As a yoga teacher, you are in a unique position of power: you can tell a room full of people what to do - and because they trust you, they do it without question. This can be a power trip. We must not abuse this trust. Over the years, I have heard far too many stories, and experienced far too many incidents of bullying and disrespect.
Acro as a partner practice must embrace enthusiastic consent!
Let's start with the basics:
No means no. Full stop. “No” is not an invitation to cajole, argue, bully, or demand reasons. “No” does not need to be shouted to be real. It is always OK to say “No.” Your authority as a teacher should never overrule your students’ right to say no and be heard. Period. This is not a question of "teaching style." This is basic respect and simple human decency. And yet, I've had famous teachers who flat out fail this test. If you do not understand and agree, stop teaching and go find a job where you will do less harm.
Every pose is optional. You may invite your students to try things. In essence, that is much of what teaching movement consists of. But a student is never obligated to do anything. Do not pretend that all students are in the same place and can do the same things. Just saying that out loud highlights how ludicrous that idea is. Encourage your students to skip whatever does not serve them in their bodies, and to modify anything however they like to serve themselves better. Your job is to help students expand their skills and provide the opportunity to work through fears - not to override their own judgement. If you picture yourself as a drill sergeant when teaching, then quit teaching and join the army.
Don't sleep with your students. By doing so, you are failing all your students. The student-teacher relationship is not one of equal power. It doesn't matter how you rationalize it. You are being an exploitative douchebag. If you view your students as a dating pool, join OKCupid instead and quit teaching until you are able to treat your students with the respect they deserve.
If you run an organization, have a public harassment and fraternization policy, and enforce it. Have a procedure in place for handling complaints which is designed to protect students. A prominent leader in our community has said in a discussion of harassment: “If you are in a community and you don't like the dynamic of any of the gatherings you can create your own.” (It is even worse in context.) While technically, that is a harassment policy, it is a shitty one which protects harassers and alienates and drives away those they abuse. The history of yoga is full of exploitative assholes abusing their power. Many yogis have an attitude of “We’re all adults. Everyone can look in their heart to decide for themselves what is right.” If you feel that way read this comprehensive list of yoga scandals involving gurus sex and other inappropriate behaviour. This must end. If you are a leader in the community: Lead. Set a standard and hold your teachers to it.
AcroYoga requires trust, overcoming fears, and a level of physical intimacy, sometimes with complete strangers, which is rare in our culture. Everyone will come to it with different comfort levels, at their own different pace. Don’t expect students to be comfortable with something you’ve been doing for years. Don’t take it personally if they don’t want to do things at all.
Remember the most important truth of teaching: Teaching is not about you. Teaching is all about what serves the students. If you have a need to perform and be the center of attention, go on stage and get your fix somewhere else.
Consent can not be coerced. As a teacher, you must have non-coerced permission. It is far too common and easy for teachers to put students on the spot, to shame and bully them. Students want to please their teachers; they do not want to make a scene. Silence is not consent.
Stop with the attack hugs. The difference between a hug and assault? Consent. It only takes a moment to ask. You are not entitled to your students’ bodies in any way whatsoever. The attack hug is not a sign of affection - it is an act of control. I am myself a hugger, and I still find this pretense of affection offensive. When subjected to an attack hug, I stand perfectly still and glare at the hugger until the discomfort is shared and they realize that they have crossed a line uninvited.
Everyone has good intentions, but students do not experience your intentions. Students experience only your behavior. If the behavior causes harm, the intentions do not matter.
If you see other teachers acting inappropriately. Speak up. Silence makes you complicit. It is your problem. If you make excuses for your friends’ behavior, you are part of the problem. If you think it is not your place to criticize your colleagues and teachers, read this list of gurus again. Is that the kind of community you want to be a part of?
The AcroYoga Curmudgeon
Inspired by personal experience of myself and friends, some of which is touched upon here:
20 Experiences I Did Not Expect From my AcroYoga Teacher Training