I Am Not Your 'Guru'
How many times have you joined a Yoga class because of the teacher? Though oftentimes the decisive factor for many of us is whether or not there is any Yoga class that fits our work-life schedule, we also have a tendency to join classes taught by teachers we kind of like;
teachers that represent something for us, or who have a certain vibe, a certain reputation even, or else a certain way of talking or a given teaching style. We join classes that echo something for us with teachers we feel we can relate to or connect with somehow.
Still, in the sort of commercial Yoga scene we have today, we can find a great many Yoga instructors out there, but very few actual Yoga teachers. The difference between these two is the subject matter of this week's entry.
Tell Me What to Practice, Teach Me Whom to Become
Think of it: how many teachers can you name that do actually speak about the roles of student and teacher during their Yoga class? Don't strain. We are quite sure you can hardly come up with any. To be fair, in most modern-day Yoga classes there's barely any time for anything else but asana. Still, the relationship between teacher and student is one of Yoga's most defining features. It was precisely this relationship that was meant to help different types of students reach their fullest potential regardless of their circumstances, while dealing with all the obstacles a student can bump into along the way.
The teacher in a traditional yogic sense, then, was meant to point the student in the right direction, scold him when attention and commitment were dropping, reward her when least expected and, most importantly, teach the student to ask the right questions for her or him so as to be able to find the right answers for her or him on their own. This is the actual difference between an actual Yoga teacher and a Yoga instructor.
It is precisely because of Yoga's slight commercial turn over the past two to three decades that many of the most precious aspects about the teacher-student relationship have become slightly perverted, diluted, even obsolete. So much so, that we can now find instructors-who-think-they-are-teachers who are absolutely unable to point students in the right direction for them and who, instead, only steer students in the direction that best works for themselves.
The issue, however, goes both ways. By this we mean that this is only so partly because we also have a great many Yoga students who simply want to 'blindly follow' a teacher ––their 'guru'–– and have someone else tell them what it is they need to do. Students are, in fact, often all too willing to give away their power to someone who, more often than not, they actually barely even know. Nobody, ever, will know your-Self better than you!
Learn to Question the Teachings and Find Your Own Answers
The point for anyone in the Yoga path today is to become better equipped over time to be able to navigate life's ups and downs swiftly and on their own. If we can have some help along the way, so be it, but we must be able to become our own helpers. For that, we need actual Yoga teachers who are able to hold space for students with very personalized circumstances and who can help us become more aligned with what we need ––and not just with what we think we need, what we think we want.
We need more teachers able to nurture a sense of trust in our own sense of wisdom and our own abilities, and who are able to teach us the tools whereby we can become our own teachers. Teachers that can still use the wisdom and know-how of other teachers, wiser ones, but who can also tell when a given practice, asana, breathing ratio, or meditation style is not for their student at a particular point in time.
We need teachers interested in helping us students better understand why we do the things we do, why some of the things we do aren't helping us, and how to do more of what we actually need so we can stop doing what no longer serves us. We don't need instructors who can only teach what they have been taught by others, nor students who only want to do what they have been told. We need teachers who can critically reflect on the teachings they receive to fill any potential gaps and adapt ancient methods and teachings to the present circumstances of their students, and students willing to put in the work to also figure if what they're being taught actually works for them in their lives.
In sum, we need students who don't expect Yoga teachers to have all the answers and teachers willing to serve their students. Teachers and students willing to try out new things at different points/phases in life and able to admit to themselves and others that they don't always know what they're doing, but that they can tell when something isn't working to change it and try something different. Indeed, as the sages of Yoga tell us, to fully liberate and reach 'moksha' or illumination, at one point, both teachers and students must transcend all practices and leave everything they think they know behind.