September 8, 2013

The Teacher I Never Met.

Photo: Lisa Cyr

After my very first yoga class 15 years ago I left knowing I had found my calling, or my dharma, to teach yoga.

But it was also a secret I kept to myself for many years.

I was living in San Diego at the time. I saw yoga teachers as being ethereal, otherworldly, better than I could ever aspire to be. I placed each of them on a pedestal, so high that I could never reach their heights. Needless to say, I had a lot of hang-ups regarding my self worth.

I was also in the midst of an abusive relationship, one that helped to whittle away my self-esteem, even more than I was already doing to myself.

I had been practicing yoga, religiously, five to six days a week, for nine years.

On those one or two days a week that I wasn’t in a yoga class, I practiced at home. I always returned to my seemingly magical mat. I’d Google teacher trainings like a junky might search for a high.

Though I never enrolled in one, it remained a secret, a dream that I kept inside, even though the tapas, the burn, and discipline was already there.

Then one day after practice, while doing my usual online teacher training voyeurism, I read an article in the local news about a beloved yoga teacher in San Diego that was killed, by a trailer hitch coming loose, flying through his front windshield, killing him instantly. There was an outpouring of love and gratitude for this thirty two year old yoga instructor.

I found recordings of his teaching and saw his beautiful practice, how simple he made it seem to go up into a handstand and come out as gracefully as he went in.

I watched in awe at how soft he landed when he jumped into plank and how his breath guided his body from Downdog into Crane as if he were a shapes-hifter turning magically into a bird.

Witnessing his practice was kin to watching how a flock of seabirds surf the air inches above the waves without ever getting wet.

I enjoyed watching his soft, yet very strong demeanor.

I was sure had he not been killed that he would’ve eventually been my teacher. And something compelled me that day, after hearing of his death, then watching the footage of his practice, to finally sign up for my first yoga teacher training.

I was nervous, still didn’t feel adequate enough to follow in the footsteps of such grace as he, but the words, “the death of one, births another,” inspired me. I had a calling to walk in his footsteps, and when I got scared, I drew on his energy to comfort me, and his grace guided every step I took towards becoming a yoga teacher.

When those self-doubting days arrived, I’d meditate on his essence.

He spoke to me, told me, “Don’t be scared, just fly,”—of course these were the words I imagined him saying to me, but that came from within, out of meditation.

After I completed that first training I took a pilgrimage to his studio. I needed to practice as a budding yoga teacher in the same space that my teacher, whom I never met, had taught me how to embrace the seat of a teacher.

The bamboo in the studio warmed my heart.

When selling my car a few years back, I ran across in my storage bin, a piece of paper that had been there for years, because I wanted to keep it, on it was scribbled the address of his yoga studio. At that moment I knew I had to write to the person that carries his legacy, his mother.

I wrote a note explaining how he inspired me, even though I never knew him in physical life, and how his spirit continues to fill me

I’ve had numerous, wonderfully gifted teachers over the years since those beginning days of teaching. I am profoundly grateful for each one of them. On Guru Purnima, the time we dedicate and honor our teachers, our Gurus, whether they be Buddha, Krishna, Gandhi, or our physical body teachers, we honor those we value for their teachings and the profound significance they offer our lives.

I would add to my list of teachers a man I never met, just as I have never met so many of them.

I now embrace wholeheartedly my life as a teacher and walk in the footsteps of those before me, those with me, and humble myself before all I have yet to learn.

I’m still guilty of placing my teachers on pedestals, but I’ve learned the difference between respect and worship and through all these wondrous teachers that I’ve come to know, the greatest teacher of them all, is the breath and the value of this very precious moment that we’ve been given, life, both the mortal and the immortal one.


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Ed: Catherine Monkman

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