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So I’ll just come right out and say it: I got screwed over by a yoga teacher. There was money involved and a business plan gone awry, plus disdain for cheese, leather, and SUVs —all of which made regular appearances in my life.
This wasn't just any random teacher, but one who had become a mentor and possibly The One. You know, the “g” word. Whisper it to yourself as you envision a yogi gazing over the Ganges: guru.
Did you hear that Tibetan bowl chime at the very mention of the word?
No, I haven’t become cynical about yoga teachers. For starters, I am one. I know we’re all perfectly imperfect, flawlessly flawed human beings, just trying to remember the sequence, use the right playlist for Savasana, and be prepared for the inevitable student with a broken wrist who shows up to an inversions workshop.
But I did get cynical about my own apparently defective guru radar. (Gu-dar? Rolls right off the tongue!) And I also learned some valuable lessons.
Much has been written on the delicate dynamic of student-teacher relationships in yoga. These associations in general have potential for boundary-breaching, but once you add the lure of spiritual enlightenment (POW!), a field that involves physical touch (ZING!) and a power hierarchy (CRASH!), things have crazy disaster potential. My teacher relationship was totally professional, until my perceived guru turned out to be – gasp! – human.
I was crushed. And then I vaguely remembered a few times when my pesky gut instinct had meekly raised its hand to speak from the back of the room. Seems a part of me knew something wasn’t right from the get-go but my ego shut it down to seek a stronger physical practice; my values shut it down to pursue a belief system that wasn’t fully mine; and my brain curiously took child’s pose.
So there I was: a girl who owns leather dresses trying to love solar power and Vegenaise. (The latter cracking up my husband as said Vegenaise sits unopened next to my champagne in the fridge.) I digress.
My point is that this teacher wasn’t trying to be My Guru or anyone else’s for that matter. We students can be so hungry for growth, for handstands, for The Answers, for insight, for what-the-hell-ever, that we risk projecting perfection onto teachers who aren’t, can’t and shouldn’t be. And thus we risk disappointment, disenchantment with our practice, and if we’re not careful, cynicism at the whole shebang.
Newsflash and conclusion: You’re your own freaking guru! Look down.
Visionary Dr. Jean Houston said it best, “I always say that ‘guru’ is spelled ‘Gee, you are you.’”
So continue to seek insight, seek knowledge, seek more, learn more, live more. That hunger is what keeps us alive and passionate as students, teachers and human beings.
But think twice before you get all starry-eyed over someone who’s gonna judge you for eating cheese or doing anything else for that matter. And when you do find those true teachers who can prompt you to grow even while they remain human, be sure you don’t sacrifice yourself in the process.
Footnote: my spiritual growth and forays into a dietary reflection of such continue. In the meantime, I’ll totally be eating veggie burgers on my leather couch and raising a glass (that champagne, you know) to the vegans among us.
It’s a process.