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Power dynamics in teaching yoga - diving in

“Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ” – Paulo Freire

The willingness to understand the power dynamics in people´s interactions and high sensitivity to power abuse go with me as long as I remember. It was why I decided fifteen years ago to study sociology and also it is the reason I chose to explore topic of use and abuse of power my special project in Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga training and now elaborate on this topic a bit more. In the series of upcoming posts I'm aiming to inquire into the power dynamics, ethics and integrity within the relationships of yoga teachers and their students in different settings.

As the roots of the discipline of yoga are reaching far to the ancient times, the relationships of yoga teachers and yoga students are loaded with layers of different connotations, influenced by the cultural norms, framed and re-framed many times in the run of history, I perceive as very important for us, yoga teachers and therapists, to understand our stand, being conscious of the power we hold, the responsibility which is deriving from the power and being aware of possible the implication of our actions.

In the series of upcoming posts I will explore the significance of power dynamics in the relationships of yoga teachers and yoga students through the lenses of Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga and outline the possibilities how this approach might be applicable into the regular yoga classes. I will also try to figure out how to develop our voice as trauma-sensitive yoga teachers and TCTSY facilitators in the contemporary yoga scene.

Power as inherent part of every relationship

“Power is neither good nor evil. It just is. It's what people do with power that matters.”

– C. J. Redwine

Many scholars in human studies have identified power and power dynamics as fundamental concepts in the study of human relationships (i.e. Burgoon & Hale, 1984). There are many definitions of power, in human relationships. In my essay I´m relating to French´s (1985) understanding of power. She sees the power as an interaction rather than substance, which overcomes the structural deterministic models and sees agency of each person in the relationship. In my exploration of relational power dynamics I´m also adopting Proctor´s (2017) two premises about the nature of the power:

  • Power is dynamic and relational. The dynamics of power in relationships are ever-changing and are constantly to be explored.

  • Power is ubiquitous. The dynamics of power are in every relationship and cannot be fully dissolved in attempt of transparency.

Amongst all the models of power, which emerged through the centuries, I find the most useful for our purposes Starhawk´s (1987) model of power. Starhawk distinguishes three types of power:

  1. power-over (domination over someone, coercive authority),

  2. power-from-within (agency or inner strength derived from a sense of mastery based on one's own ability and inner value),

  3. power-with (mutual or collective empowerment, enhanced power of individuals in a group of equals).

I will use therefore this model as a frame for further explorations of power in yoga settings. In my attempts of doing so, I´m conforming with the approach of Gilliane Proctor (2017), who says (about studies of therapist-client relationships): “The aim in exploring dynamics of power is not to erase or obscure power, but to minimise the negative aspects (particularly domination) and to maximise the positives (such as collective power and using power to resist structures of domination) and to maximise the power-from-within of both the client and the therapist”. be continued

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