breaking up is hard to do: yoga teacher heartbreak

Breakups are hard, no matter the relationship. However, there’s a special kind of loss when you break up with a yoga teacher – a person who is often mentor, confidant and life coach, as well as teacher. This anonymous yogi has a story to share about her recent yoga teacher breakup.

At the beginning of my yoga teacher training program, one of our teachers said, “The essence of yoga is to question everything.” My first thought was, “What does that have to do with yoga?”

Turns out, it was one of the most important things I learned that session and a piece of wisdom that I’ve been returning to time and again over the last few months. A touchstone that has provided me with much comfort and insight as I’ve watched the relationship with my yoga teacher slowly unravelling.

Oddly enough, when I realized that I was breaking up with my yoga teacher, it felt like the worst thing ever to happen and the best thing ever to happen all at the same time. I knew that this was a pivotal moment in my career as a yoga teacher. My chance to take what I had learned and carve my own path in the world. But how to deal with the feelings of grief, disappointment and guilt that flooded my consciousness as I watched my teacher topple from the pedestal I had put her on? And how to accept the simultaneous feelings of joy and liberation?

Question everything.

The bad

First, the disappointment, oh, the disappointment. You’ve spent a countless number of hours in this person’s company, learning not only from their feedback, but also from how they teach and how they lead their lives. Not surprisingly, to lose the admiration and pride that went with this process is devastating.

It’s the adult equivalent of learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

The shock of being rudely reminded that the person you thought of as being “more evolved” than you is in fact human and equally prone to weakness and emotional outbursts shakes you to the core. Even though you know better than to idolize anyone, the relationship between yoga teacher and teacher trainer is nonetheless fraught with questions of power and influence. When it breaks down, it swiftly and devastatingly pulls the carpet out from under you.

Then there’s the guilt. For having let your teacher down. For having been a “bad” student. And the fear. That this breakdown may be pointing towards something lacking in you. Can I still be a good yoga teacher? What else haven’t I learned? Question everything, indeed.

The undercurrent of relief and liberty rippling beneath the surface could not even be acknowledged for fear of disrupting the storm of guilt and self-blame that I most certainly deserved. I had failed. What could I be possibly be happy about?

The good

Just when I had decided that I was lost, hope cleared her throat to remind me that she was still in the room. Gradually, other questions and answers began to emerge. Indications that perhaps this rupture was a sign of my own development. That I had outgrown this situation. And although it hadn’t been the most subtle or agreeable of transitions, it was a transition nonetheless and not the end of everything that I treasured and valued.

Maybe, the universe seemed to be screaming, it’s time to take off the training wheels!

Lessons learned

Although I am still processing events and trying to find the appropriate words to describe exactly what happened, I understand that the rupture occurred due to miscommunicated expectations and sensitive egos – on both sides. I don’t know what kind of relationship I will have with this person in the future, but I have already learned three important lessons:

*One person cannot provide you all the knowledge you need. In order to continue the process of questioning and learning – of becoming a better yoga teacher – sometimes you have to move on.
*It’s important to honour and respect what that person taught you, even if the relationship ended badly. They played an important role in your development and a bruised ego is no reason to throw out the validity of what they showed you.
*Questioning everything is scary – especially when it takes you to dark corners of your own personality – but it’s essential to identifying important lessons you need to learn and to helping you realize what your values are both as a yoga teacher and as a human being.

What about you? Have you had similar experiences? What lessons did you take away from it?
  1. Yup, been there done that. I wrote all about it here:

    It DID feel like the worst thing ever, but now I’ve moved on to a style of yoga that is much more suitable for me. All of this happened just before I got really sick last year, and I would never have been able to keep my practice up if I’d stayed with my previous teacher/yoga style.

    My new teacher/yoga style however, was very supportive and beneficial to me during the worst of my physical health. Sometimes the right things just happen, even if they feel like the wrong thing at the time.

    I hope you’re finding peace with your changes.

  2. Would encourage you to read Stephen Cope’s excellent book Yoga and the quest for the true self … I’ve just been rereading it lately and it’s a mine of useful information around the projections that can occur between student and teacher and how we need to trust our own wisdom. I slowly stopped attending one teacher’s classes as she shifted to a different style of yoga which did not resonate with me … I really struggled with this but her attitude was wonderful – she said to me that it was important that I find my path and honor it as had found and honored hers. I’m still friends with her and I occasionally experience her teaching and I value the yoga nuggets she shares even though I don’t resonate that well with her current teaching style. I think breaking up with a teacher is actually a useful thing to do … it forces one to look at one’s yoga practice in a more conscious way i.e. who’s practice am I doing? Am I doing a practice for me or am I doing my teacher’s practice? Who is my teacher if I don’t see a teacher? What can I get curious about and discover myself? Having said that, I do miss attending regular classes with a teacher whose style resonates with me … and when I have some more space in my life, I intend to return to attending regular classes and to find a teacher whose style resonates with me.

  3. I wish it had been as relatively “simple” as a divergence of styles. Unfortunately, there was a clash of the egos too. As I struggled to grow and evolve, she was struggling with letting me go. But I do have hope – especially after reading the experiences of others – that this will continue to be a positive transition for me. Regardless of the yucky stuff!

    • I didn’t mean to suggest my situation was just about “styles”. Far from it. There was definitely an ego clash, too. One in which the teacher in question didn’t see fit to admit she might’ve over reacted or even been wrong (which she was)…

  4. ‘the role of the student is to find the teacher, love the teacher, then leave the teacher’. from somewhere on the wide interweb.

  5. i’ve been going through this exact thing as well and wrote about it last week

    it’s reassuring to hear that it’s all just part of the process…part of the practice

  6. I’m amazed by how common an occurrence this is. I never imagined that so many other yogis and yoginis have been through the same experience. I am so grateful to hear it!

  7. There are yoga teachers then there are spiritual teachers/guides. Traditionally they were the same thing. Now they are not.
    So we can either:
    1. get used to that
    2. develop proper training for yoga teachers (and all teachers and leaders for that matter!) that includes the spirit-mind-body leadership.

    • This is so true! There are spiritual teachers/guides and then there are yoga teachers, really great ones, who lead Yoga Teacher trainings, sometimes through their own yoga studios, sometimes not. As this Western yoga culture continues to have it’s growing pains, so will everything connected to it, including the relationships between yoga teachers and the YTT’s. Like all relationships, there will be challenging moments. I am so lucky to have 2 wonderful yoga teachers who are willing to mentor me. They are both devoted to their work as teacher’s and encourage me and their other mentees to pursue our own paths, knowing we can always call on them for advice and support. It would be great if the huge number of YTT courses could also commit to mentoring their students after the training ends. I personally have seen how diva like behavior from both yoga teachers/studio owners and their YTT’s, leads to dramatic ” parting of the ways “. We are all human, with our own vulnerabilities. Teaching yoga is a privilege and an act of love(not my original quote!). Given enough time, the level and quality of YTT teachers and trainings will focus more on the importance of mentoring and supporting young teachers on their paths, from a more Anahata based perspective. I’m staying focused on that!

  8. I have been dumped by my yoga teacher, my spiritual teacher, my yoga family. My heart is broken. Broken. I have been a dedicated, loyal, self-sacrificing student for almost five years. I met my teachers at a community centre and followed as they built their own studio. Through the ups and downs of a growing studio I remained steadfast. I met with my teacher one-on-one monthly for over two years, I attended at least one class a week. Under his guidance I built a home practice, began chanting, opened my heart and trusted him with my most intimate struggles, and followed his teachings with sincerity and integrity. He talked often about the importance of the teacher/student relationship. He and his wife became friends, I thought. I was happy to help them whenever I could – doing studio laundry, babysitting, writing, setup, I did it all expecting nothing in return beyond their guidance and friendship. This yoga world became a huge and important part of my life.

    Last week, when reading the studio’s monthly e-newsletter I found out that he had given up teaching to focus on other work. The classes where cancelled effective immediately. He would be doing no more private instruction. It was all over. No warning. Nothing. I thought I was more than just a student. I could not believe I found out in such an impersonal way, given what I thought was such a strong and mutual connection. My heart is broken. Broken. I cannot believe it has happened. Nobody at the studio will acknowledge the loss or my right to be upset. So, I think I have lost my teacher, my home away from home, my balance.

    I was so very happy to read this blog post. To know that others’ have had their hearts broken and have been able to find a new, stronger yoga path. It gives me hope in a difficult time. The sadness and loss will pass. Thank you.