How to Avoid Falling Under the Spell of a Human (and therefore Fallible) Teacher.

Via Erica Mather
on Jun 20, 2012
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Photo: Sprocketholes

The news from the yoga world has been freakish and exhausting in the past six months, don’t you think?

As one of Yoga’s accomplices, my heart is bruised.

Some of the Titans of modern Yoga and others of related practices have been behaving questionably, no doubt. I’ve written (tangentially) about the responsibility of all parties—teachers and students—in upholding the integrity of transformational communities, pointedly on the fantasies of seekers longing for a better life, and now distilled my feelings down to three terse tweetable bytes. Feel free to quote me.

You are your own Guru.  Remember this.

I don’t want to be your Guru, and neither should anyone else.

As a student, ask many questions.  As a teacher, encourage pupils to question you. 

I’ll unpack these now.

You are your own Guru.

Please, never, ever, ever give away your power to another person. Be suspicious of charisma. Some of the most notorious tyrants in human history were incredibly charismatic. Yes, follow a teacher, learn what they have to offer, but ultimately you are responsible for deciding what is true for you. No one can do this on your behalf and it is childish to relinquish responsibility. Believe in yourself, 100 percent.

I don’t want to be your guru. Yuck. No one else should either.

If someone wants to be your “guru,” sells you on their evolutional advancement, suggests they are enlightened and you could be too—they have weird and unhealthy power complexes. Run away! Students should enroll in a teacher’s class free of bizarre binding agents—no manipulation, strangely strong eye contact, hard sells or certain promises of happiness. Use discernment when selecting or reviewing the merit of your teachers.

As a student, ask many questions. As a teacher, encourage pupils to question you.

Questions are the insurance policy against blind faith and manipulation practices. Skillful inquiry can pave the path to growth, both as teachers and students. If you ask questions and your teacher is uncomfortable or suggests that you are questioning the merit of the teachings, that’s suspect. If as a teacher you feel threatened by students questioning your teachings, it’s a sign your ego is getting involved. Stay invested, but impartial to the outcome. As a teacher, I like to refer to Lao Tzu, and Tao number nine: This is the way of heaven: do your work, then quietly step back. 

I also like this injunction that I got from reading one of Stephen Cope’s books—healthy pursuit of spiritual growth involves three things: openness, common sense and skepticism.

I hope that these suggestions are good tools for you as you evolve and grow towards peace. And that you take and wield them with compassion. Teachers are humans, too, and just as fragile and fallible as are we students.

Shine on,


Editor: Lynn Hasselberger


About Erica Mather

Erica Mather, M.A., E-RYT 200, is a lifelong teacher. She has been teaching yoga in New York City since 2006. Erica created "Adore Your Body," a Signature System for addressing body image challenges, and is the Founder of The Yoga Clinic NYC. Check out her website and follow her on Twitter.


6 Responses to “How to Avoid Falling Under the Spell of a Human (and therefore Fallible) Teacher.”

  1. Katie Santos says:

    Thank you Erica! I’m putting this piece on the “Required Reading” list for any future workshops I lead or any future students I encounter. I wish more Transformational Communities would be as transparent as this.
    Much love!

  2. Pradeep Singh says:

    Great thoughts. Thanks. Still looking for a teacher who can lead me from where I am vrs starting me up from the beginning! Moreover, each practitioner has his own pace of absorption and growth so an individualized approach seems logical. Till I find one, the 'inner voice' has been my best inspiration and guide. Never gone wrong on that. Just feel a living Guru might help me make it 'there' faster!

  3. Off the phone and onto the net and here we are again as if we are continuing our conversation! Yes, the student should be suspicious of any teacher that wants followers. I have made it clear to the beautiful people who come into my life that I will offer all of myself and I will invite them in but they are not to follow me. I leave part of myself behind but I leave alone.

  4. […] How to Avoid Falling Under the Spell of a Human (and therefore Fallible) Teacher. […]

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  6. Kev Ollier says:

    Gee You Are You.
    I just remember that if people were perfect they wouldn't be here on Earth (planetary school) in the first place and try to also remember that at the same time everything is perfect and there is no thing more or less perfect than any or other thing. It's all just vibrating energy which is mostly made up of humor particles. At least that's what my guru tells me 😉