“My teacher always says that you should practice yoga in decades.” When I heard this phrase from the teacher during a yoga class a few years ago, I was nagging at the rather unyogistic feeling of envy. “My teacher. My teacher.”
That sounded great. That sounded like more than someone whose yoga classes are a pleasure to visit. After someone from whom you can learn a lot and who actively takes you by the hand. With whom you have a very extraordinary relationship that may even last a lifetime.
For a man like me, with chronic weakness of decision and many doubts in life a pretty tempting thought.
What is the role of a yoga teacher in our modern world?
How do I find this one * s teacher * in? And is it even a realistic concept to transfer the student-teacher relationship from earlier times and other cultures into our reality of life?
In fact, for a long time it was hard to imagine practicing yoga without an intense relationship between teacher and student. The knowledge was originally passed on one to one, and without the assistance of a spiritually experienced, it was unthinkable to set out in the direction of enlightenment, the ultimate goal of yoga.
The times have changed and with them the motives why people practice yoga.
Self-optimization, stress reduction, more flexibility, and less back pain are likely to be the reasons for most practitioners’ yoga practice to be well before spiritual awakening and increased awareness.
And exactly for these motives there are many suitable teachers. Those who really understand their craft, are anatomically skilled, knowledgeable in relaxation techniques and can put together pretty vinyasa sequences .
I say that without any negative view. On the contrary, I find it good and important that we all have different approaches to yoga. For many it is just the asana practice.
For many yogis, however, after a while, with regular practice, the next step comes.
The question about the meaning, the thirst for knowledge. It often begins with wanting to know more about asana and meditating on the scriptures and the connection between yoga and philosophy. For me, this is the point where teachers, in the sense of accompanying mentors, should come into play.
Why do I need a yoga teacher in?
Important: Yoga can help us become a joyful person by focusing on virtues such as love, compassion, tolerance, and serenity, and thus be kinder to all other living beings. But something crucial is necessary for this:
We have to try to let go of our ego.
Not by denying ourselves and our needs, but by not further encouraging our tendencies, our attachments and aversions. Here a teacher can help us.
In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali tells us about the Kleshas, the obstacles on the way to Yoga.
To them belong also raga – attachment to something and dvesha – aversion to something. Both can cause suffering and interfere with our spiritual development.
What does that mean in practice? Maybe we will eventually realize that we have the tendency on the mat again and again to power us out, to really accelerate, but keep Shavasana super short or preferably like to dunk right away.
Or the other way around : actually, we would like to spend 30 minutes every day in Supta Baddha Konasana , without annoying chaturangas and handstands.
Both have their justification – sometimes. However, when we realize that we are always giving in to our tendency instead of overgrowing ourselves, this is the moment when a teacher can help us.
Teacher or teacher can help us to practice against our tendencies.
This can help us get closer to what we really need. Often we are stuck in old patterns and do not dare to go on. By having a teacher in her and his or her push in the right direction, we may come a little closer to our actual needs.
Sometimes it’s just that step out of our comfort zone that we needed to develop.
So, a yoga teacher is in the best sense of the word or the one who clarifies our foggy gaze and gives us the push in the right direction. In the original sense of the guru term : the one who dispels darkness.
Is that still up to date?
In our world, it quickly has a funny connotation to engage in a clear hierarchical relationship. In addition, there are actually reports that prove that these relationships are abused by alleged gurus.
The meaning of a student * in-teacher * relationship can not be that one goes and one or the other just follows blindly.
A teacher should help you to realize and realize your full potential. For the sake of you, because he or she likes people.
They have a great responsibility, and they should be one hundred percent. It is important to keep aloof from this, not to exploit romantic feelings and to create and maintain a sacred space.
For this he or she needs certain qualities and above all time and interest in you as an individual. Nevertheless, within this relationship there will usually be a clear hierarchy.
Just as a good teacher should fulfill certain qualities, the student must also engage in that relationship.
In earlier times, a student asked the following question to his teacher: “Are you really my teacher?” And the teacher asked back, “Are you really my student?”
To be humble, that is the basic virtue of every student.
This means that it is a reciprocal relationship that needs to be nurtured by both. If we have carefully chosen our decision for a teacher, then we should really get involved completely.
Questioning is great and we should always do that for our development. Nevertheless, it may make sense to sit with something first and not doubt it directly. And just when we have consciously chosen a teacher, we should trust that he or she has only our best in mind.
How do I find this teacher?
That would be the tricky part. Even if we realized that it could be quite conducive to our development if we had a teacher at our side – where to take it from? There is a very true saying:
“When the student is ready, the teacher appears”
In plain language this means that it may well be that for years you will go to different teachers to even know what you need.
You may also be stuck with a teacher for a long time, only to find that he or she has not been right for you and your practice. In fact, it may make sense to first attend a teacher’s lesson regularly before committing to a certain period of time.
Here are three tips that helped me find the right mentor:
- Look at her or his own practice: To what extent is he or she really rooted in it? Teachers are ultimately a mouthpiece for what they have learned themselves. This has a lot to do with humility and not taking yourself so seriously. Is that the case with him or her?
- Ask questions: Do not be shy! A good teacher will give you what he or she believes you are ready for. Maybe there is an open satsang in his yoga studio with him or her or he or she offers a longer workshop. These are good opportunities to ask questions and to feel a little bit more on him or her.
- Ask for a private lesson: Here you have your teacher for you. You realize that he can respond to you and your questions and “sees” you. The best way to prepare for this is: What do you expect to learn from this teacher?
Finally, I would like to recommend one more thing to you:
Do not expect too much and clearly define the roles for yourself.
If you have chosen a specific person to accompany and practice your yoga practice, then he or she is just that. No more and no less. Because especially when we really need someone, when everything collapses and the need for support is really great, it can happen otherwise that we do not feel sufficiently supported by our companions.
But we should not forget one thing: a teacher is not and should not be our best friend or therapist. There are other people for that.
Find the guru, love the guru, leave the guru
If the roles and expectations are clear, such a relationship can be long term, maybe even lifelong.
But it may also be that after some time it turns out that it does not fit.
Then it’s ok to leave. It can be painful, as every separation is. Maybe you are angry at first and feel yourself hanging.
Very often, in fact, much later we realize what we have learned. Just like back in school, when we really could not believe that we would ever need that stupid percentages again.
How important do you find a teacher-student relationship for your practice? Did you commit yourself to a teacher? I am very happy about your comment.