6 Questions: The Traps We Fall Into

How do you see yourself /identify with your role as yoga teacher?

Anat: I honestly don’t feel it much as a role. I think I am pretty much myself when I teach – a mix of humor and seriousness, of strictness and flexibility, warmth and detachment.

Esther: First of all I am a human being with strong values to be kind and compassionate to myself, the people around me and the world. As a yoga teacher this remains in place. In the role as teacher I realise people may project things on to me,  which means I am and have to be extra careful that I treat my students professionally, with respect and care and that I stay connected to the students I have in front of me, to their needs. 

Marcel: I love to teach, to share knowledge and while doing that I see myself as a teacher, however that’s not who I am, I don’t identify myself being a teacher, I am a student too!

How do you think students see you?

Anat: I don’t think much about it. Some students see more my seriousness and some see my temperament and some my humor, we always perceive each other according to our own tendencies.

Esther: As an approachable, professional and loving teacher (I hope!) And as someone they can trust and ask for advice. 

Marcel: I think they see me as someone who knows a lot about the subject I teach, and I know most of them respect me for that.

How do you react when students put you on a pedestal?

Anat: It makes me uncomfortable because I know it is a fantasy I can never fulfill. I normally try to be as mundane as possible when I notice it, the sooner this balloon is punctured the better.

Esther: I feel uncomfortable because I see myself not as better or worse but the same as every other human being. Hoever I learned I am not in charge of what people project on to me. To counteract this phenomena I am very open about me being a person (just like you) with a personality that is still learning, makes mistake, falls over in a pose, and can feel low at times just as every other human being. I literally say and show these things when necessary. Or I discuss this phenomena if I notice it stays that way.

Marcel: When I notice that this happens (and yes it does) I always try to do something crazy, something to show them that I’m just like them, the only difference is that I studied what I teach more then them.

What do you do when students want to become your friend?

Anat: I am very particular about friendship and have a very close circle of friends. Some students have naturally become friends over the years, and some friends have become students. Sometimes a student wants to become a friend but it is a one-sided friendship where I can never truly be myself, I am expected to be wise and calm and generous 100% of the time. I have a highly advanced perception skill for those, and naturally keep my distance.

Esther: I can be friendly with my students. I believe with boundaries I can meet certain students that you get to know well over the years for a cup of tea if I am in their home town for example. But important is to realise there is still a teacher student relationship. My experience is that projections, and questions are still there, so for me there can be a friendly cup of tea, or chat. But my equal strong friendships are with fellow teachers or people I already knew before, or people who aren’t my students.

Marcel: This is a difficult one, because some of my former students became my friends, just als it would go in daily life, however sometimes you have that person that tries so much to get your attention and become your friend, I’m very sensitive for that and I try to create a border, but I always stay very respectful, but with a little distance.

Its known that patients ‘fall in love” with their doctors/ psychiatrist /physical therapist, this happens with students in the yoga world too, did you ever get into a situation like this?

Anat: No, because of the above. I am extra careful of those traps and am very perceptive of what people want of me, which allows me to not get into those situations. Also, I have been together with the same person for 28 years and value that enormously. I need real, honest relationships in my life, and those are never real but fantasies.

Esther: I actually never did as far as I’m aware. I guess I am lucky I am a woman, its less likely to happen. But also I am very clear I am happily married and I am not opening myself up to a student in that respect. Clear boundaries are super important to me.

Marcel: I have and it was painful. This was a woman who came to my classes for many years, and as it happens every now and then bringing a small present to class, nothing much to think of, then she enrolled in our teacher training program, and I was the examinator of her exam class. She was so nervous for that exam that she literally couldn’t teach, and in the end, I had to fail her, telling her that it might be better if she would do it again in a few months. She was furious beyond. And I literally didn’t understand why she was so angry, vicious almost, and I never saw her again after that, I tried to contact her to finish this training but no reaction what so ever. A couple of months after this I run into a friend of hers and she told me that this woman was madly in love and privately didn’t talk about anything else guys wise but about me…. Pieces where falling in their place at that time but I didn’t have a clue.

How do you feel when you see or hear other yoga teachers behave in ways you don’t approve of?

Anat: It’s hard sometimes, because I do not want to be too judgmental or harsh. But oh boy it is challenging because people do the dumbest things. I try to keep any criticism within my close circle of people and not gossip publicly. It’s delicious for a moment but really poisonous over time. And as I wrote in the blog, I could be just as bad from some points of view, so.

Esther: It hurts me. I try and not immediately be judgemental outwardly, even though I am certainly not always free of judgement inwardly ;). Its hard to say things until we know what happened in certain situations, but certain misbehaviour sexually or emotionally in the yoga world that is coming to light these days is absolutely unacceptable. 

Marcel: It makes me feel sad! Years ago we had a teacher here in Amsterdam who adjusted his male students in a particular way. We were teaching in the same studio and male students came up to me asking if it was normal that he adjusted in this way, touching them inappropriately. As well where the stories from female students to whom he said things in class that where so inappropriate, but he covered that under being funny….
I was shocked and confronted him, he told me off minding my own business.

After hearing this for a while I went to the management and did this several times (and so did the students), being shocked by the reaction that they would talk to them but he was very popular, so they basically didn’t do anything about it… I stopped teaching there because of this.

Photo by Arisa Chattasa

The author:

Marcel van de Vis Heil is based in Amsterdam and one of The Fat Yogis founders.

Marcel has been practicing yoga for over two decades, starting his journey with Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and Vipassana meditation, moving into more static, alignment-based styles.

He continued his practice and path with yin yoga’s founders Paul and Suzee Grilley and is now spreading the message of functional yoga and his knowledge of the human body across the world as both a personal trainer as well as a yoga teacher.