Today before yoga class, the lovely yoga teacher who was subbing in the class I attend each Monday asked how my mom is doing. Since she also attends the class as a student, we’ve chatted often, and she was aware of my mom’s medical issues. We got into to brief discussion about caring for loved ones who are ill, family dynamics, and other somewhat difficult topics. She shared her own experience with the challenges (and blessings) of caring for loved ones who are ill. And I realized how much authentic yoga teachers make a difference in my life.
When the class was over, this beautiful soul reminded me she had been thinking of me and my family. I told her how much it means that she shared her struggles with me. She paused for a moment and then mentioned a student who had once remarked that she often talks about things no one wants to talk about. I don’t know if that student was happy about it or not. But I sure am.
Authentic Yoga Teachers Can Lead Us to Light
“I’ve had many yoga teachers,” I told her, “and the ones I gravitate toward are the ones who are real.”
We often think our yoga teachers should know it all. They should have it all together and, because they practice yoga, they should be immune to the challenges of life. But our yoga teachers are human beings. And we should allow them to be.
Don’t get me wrong. I certainly don’t want my yoga teacher to be a complete mess. (Well, she can be, but hopefully not during class.) I want to see that yoga has made a difference in her life, but I also want to know that she struggles with demons just like I do. I want to know that we’ve both come to yoga for the same reason—to grow, to find our way. Of course, I expect her to have a bit more experience using the gifts of yoga to manage the dark side of life. But I want to practice with a real person.
Namaste and Darkness
When we use the greeting namaste we’re honoring the light in ourselves and each other. We rarely acknowledge the darkness though. I’m not suggesting we focus on our struggles and flaws, just that we acknowledge their existence. It’s a true gift to share a journey from darkness into light. A companion on the journey is more authentic than an idol we’ve placed on a pedestal. That’s the kind of teacher I want.
Thinking about our teachers as human beings benefits them as well. As my teacher this morning shared, when her student remarked that she talks about uncomfortable things, she replied, “because it helps me.”
Is that surprising? Does it seem wrong to think a teacher needs help too? Too often, we get so used to being guided and cared for by our teachers that we forget they’re human. We don’t allow them to be vulnerable. In short, we’re not fair.
To me, the greatest act of courage is the strength to be authentic. If we don’t allow our teachers to be real, they may start to believe they cannot be. Eventually, they will burn out. No one escapes the dark side of life.
Let’s not forget what we mean when we say namaste. We are all teachers, and we are all students. The strongest teachers recognize their students are also their teachers, and true students recognize that their teachers are not perfect and should not pretend to be. The best teachers are the ones who are truly brave enough to stand in front of us and be who they are. For them I am immensely grateful.