. But suggesting that the yogic path looks one way is foolishness, as the yogic process itself is conceptual, perceptual, and subjective in every way.
THERE IS A TIME AND A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING
The yoga sutras, considered the yoga bible by orthodox and more religious yoga practitioners, contain important and relevant philosophy that transcend time and culture. One specific guideline is restraint from sense driven living. It clearly serves the common good when people are not purely sense driven, yet we are all driven by the urge to be safe, loved and accepted. The problem stems from one yoga practitioner assuming they can judge another person's actions as right or wrong. Drinking a glass of wine, eating good food, being socially accepted, and making love, all stem from senses. There is clearly a time and place for all urges and senses including sex. I personally see the classroom as a place to practice humanity, discernment, and joy. I do not see it as a place to act on sexual urges, but it is unreasonable to suggest that sexual energy is absent within a classroom as people are intrinsically sexual.
I do however believe that consenting adults, in western yoga classrooms, have the right to conduct their private lives, including intimate relationships, outside of the classroom without interference and judgment. Adults need to learn to be competent students by discontinuing blind devotion of teachers, projection of accountability, and seeking outside of themselves for ethical and moral guidance. I argue that we do not need a book, a law, or a
WHY WE ARE ALL ATTRACTED TO TEACHERS
People are attracted to skill, talent, and charisma inside or outside of a yoga class. If the teacher or student possess these qualities they are naturally going to be attractive. A musician, dancer, lecturer, or an artist performing can inspire the same feelings that a dynamic teacher can. All are provoking emotion and feeling. I am personally attracted to anyone who is skilled at their craft.
However, attraction does cause me to lose sight and application of my personal ethics and values. These are however, my ethics and values, and should not be adopted by anyone. As independent agents operating without force or pressure due to career or financial consequences, an adult teacher and adult student are fully capable and accountable individuals.
Also, I believe if a female yoga teacher were attracted to a male student, there would be much less biased proposed, as there would be an assumption that the male would have enough sexual agency to resist his teachers advances. Also, suggesting that a female student cannot engage a male teacher with as much competency as a man, discredits the intellectual and emotional power of all women.
DATING YOUR GURU
When you deconstruct the differences between the “yoga guru”, and the “certified yoga instructor,” you find stark contrasts that many people are simply collapsing into one archetype. The guru model clearly demonstrates several problematic power differentials. In order to have a yoga guru, a student must seek a religious teacher, surrendered to his or her authority, and be initiated into a specific discipline. Sex or Intimate relationship between these two suggests a complex dynamic to say the least. I believe it would be extremely difficult for the student to see the guru as an equal in or out of the yoga classroom.
The western yoga teacher, in contrast, is holding a casual space for people to come and go, with no commitment, or agreed religious or spiritual discipleship. Yoga certainly implies general spirituality, but this does not suggest people are in danger because they can date in this environment. Gurus or teachers dating students carries a high risk of conflict of interests. However, whether you or I agree to its merits, there is no controlling consenting adults intimately engaging one another. In fact, partners meeting in yoga class is quite common.
Also, I recognize that some men see women as sexual objects and not as people. Some men behave in a manor that travels the scale from disrespectful to criminal. That however, cannot be controlled by policing a yoga class, but rather by teaching yoga practitioners to cultivate self awareness in order to develop intelligent ethics and values. When students stop seeking a spiritual leader to follow blindly, and teachers stop encouraging discipleship, things will inevitably change.
STOP THE GURU COMPLEX
Western yoga teachers must stop trying to play the role of guru, enlightened being, or one who possess a commodity on truth. We don’t. We are as limited, challenged and deep in it as our “students”. In most cases we are the ones with the greatest pain, seeking hardest for the answers. Students need to stop believing that teachers possess something they do not. A true teacher is always guiding you back to your own universal wisdom and truth, which we are all endowed with. We have nothing special to offer, other than being able to ask questions that further and ultimately direct you back to yourself.
Only when teachers stop encouraging co-dependent followers, by providing them with answers, and start cultivating independent thinkers and competent yoga practitioners will people be relatively safe from each other, in a yoga class.