How much information should a yoga teacher reveal?
When is personal information too much?
In an article in the New York Times entitled Students Learn from the People They Love, the author–a rather dry, conservative, buttoned-up Yale professor–recounts that he wrote an email to his students simply stating that he had to cancel office hours the following day because of some difficult personal issues he was experiencing. That’s all. No details.
Fifteen or so students immediately wrote back to wish him well and to offer assistance if needed. He was struck by how sharing one moment of personal vulnerability could spark such a warm, unexpected, response. The matrix softened, and the tenor of the class shifted from that moment until the end of the semester. They (both teacher and students) seemed more present and receptive. No longer was he the clinical, aloof professor but a “regular Joe” just tryin’ to get through life like everyone else.
There is a symbiotic link between emotional relationships and learning. In the past, it was widely thought that in order to be rational and “think well,” one had to suppress those pesky gremlins called Emotions. But new cognitive data now shows that emotion is not the opposite of reason but essential to it.
So how personal is too personal in the yoga studio?
On one end of the spectrum, I’ve experienced the over-share that is common in L.A.–a mecca for the frustrated-out-of work-actor-turned-yoga teacher, the teacher who uses the captive audience (the students) to perform and talk. And talk. And talk. About themselves. Gah!!!
And on the polar opposite end, there are the teachers who dispassionately download knowledge into a student’s brain with no personal touch. I’ve had conversations with yoga teachers who have confided in me that, on retreats, they have zero social contact with students outside of the sessions. Zero. They even eat their meals in a different location to avoid interaction. I understand conserving energy, but jeez!
So where is the middle path?
In skillfully navigating these waters, fellow teachers, here is what experience has taught me: Open your class with a personal story to set a foundational theme. That’s great. But then, very quickly, that personal story must become Universal. The “I” in all your sentences must turn into “WE.” Your work as a teacher is to take that story and blast it open to include everyone. Otherwise, it’s performance. Your story may be one of personal suffering, and that’s okay. But if at any moment your students start feeling like they need to take care of YOU, you’ve crossed the line. They didn’t sign up for that.
Very often students will approach me after class and be amazed that my theme resonated in such a deeply personal way.
“It was like you could read my mind!”
“This is exactly what I am experiencing right now!”
And while I would love to fancy myself some great clairvoyant or mystic or world class intuit, the truth is I am simply sharing a personal experience that holds the potential for a Universal teaching.
On some level, it belongs to me, but really it belongs to We.
“My humanity is bound up in yours,
For we can only be human together.”
~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Let’s share some experiences together this upcoming year, shall we?