The first time ‘teachers’ enter our lives is probably in primary and secondary school and then possibly during tertiary education or when we enter a trade – some of those teachers we like, some of them we whole-heartedly dislike and some we don’t even recall. And then there are those who were at a different level: Those that we looked up to, who inspired and motivated and taught us truly from their hearts and with passion.
Once we are adults, our relationship with teachers may become a bit jaded as we think we know everything and our relationship with our teachers becomes less of acceptance but more of critical expectation. Especially in the modern world of yoga, yoga teachers are expected to be always nice, blissful and without fail saying always the right things (“Good job!”) that make us feel good. But is that what a good teacher should always do?
I found myself in the dilemma recently when from one day to the next, I could be elated about how good the practice was because I got this wonderful adjustment that took me deeper into a pose and then the next day I was grumpy and disgruntled about the lack of attention and my flailing practice. And I blamed the teacher. Not in those words, but quietly I had my expectations set to how I felt during a good practice and that was my yearning (the dreaded attachment) for the next practice. And when I didn’t get it, pain set in. Not physical pain but the pain of not having my expectations met. But after Andrew observed and pointed out the contradictory fluctuations I was expressing about my practice, I noticed (like having the proverbial mirror held up in front of my face) that I was neglecting the basics of my yoga practice: Not being attached to the fruits of my labour and letting go of ego.
The best yoga teachers are not the ones that cater to your every need (or ego) – in fact, a lot of the traditional teachers would carry a stick to prod you with and shout at you if they thought you weren’t working hard enough. Pattabhi Jois famously called several of his students ‘bad yogis’ if he thought they were straying off the path. One of my teachers used to give adjustments that were so strong, they brought tears to my eyes. The fact is, sometimes you need to be ignored, to be told to step up to the plate or conversely, to stop beating yourself up and just let go and practice more mindfully.
I often say that yoga is the hardest thing I’ve ever done – yes, some of the asanas can be difficult, but it is how yoga brings about the process of self-inquiry, the no-escape-from-your-demons part of the practice that challenges you each time your ego gets the better of you. At times, it maybe your teacher who reminds you that you are not doing yoga to just look good in a difficult pose or get your insecurities stroked – yoga is there to build your internal strength and resilience to any adversities in life – and to meet those with compassion and a thoughtful response.
Coming back to Guru Purnima and giving thanks to our teachers: Don’t forget that one of your most important teachers may be even your children or your partner. Happy Guru Purnima 🙂