Can A Real Person Be A Yoga Teacher?

“Is it possible to be a yoga teacher and still talk and act like a average real person? just curious. Someone who allows themselve to be approachable, through a language that is comprehensible by all beings.”

This is the question my old friend and colleague from Omega asked on his Facebook page.

I wasn’t sure quite where he was going, and poked around this one a bit with my brand of humor: “…don’t you have times when you are not in the mood to shine your light and instead curl up on the couch with Netflix and a bag of kettle chips?”

A topic that comes up in different ways among the yoga teachers conversing online is the age old pull between the “traditional” and the “relatable”.

One guy who lives in India, but appears to be a western white expatriate, wrote that in India “A yogi in the traditional way is to become more than human, make themselves into a diamond. This is how it’s revered in India. …The west’s influence has changed it that now just any old person can teach asana. Most these days only teach that because they have no clue what yoga really is.“

My response “Pffft. No one is more than human. Everybody poops. Putting oneself above others is dangerous. By doing this, many fall short and cause deep harm.”

He replied “The western mind thinks the way you just said, Indians in general do not, they believe it is possible.”

I wondered, what is possible??? To put one person on a pedestal? How has this system benefited Indians, or anyone?

The conversation stalled, or was deleted, or whatever happens once things get interesting in social networks. I stand by my assertion. Yogis who are worshipped fall. Most of these men have proven to be men. When they are revered, they are tempted, and “devotees” become victims.

The rampant abuse of power coming to light across many traditions and cultures is due to the pedestal, which intrinsically represents inequity. I have totally had it up to here with this type of spiritual superiority.

“Traditionally” is a word used to keep marginalized people in their place and maintain the imbalance of power.

Being respectful of lineage, and honoring the roots of the teachings, can be achieved without upholding a destructive hierarchical tradition. Yoga is Dead

podcast hosts Tejal and Jesal spell it out in their awesome episode “Gurus Killed Yoga”.

I have the most impact when I can relate to the person in front of me and they can relate to me. My work is to make myself MORE inclusive, welcoming and relatable. Unearth my implicit bias, do my own emotional excavation, and acknowledge my privilege. If you ever see me acting like I’m “more than human,” please shake me. Being human is a great honor.

My teacher in the late 90s, Gurumeher Singh, was different. (He still is, but I don’t live in LA anymore.) He was always telling us to inquire within, to be scientists, to NOT simply believe what he said about a kriya or meditation but to have the inner experience of it and then decide on it’s impact. He firmly landed the ball back in our courts He never hoarded the power for himself, from all these students who would have gladly revered him for the techniques he shared. He asked us to do our own inquiry.

Gurumeher was the first to suggest that I could become a teacher myself. Without his faith in me, I know I never would have considered such a ludicrous idea. The seed that Gurumeher planted took some years to germinate. I wasn’t quite ready to believe that I, “any old person,” could have the kind of impact on people’s lives that he did. Of course, all these years later, I DON’T have that same impact. What I offer is different, and I’m completely fine with that. I share my integrity, empathy and respect with those in my community. Being welcoming, inclusive and equitable is, to me, the real work of a yogi.

I take pride in being “any old person,” and what I teach may not look like much, but I notice that it is actually the simplicity and relatability that makes it healing, and allows a welcoming space for “regular people” to do their inner work, so we will all become a diamond together. Leaving no one behind.

People here at the YMCA in Brooklyn won’t put a yogi on a pedestal, thank god.

Circling back to the Facebook dialogue, maybe that expat yogi had a point. Make yourself a diamond! But only if you’re going to use that diamond to slice through injustice, not so you can sit there and be gazed upon while you sparkle.

Now excuse me while I go see what’s on Netflix.