Are Yoga Teachers’ Egos Getting Too Big?

Published on
February 21, 2011

A mat-packed yoga class will often give a yoga teacher a natural boost to their self-esteem, self-worth, and ego.  In excess, this ego boost can create celebrity-minded instructors with “the aura of high priest,” according to Casey Schwartz. But Casey does not put all the yoga-star fame blame on the instructors.  She writes, “Becoming a yoga teacher allows an insecure person to act spiritually superior. But the dynamic is two-sided. For the yoga teacher to become inflated, the student must inflate.” Not only are yoga instructor’s egos becoming over-inflated, but their students are becoming more like rock-band groupies than detached seekers of truth. This in turn fuels the egotistical nature of their teachers, and thus drives this ego-driven process to repeat over and over.

As professionals, yoga instructors need to be vigilant in keeping their egos in check with the teachings of yoga, and to also practice humility (vinaya) to eliminate the perils of pride and arrogance. Students must also become aware of the powers of psychological transference, and the dangers of placing their teachers up on pedestals.  

Most importantly, both teachers and students need to be aware of the effects of spiritual materialism.  Mariana Caplan describes spiritual materialism as the use of “spirituality to gain power, prestige, recognition, and respect and even to avoid our own troubles.”  There are any number of different forms that spiritual materialism can manifest both on and off our yoga mats, and no yogi is immune from it’s effects.

How does ego and spiritual materialism show up in your yoga practice and in your yoga instructor’s teaching? How do you keep your ego and spiritual materialism in check?

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5 responses to “Are Yoga Teachers’ Egos Getting Too Big?”

  1. StudioLiveTV Avatar
    StudioLiveTV

    How interesting and somewhat sad. I´m not sure if it´s because of my own approach to and view of my yoga, but I can honestly sad that ego has never entered my reality. It´s been quite the opposite. I find that yoga teachers of the past have expressed a sincere appreciation for my and other´s decision to select them as their yoga leader. With time, as the relationship developed, that initial appreciation turned to an interest in helping me improve and enjoy more benefits of yoga. And with more improvement, came more a feeling of mutual respective and appreciation–me, for wanting to learn more; and the teacher for taking the time to nurture someone´s desire to improve themselves.

  2. dslyoga Avatar
    dslyoga

    Joel Kramer used to say that all you have to be is a little less confused than the people around you to have them think that YOU are The One! … I would add that you only have to APPEAR that you are less confused to achieve that status.

    Another problem is too, that many people merely repeat the words of some Other Authority or Other Source — be it a book, guru, or other method of teaching — to their students, or anyone who will listen for that matter! Repeating **other sourced** words as a teacher of others, without actually personally experiencing the actual essence it is meant to explain or convey, is an empty teaching, even if it conforms exactly to the Original Source. At that level, they are just words. Yet as long as things stay at face value, no one is harmed (unless the Original Source is somehow flawed).

    One danger arrises, for example, when a student has a unique challenge that is not specifically covered by the Other Source. The teacher repeating the information to the student now goes out onto a thin limb in coaching the student. Unless the teacher has directly experienced working with the information, they are less likely to give the student valid coaching or advice.

    You could say Information from Data (like words on a piece of paper or audio recording) is External Knowledge (which of course is very important). Yet information from Internal Awareness is Wisdom. Those who have integrated the information into their own Selves by actual experience are wise, while the others just play on the surface of the teachings.

    The REAL problem, however, is there are too many people in the world who think THEY are qualified to judge whether another person is qualified to teach or not. (These are the people who like to sit on licensing boards and such.)

    Finally, to be really effective in this world, you have to have a strong ego. As Ken Wilber points out over and over again, transcending the ego does not mean eliminating it. Transcendence INCLUDES the lower level elements. So transcendence means to include and go beyond the ego to higher levels of awareness, while retaining our ego’s functions. If one’s ego cannot be integrated, there is something wrong* with it, and it needs to me modified, not eliminated. (The word *wrong* comes from a root that means a twisted relationship with God, BTW.)

    So if you’ve hung out around many of the so-called Great Teachers or Gurus, they all have pretty strong egos, but they know how to use their ego constructively.

  3. possum1969 Avatar
    possum1969

    I am a groupie, got a big picture of my frist yoga teacher on my wall..I want my teacher to be spritaul. whats wrong with a deeper commitment.The goal of yoga is to be intouch with the whole person the core of ones being.at any rate poeple will be poeple.Materlitic and all.but i cant name any multimillionare teachers of yoga.I wish there was maybe we would have a yoga channel on satalite . Instead we are kick around called names and just flat cused by others.. The world needs more YOGA GROUPIES.

  4. Mariah Avatar
    Mariah

    Well, in the end sadly a lot of persons are just to egomaniac : as they believe that since they find their truth ( great for them!), and tend to transform themselves into a sort of “Guru” who wants followers and be seen, ( shine?!) and tell others what to how to breathe, how to think etc => that s just WRONG!

  5. Renee Avatar
    Renee

    I was getting so confused and frustrated with my yoga class lately. My teacher almost never correct my postures anymore, and he will skip me, only me sometime. Maybe because I did not practice at home, and I am not making any progress? He has few favorites, and he always use them as examples to teach the postures, sometime it takes more than half the class–only he and his favorite student were engaged in the actual physical movement, and others just sit and watch and listen. He is a great teacher, and I have been practicing yoga with him for 2 years. He only becomes like this, or getting a bit serious few months ago. I felt no connection in that class, and sometime feel ashamed and rejected. I might just need to start looking for a new teacher.

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Timothy Burgin Avatar
About the author
Timothy Burgin is a Kripalu & Pranakriya trained yoga instructor living and teaching in Asheville, NC. Timothy has studied and taught many styles of yoga and has completed a 500-hour Advanced Pranakriya Yoga training. Timothy has been serving as the Executive Director of YogaBasics.com since 2000. He has authored two yoga books and has written over 500 articles on the practice and philosophy of yoga. Timothy is also the creator of Japa Mala Beads and has been designing and importing mala beads since 2004.
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