In the seventh grade, I went on a church retreat.
One night, we all met in the cozy common room in front of the fireplace for hot chocolate and a guest speaker. I don’t remember anything about him except for the moment he said, “Did you know that there is more physical proof that Jesus Christ walked this earth, died for your sins and was risen on the third day than there is that Napoleon Bonaparte ever even existed?!”
This was followed by a long pause and extreme eye contact with everyone in the room.
I did not make eye contact with the man. Instead, I looked around the room and saw that some people were hanging on his every word, heads shaking in wonder. My head was trying not to shake in a different type of disbelief and I looked down to try to hide what I was thinking.
I saw Napoleon’s bloodstained chess set.
When I was in elementary school, I bugged my parents to take me to see a castle. They took me to the Biltmore Estates outside of Asheville, North Carolina. I was fascinated by the bedrooms where I imagined princesses lived, the underground pool and this little stained desk with a chess set on top. The guide told us it belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.
When Napoleon died, his heart was placed on the desk and examined to see if he was poisoned. I forgot the pool and the princess rooms. That bloodstain was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. It was history three feet in front of me—bloody, bloody history.
When I heard that man state there was more physical proof that Jesus (died 30 A. D.-ish) lived and died than Napoleon (died 1821) ever existed, my belief in the infallibility of spiritual teachers was demolished.
My faith was rocked.
I started asking “Why?” and “Is it true?” in church and I haven’t stopped since.
I tell this story to illustrate a point for fellow yoga teachers: If we are going to participate in spiritual dialogue and teach asana, it is our responsibility to our community and students to know what the hell we’re talking about.
Here are some examples of things I have heard over the years:
1. Before playing the entire Don McLean American Pie song in a class close to the Fourth of July a teacher said, “This is like a birthday song for America.” (Except it’s about that time Buddy Holly died in a horrible plane crash.)
2. “Abs counter backbends,” said while cueing hips up for bridge, lots of boat pose, hips up for bridge, lots of boat pose, repeat….
3. “This ab work will prepare you for the backbending series.”
4. “You don’t need to know what this Sanskrit means. It’s a phonetic language—the sounds are inherently sacred the way they resonate in the body. Just copy the sounds I make.”
Examples one and four are fairly innocuous, but the two and three are not (hint: the answer I have found in studying is somewhere in between.) I share these examples not to spark a shaming storm in the comment section, but to show that there are constant opportunities to learn from one another. Look at number four, it is practically a dissertation topic!
I share this as a call to action: activate your curiosity! If you are reading this article, you have access to the internet. If you have access to the internet, you have access to unlimited books, video and other media.
My fellow teachers, we are lifelong students first and teachers second.
The people who come to our classes and workshops trust us. You owe it to yourself and those students to not simply repeat what someone tells you—find out what it means and if it is true. We need to do the work—to question, research, experiment and participate in dialogue.
If your teacher is not interested in doing the same, find a new teacher; welcome questions and get excited when you do not know the answer.
What a great opportunity to grow!
What an amazing time to be a curious human being with all these resources at our fingertips.
Let us not take it for granted.
Emily Taggart is an active member of the spirit community in Sacramento, California. In addition to teaching regular yoga classes, she is director of operations for the California Spirit Festival, a mom and overall lover of life. Emily shares what inspires and challenges her at yaynamaste.
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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Bryonie Wise