In the early traditions of yoga, your teacher was your master, and you’d sit at his feet and obey what you were told. The teacher was the guru, someone who had reached a higher level than you, someone you revered and, to a degree, probably also feared. The guru and the student probably did not go out for lattes and discuss their respective romantic relationships.
But the United States, for better or for worse (and likely a little bit of both), doesn’t have a guru-student culture. This is a country of innovation, not tradition. This is a culture where we not only lack respect for authority, we see it as something to be challenged. We are a youth-driven culture where many think the ideas of our elders are dated (and some of them are). And, we like to keep things casual. We are so casual that, really, we are just “cas”. Even college students often call their multi-degreed professors by their first names. Our very language (of English) lacks the linguistic variations used in other languages to denote someone older or wiser. Here, we just say “Hey” to everyone: our grandparents, doctors, and best friends. So, what does all of this mean for yoga? It means that the lines get blurred between teacher and friend. It means that yoga teachers have lunch with their students, go to parties with their students, and even–yes–date their students.
Part of me does enjoy a certain casualness in my student-teacher relationships (both as a student and a teacher) because it is less alienating and can create a real opportunity to exchange thoughts and ideas between students and teachers. I also think there are inherent problems with blindly following a guru for years on end without ever seeking out your own truth. That said, an uber casual relationship between student and teacher lacks certain necessary boundaries. And, on the path of self-development, a little bit of reverence for (and maybe even fear of) your teacher can be useful—for learning discipline and how to manage your own ego. While we cover a lot of similar terrain in yoga as we might in psychotherapy, we’re certainly not going to the movies with our therapists.
What do you think? Are you friends with your teacher? Do you fear him or her? Do you prefer a strict student-teacher relationship with firm boundaries, or a looser one where you can hang out together after class? If you are a teacher, do you think too much socializing crosses necessary boundaries? Write in and tell us what you think!