Kill the Yoga Teacher! -Shy Sayar

Via on Aug 30, 2010

“If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha!” taught 9th Century Cha’an master Lin-chi I-hsüan.

This teaching can be (and has been) interpreted in many ways, but the essential tenet seems to be that objectification and reverence of anything external, even the Buddha, is a mistake. As a student of yoga, this teaching has shown me that I can revere my teachers only to the degree that I recognize how little I know about them. As a yoga teacher, I remind my students that the degree to which they idealize me is exactly the degree to which I will disappoint them.

The yoga sutras hail yoga as a science of religions, suggesting that yoga can support any spiritual practice. Yet Buddhism, and especially the Mahayana teachings on emptiness can offer a unique kind of support to the practice and modern culture of yoga. Master Lin-chi’s famous iconoclasm evokes the emptiness even of the Buddha, as a concept that has no reality outside of thought. Icons exist only as we set them up. Teachers can be royal f*ck ups in many aspects of their lives, and still carry a life-changing message to students. If we allow our teachers—and ourselves—to be human, we can kill our delusions and spare the messenger.

So if you meet the ideal yoga teacher as you walk through your own expectation and illusions—kill the yoga teacher!

Caviat: not literally, please. All nice yogic ideas of immortality aside, some of us are still afraid to die.

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About Shy Sayar

Yoga Therapist Shy Sayar teaches classical Hatha yoga, underwritten by yoga's ancient scripture as well as by contemporary science. Shy believes in teaching people, not poses - as the practices of yoga are infinitely adaptable to fit the stages of a practitioner's development, and there is no need to push the body into arbitrary shapes. In his teaching, Shy tries to refrain from overstating esoterics, but his methods of training the body aim to recall classical yoga's stated end of freeing the practitioner from the illusion of identification with anything that was born and will die - the experience of immortality and unity with all of being. As such, he emphasizes the ease of the breath, the serenity of the musculature at work, and the peace of the mind over the postures of the body. At his Yoga One studios in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, CA, Shy teaches classes, trains yoga teachers and sees Yoga Therapy patients. He also teaches literature courses at the University of California at Berkeley, including coursework on the classical literature of India. He holds a degree in music and will at times chant for students in savasana. Shy is revered and admired by two wonderful (albeit unreasonable) cats. He loves practicing yoga on his living room carpet while his cats jump on his back to provide added resistance. He also delights in writing bios in the third person. Lastly, he prides himself on being nobody's guru.


18 Responses to “Kill the Yoga Teacher! -Shy Sayar”

  1. Zvi says:

    Thanks Shy for this important reminder. How I yearn for the perfect teacher to tell me what to do with my life. But that really cannot come from the outside. Also important — that if you are a Yoga teacher, please do not kill yourself. That would be sad.

  2. mariasbowman says:

    Some of the best teachers and mentors I've had–in life as in yoga–have been inspiring precisely because they were willing to share their struggles as well as their strengths and insights.

  3. kissmynamaste says:

    nobody is perfect, so if you decide to idolize someone, pick Jimi Hendrix, as he is already dead, and can do no more wrong.

  4. Caitlin says:

    I think back to what you said during training, Shy: that we should recognize that we have something to offer; that we can be learned from. If our teachers can instruct despite their fallibility, then perhaps we can see that our own faults need not hold us back from sharing what we know. I enjoyed the article :)

    • Shy Sayar says:

      Thank you, Caitlin. Now, when the hello are you coming down from the trees and giving me a hug? I promise I won't kill you, even though you're a great yoga teacher.

  5. Celia Aurora de Blas Aurora says:

    I love this:
    As a student of yoga, this teaching has shown me that I can revere my teachers only to the degree that I recognize how little I know about them. As a yoga teacher, I remind my students that the degree to which they idealize me is exactly the degree to which I will disappoint them.

    • Shy Sayar says:

      Glad to inspire love in you, Aurora. I've heard it said that love is love, no matter what you love, and love is always good. And, as Pema Chodron quotes her teacher to have said, everyone loves something, even if it's just tacos.

  6. Brian Honeycutt says:

    nice bio :-)

  7. Judy says:

    Thank you for the reminder and to all the dear people whom I've read your comments- thank you.
    We are all great and important teachers- teachers for life.
    Do keep sharing :-)
    Shy, I love you, you dear human being.

  8. ARCreated says:

    It's also nice as a teacher to read this..sometimes a get really uncomfortable when students tell me that they hang on my words or admire me…I'm often saying to my husband that it scares me to think people hold me up as role model when I still have so much work to do…but when I look at it this way it helps me stay humble and feel it's OK to be imperfect and still teach..Thank you!

  9. Shy Sayar says:

    Hahaha… that's why I so often say that yoga is not a practice of making shapes, but a practice of compassion, curiosity and patience. See you Wednesday, Monica? Maybe we can get you into a peacock if you really give up on it being important =)

  10. what is on your head please, aside from the flowers?

  11. Shy Sayar says:

    You mean, what is holding the flowers up? I'm confused…

  12. Shy Sayar says:

    And sometimes we hide the most from ourselves… at times I think my f-ed up-ness is most obvious to everyone else before it is to me – but I guess that's what perfect teachers are for =)

  13. elephant journal elephantjournal says:


  14. Monica says:

    Well I could be happy for the rest of my life if I never get to do that pose. What matters is what we can do at the moment, understanding our limits and what not. But you know you look awesome doing it haha, which bring us to the topic of your last article! Ah, how I know not to pay attention to those types of things, but how they tend to cross my mind again!

  15. Shy Sayar says:

    Dear Ramesh,
    I am touched by your reply and feel that I needed that reminder. Of course, perfection depends on definition, and perhaps the teaching at hand is that the teacher might just be perfect as-is, regardless of expectations and illusions. Thank you for the warmth in you writing.

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