The Dilemma of Power Dynamics in Spiritual Practices

Within the practice of Yoga there can often be an emphasis and sometimes strict adherence to one’s lineage. What this means is that a student would study with teacher and that teacher with their teacher and teacher with that teacher, so on and so forth. I want to make clear that I am not against this, however, I have witnessed first hand as well as observed through countless accounts how this ultimately leads to a relationship and power dynamic that can easily be corrupted and result in oppression, scandal and essentially a gross use of one’s power.

What I have noticed through discussions and observations of events whether it be sexual harassment and misconduct in the yoga circles or in the movie industry, whether it is authority figures over using or misusing their authority through threatening language to physical abuse there is a thread that ties this all together; POWER. In many relationships there is a balance of power; parent, child, employer, employee, authority, citizen, teacher, student. Behaviors and actions are often learned and mimicked from the top down and so there is one phrase that a good friend has shared with me that sticks with me always.

“Leadership is a fundamental call to service”

In other words, if one is in a position of power it is their responsibility to use this power to serve others, especially those that need help or are in a position that can not help themselves. I think of a parent-child dynamic where the parent is in a position of power, this makes sense to me, a parent is older, has experienced more of life and knows more than the child and so is in a position to tell the child at times what they can or can’t do. However, most often these decisions come from a place of love, the parent is doing what they can to serve the child to the best of their ability. However when we look at power dynamics in other relationships this is not always so clear.

So in this case where even in spiritual circles, where we would like to believe that they abide by a moral standard, even they can be subjected to these power dynamics and influenced and end up participating in actions that are less than ideal. One might argue that those following have a choice but if you have ever been in a position where someone more powerful than you has told you to do something or has created a culture of the way one acts it often is very difficult to choose otherwise.

In order to break these cycles I try to reflect on my own positions and responsibilities, my relationship with others and I would ask you to reflect as well. Where and when are you in a position of power and leadership or vice versa and how does this impact your well being and relationship with others?

Yuuki Hirano