It's Time to Take Your Yoga Teacher Off the Pedestal

What comes across your mind when you think of yoga teachers?

To me, I usually think of them as kind and compassionate. They exude the vibe of the Dalai Lama but listen to José González and Ben Howard. That they’re vegans who drink khombucha and can stand on their hands, head or other body parts. They have multiple tattoos in Sanskrit and seem to know what they mean. They are balanced individuals who meditate when they feel stressed out and frankly still do even if they aren’t.  In other words, yoga teachers abide to strict ethical conduct and operate on clear conscience or may even possess psychic abilities or other supernatural power.

If you think I’m presumptuous, you’re absolutely right. Nowadays we tend to glamourize yoga teachers and confuse them as some divine reincarnations. We admire their perfect downward dog alignment and are impressed by their accurate recitation all the way from the Yoga Sutras to the Dao De Jing. Their abundance of self-love and compassion eradicates their ability to do any wrong.

How have we arrived at such ideology?

Recently Mr. Bikram Choudhury, the pioneer of Bikram yoga, was ordered to pay $7M in sexual harassment case. [1] Not only is Mr. Bikram notorious for his sexual deviance, his net worth and questionable teaching styles make us ruminate on the authenticity of yoga and yoga teachers as a whole. Yet should Mr. Bikram not a yoga guru, we wouldn’t have the same reaction, at least at a much lower magnitude.  The fanfare of Bikram Yoga is a perfect example to disprove yoga teachers as undefiled human beings.  Like everyone else, yoga teachers are subject to desires and greed, a strange concept it maybe.  

Here we must differentiate between spiritual gurus such as Ramana Maharashi [2] or Swami Sivananda [3] and your yoga teacher at the local studio. Perhaps, your yoga teacher is a spiritual guru, who knows? However, let’s just assume if they haven’t devote their entire life to spiritual works, they teach yoga for a living and that perchance yoga philosophy is an interest of sort.

In 1970’s, when yoga was re-popularized in the West by iconic gurus such as B.K.S Iyengar, Indra Devi and Pattahbi Jois, the concept of yoga remained that of physical fitness. Previously scrutinized as ‘Hindu rites,’ ‘love-cult’ and ‘anti-America,’ [4] yoga was reintroduced to the public along with Pilates and Jane Fonda’s fitness videos.  As much as the West has since accepted more so to authentic yoga and its philosophy, most practitioners in this generation still see yoga as pure fitness. After all, how do you clear cache on over a century of anti-yoga imprints? By understanding the history of Western yoga, we see why many people mistake yoga as its introduction is primordially flawed. Those who practice the 8 limbs of yoga as way to enlightenment are succumbed to setbacks let alone those who use it for fitness only.

And that is why we must take our yoga teachers off the pedestal.

I’d like to consider yoga teachers as yoga mediators. They mediate the knowledge they’ve acquired from other teachers or books and you. As a receiver, you must experience, integrate and question. Here’s to agree to disagree but not without experiencing first. Advice from your yoga teacher is like a hypothesis in a scientific experiment.  So as Iyengar says in his book Light on Yoga, ‘to a yogi, the body is a laboratory for life, a field of experimentation and perpetual research.’ The key is not to convince others which method works for the majority but rather to find what works for you. Essentially, we all walk the yogic path alone. Along the way, we meet people who inspire and challenge us, in ways that elevate us towards a more peaceful state of being.

So the next time in class, extend your compassion when your yoga teacher misses a cue or stumbles on words anything less than spiritual. Perhaps even applause their courage to be vulnerable leading fellow souls on this divine path. And most definitely be less aghast when you run into he/she ordering a second round of margaritas.

 

References:

1] CBC News, Bikram Choudhury, yoga pioneer, ordered to pay $7M in sexual harassment case, http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/bikram-yoga-lawsuit-1.3421547

2] Official website, Sri Ramanan Maharashi, http://www.sriramanamaharshi.org/

3] Official website, Swami Sivananda, http://www.sivananda.org/  

4] Fear of Yoga, Robert Love, Columbia Journalism Review, Utne Reader March / April 2007, http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/fear-of-yoga.aspx?PageId=3