Now I know what you may be thinking; yoga teachers are leaders and mentors in many ways, which is actually the dictionary definition of a guru. However, I am proposing a different viewpoint for your consideration, and it’s a viewpoint I am consistently returning to in my own experience as a student and a teacher.
Becoming a Guide
I teach a wonderful group of yogis. Some of them come to class because they need a stretch or a good sweaty Vinyasa. Others come because they need the release of stress and a rush of feel-good endorphins to return them to their aware state of being.
I don’t question why they’re there, even if they themselves aren’t quite sure some of the time. All are welcome, and I lead them through breath and movement before we arrive at stillness to show them where homeostasis is possible; that ground zero if you will, where we can always return to settle our mind and observe ourselves without judgment or criticism. However, I don’t create this place of pause and reflection. I just guide them to it and remind them that it’s always been there. We all create it for ourselves and each other, and it’s here that the idea of yoga teacher as a guide is crucial.
As teachers, we are tasked with disseminating the wisdom we’ve acquired to our students in the only way we have been taught. After all, we can only teach what we know and from where we’ve come, and while nothing in yoga is absolute, we share our experiences the most. It’s there that we find and nurture a connection with a student that far exceeds typical cues for alignment and physical posture.
I find it quite enriching to connect with perfect strangers in this way: recalling my stories and experiences of battling with certain poses, only to find they tied to my subdued childhood traumas or tension held deep within my body without my being aware it’s ever been there. These moments of relating something so personal with another human being are the bread and butter of being a yoga teacher, and even if we never guide them all the way to the door of their “enlightenment” (and I use that word wickedly loose), we’ve at least shown the way, and who says that that isn’t the best gift we can give?
Respecting the Guru
We can all play the guru card and be thankful for the teachers we’ve come to regard as true mentors and leaders in their field. I know that I have been blessed to have the guides in my practice who have shown me a life with far more potential than the one I’ve been living all of these years.
But there is something even more that they have shown me, and that is humility and their own experience, because in those moments where I’ve seen them falter and stumble and question are the moments I’ve been brave enough to honor my own faults. It’s like our search for our own path leads us, eventually, back onto the same highway with everyone else who is basically looking for the same thing.
I respect the guru, but I learn from the guide, for the guide is the one who is walking right there beside me, tripping up on old past hurts and bouts of utter non-yogi behavior when things get bad. The teachers who show up like that, who guide and never consciously realize they’re leading are the ones who create a cyclical flow with not only the wisdom they have at their disposal, but with the students they come upon who are sometimes just as lost and willing to be found.
Everyone is Still a Student
The beautiful reality is really this: we’re all students, just teaching each other. There is never going to be a moment in this practice where the journey ends because we’ve reached some sort of destination, and if that ever happens, I’m going to see myself out.
The same can be said of a teacher: we are never going to stop learning and we’re never going to fill ourselves up with so much wisdom that we’ve overflown our cup of knowledge. We’ll fail and falter and lose our way, but that alone is a teachable moment. I don’t think teachers are here as gurus; people place us on that pedestal because they want to be led. I think teachers are here as humble guides who are trying to learn as much as they’re open to teach, and what we’re trying to teach is how to find our way that’s been with us this entire, beautiful time.
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