Yoga Teachers: Helping, Fixing or Serving?

“Fixing and helping create a distance between people, but we cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected.” — Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

As someone in the profession of Social Work, I tend to be a natural helper. I went into a profession where my job is to help people—to listen to their stories, to find resources, to advocate for—people who are often underprivileged and oppressed through social systems, histories of trauma, mental and physical disabilities, etc.

But in helping– by ‘fixing’ people or their problems–who am I really honoring? I get to feel warm and fuzzy for doing something good. I get to feel empowered. But my clients—if I am taking a passive, ‘helping role’ receive the exact opposite feelings. Sure, maybe an issue is resolved for that moment, but with the wrong attitude in my work, I can leave people feeling dis-empowered, embarrassed, and ashamed.

I came across an excellent article in the Shambala Sun, by MD Rachel Remen, that describes this exact phenomenon. She states,

Helping, fixing and serving represent three different ways of seeing life. When you help, you see life as weak. When you fix, you see life as broken. When you serve, you see life as whole. Fixing and helping may be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.

In contemplating this idea, I couldn’t ignore thinking about my role as a yoga teacher. In many ways, people afford us a certain amount of power, respect, and responsibility. Often, people come to us when they want help—becoming more fit, calming their mind, or healing old injuries. They will often consult with us about their bodies, about their practice, about their mind space of the day.  It can feel really good to know that someone wants to hear my thoughts about their lives. Yet, I challenge teachers to really think about their teaching, and wonder—in what ways am I ‘helping and fixing’ and in what ways am I serving—really honoring the true connection of humanity and empowering practitioners to follow their own innate wisdom.

At Pavones Yoga Center Teacher Training, we were taught the philosophy that if someone is not provided the opportunity to say ‘NO’, they cannot give a fully consensual, ‘YES’. This principal has stayed with me, in that I always have tried to provide true freedom to practitioners in my class, providing options, and encouraging them to live in their own wisdom. If your body says I want a downward dog right now—follow it! Coming from a place of commands and orders only cements a position of inequality, in which people become dis-empowered to heal themselves.  This stated, I do believe that as trained yoga teachers, we do have a responsibility to provide enough structure and instruction for people to be safe in their bodies and in postures.  But I really challenge teachers to look for the opportunities to serve—

When we help, we become aware of our own strength. But when we serve, we don’t serve with our strength– we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.

Serving makes us aware of our wholeness and its power. The wholeness in us serves the wholeness in others and the wholeness in life. The wholeness in you is the same as the wholeness in me. Service is a relationship between equals: our service strengthens us as well as others. Fixing and helping are draining, and over time we may burn out, but service is renewing. When we serve, our work itself will renew us. In helping we may find a sense of satisfaction; in serving we find a sense of gratitude.

Typically, teachers will end class with a bow, and “Namaste”: while their are numerous translations of this idea, my favorite is “The light and goodness in me honors the light and goodness in you”. May this simple word be our reminder that we teach not because we can do more challenging poses, or know more mantras than our students, but really, we serve because we know our existence is rooted in the same joy and sadness, challenge and success that our student’s experience– we serve because we know that we are the one we are teaching.





*The original Article can be found by clicking here: Helping, Fixing, Serving, by Rachel Remen*

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