First and foremost, I consider myself a yoga student first and a yoga teacher second, and when I'm teaching I certainly ain't one of those dudes with a 'my way or the high way' attitude - there's plenty of those around, unfortunately. I remember a few years back, when I was practising at a Yogarti's * yoga studio, I was stopped half way through the sun salutation sequence and told that I was going too slowly. I told the Yoga Gaffer at the time that I thought everyone else was going too fast and carried on at the same pace; I wasn't being deliberately difficult. I just didn't think he was right.
I guess, as students, we need to find the balance of establishing respect for the teacher and teachings whilst maintaining a certain amount of self-responsibility, so that we are able to question the teacher's teachings when something doesn't feel right. I've been around so many students who have given themselves to the teacher lock stock and barrel without giving any consideration to the fact that all beings are basically fallible (even your fabulous heavenly Yoga teacher), and that by doing this they are allowing themselves to be led up the garden path rather than the spiritual one. I guess this is how religious cults are started. The flip side of this coin is that students also need to earn the right to call someone their teacher/guru. I've been to places where people just rock up in their Lululemons ready to fall on their knees and touch the feet of the guru without doing a day's practice - to me this seems a bit 'pete tong'. I think students should earn the right to touch the lotus feet of our gurus.
I remember the first time I ever went to Mysore to practice with the late great 'Guruji', Sri K Pattabhi Jois (and yes, girlfriend, I've been there 'nuff times to earn the right to call Pattabhi Jois 'Guruji'), I saw people getting in line to touch his feet. Now, I'm from Manchester, and the only time someone touches your feet is when they're nicking your trainers; it just felt completely alien to me. But, maybe after a month or so of practising in that little backroom of his, my petty, small-minded mancunia seemed to disappear and I was at the front of the queue for the feet touching. You know, for me, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to touch his feet - it felt like the only way I could thank him for this practice that basically saved my life (see last blog). Not only was I thanking Guruji, but thanking his teacher Krishnamacharya and the lineage of teachers before him.
Talking of spiritual paths, I was reading a blog post by another teacher the other day who was basically saying that doing yoga for mental or physical well-being was akin to putting square pegs in round holes. I was like, 'Eh? Really?' I was thinking that's exactly why I started Yoga - to sort out my mind (I was already physically fit as I was running regularly, but the sheer physicality of the yoga practice was good enough to keep me fit and trim, so the running stopped). The true practice of Yoga, it said in the post, was a spiritual one (which begs the further question just what constitutes a spiritual practice?). Now, I'm all up for personal opinion, and maybe I got the wrong end of the stick, but it was all a little too preachy for me. I was like, (talking to myself in a rather recalcitrant way) 'I will use my yoga practice for what's best for me, thanks mate.' Yes, Yoga is a whole lot more than a bunch of stretching exercises, but if that's all it is to you then I'm just peachy with that.
Now, without going all crazy religious on yo' ass (cue soapbox sermon), one can learn from the free enquiry of the Buddha's Kalama Sutta teaching, which encourages students to question their teacher and teachings. It explains:
After thorough investigation and reflection, you find to agree with reason and experience, as conducive to the good and benefit of one and all and of the world at large, accept only that as true, and shape your life in accordance with it.
P.S. The wife has just accused me of not practising what I preach, in that I'm (apparently) narrow minded when it comes to other forms of Yoga - especially Bikram. So, in a nutshell, my (personal) teaching opinion is this: we all need to take responsibility for ourselves - the choices we make, etc. And we should not, ever, give that responsibility away, for love nor money. For example, I've never tried Bikram ever. So, I couldn't give a valid opinion on it. I can give a good account of why I personally don't want to do it, and if someone listens to that opinion and they agree with it, that's great. If, however, they don't agree with me then that's also great, but have the responsibility to make that decision for yourself.
*A 'yogarti' is an established A list Yoga teacher.