In my life I have broken up with men, best friends, a family member (or two), and now, my yoga teacher. However—and I want to be clear—I did not leave her.
She left me.
Although she sold her studio and moved, she will never leave my heart. Her guidance has forever changed my practice.
This has gotten me to thinking about what makes a great yoga teacher. If you ask five different yogis you will get five different answers, which leads me to believe that my cup of tea in a teacher is not for everybody.
In fact, my teacher was not for everybody. She could be, how do I say this tactfully, unpleasant? A bee-yatch? Completely effing crazy? But I like crazy in a person, especially when their crazy is due to passionate, obsessive love for yoga.
Like the great “Lion of Pune,” my teacher had a passion for yoga. She was demanding and her alignment was precise. I once spent 20 minutes trying to get Triangle pose while she yelled, “More, more, more.” What the what?
If I go any deeper someone will need to call 911.
She was tough because she cared greatly and she expected much from her students. She loved us and wanted every single student to be the best they could be. Honestly, I don’t remember half the things she yelled at me, but over a year I heard this once, and I’ve never forgotten it:
“Michelle. That was very, very, very, very, very, very, very (wait for it……) good!”
Oh my god! I nearly dropped dead from the shock!
It is hard to find this kind of teaching today. Instead, teachers seem to be concerned about making their students feel happy and successful. We live in a world where everyone is a winner. Everybody gets a trophy. All the kids are MVP’s.
And now, everyone’s an expert yogi too. Teachers are taking out the hard poses and replacing them with a bunch of feel good poses. “Good job,” the instructor says over and over again like a broken record. “You are standing soooo tall, such a good yogi.”
I am not that interested in absent-minded approval. If I want to be loved, I will find my dog. I go to public classes to learn. I am hoping to be seen.
I’m hoping the teacher will shed light on my practice and help me grow.
And I’m hoping for real, hard-earned, old-fashioned praise for when I do it right.
But I know that is not for everyone. My teacher was tormented by those miserable, anonymous internet reviewers on Yelp. She would print off some of the wackiest reviews and we’d have a good laugh. But inside, I was sad for her. I know what it is to have people on the internet call you names and point a finger from behind a curtain. I know it too well.
I believe she was misunderstood because she dared to correct her students. She wasn’t interested in making everyone feel “successful.” She was interested in making people better. Until that moment, they may have had no idea that they were practicing in an unconscious manner. The truth will make you wiser, but first it will piss you off.
For me, practicing asana is about practicing life. I do not just “do” the poses. I am learning to be present with them, to feel them like a living being, from the inside out. The poses are my stepping stones to finding more off the mat.
They are not the point of life—they are the means to finding more.
I am seeking my path, and I want a teacher who will catch me when I stumble along the way.
With so many teachers in the world, how do we know who is right for us? It’s actually fairly simple: The right teacher is the one who sees you. They see where you can grow, and where you need support. They will make you fall in love with yoga, every time you come to the mat.
Perhaps on a day when you really need to hear it, they may tell you, “Good job.” And knowing that you earned it will make all the difference.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: litratcher at Flickr