October 1, 2014

Yoga Teachers are Human.

walking to yoga

My alarm goes off—it’s 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning—I drag myself out of bed.

It’s dark outside, everyone in the house is still asleep, I kiss my husband and kids, brew a pot of coffee and jump in my car.

There’s no time to waste—I’m driving to New York from Virginia to take a yoga class with my teacher. The drive is roughly six and a half hours and I’m just going to make it by the skin of my teeth.

I don’t even recall the last few hours but I have just reached the New Jersey Turnpike so I know I’m close and I start to get excited.

I met Ruth many years ago by stumbling into her class—she came highly recommended.

I fell in love fast and hard—she has this very childlike demeanor about her and yet a stern discipline that made me want to do everything she asked. Upon completion of teacher training someone suggested to me to ask for a senior teacher to mentor and keep me on track, on my toes.

There was no question, Ruth was everything I aspired to be as a teacher.

I don’t take this drive every weekend but try to make it once to twice a month. I get into class by 10 a.m. and we end about 11:45, take a short break and gather for more teachings. I stay the night in the city, visit friends and grab dinner.

I take class again the following morning then get back on the road to Virginia. I make it just in time for dinner, which is usually a pizza, with my three kids and husband. The pizza just spent the last six hours driving me crazy because it smells so good.

One might say this seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to take a yoga class and my response is just try it once.

I pull into Manhattan and make it to Union Square without a hitch. No metered parking on Sunday so it’s easy to find a spot and I have just enough time to grab one more cup of coffee. I run upstairs, check in, toss my things in the coat area and make my way to the classroom doors. I gently place my mat down on the floor, grab a blanket and sit.

I’m here, I made it, I’m safe and all is right in my world.

I anxiously await for Ruth to walk into the room, and then she does and it always feels like Christmas morning. She makes eye contact with several students, smiles, nods and sits down in front of the harmonium. She doesn’t need to quiet anyone, we all know the drill. She begins to play and leads us through a chant, we sound like angels following her lead.

Ruth is an exceptionally unique yoga teacher with years of study and experience. Her dharma talks come from a personal place of experience and authenticity—she shares a great deal of herself.

She opened her talk today by sharing an experience she had when confronted by a neighborhood drunk and how she found this person unpleasant. She went on to describe how this person was too close to her, speaking loudly and was grabby.

When she said it again, “I found her unpleasant” my jaw dropped.

She found her unpleasant? My thoughts were racing and then it happened and I don’t think I was alone when I let out a resounding whew in relief! She found her unpleasant. 

I find people unpleasant all the time and so does Ruth and then it struck me like lightning—so did all of my teachers. Why? Because they are human beings with human being experiences.

Yoga teachers are not impervious—they are human beings going through the same things students are going through.

They fall in love, they fall out of love, they have families and friends they enjoy spending time with or perhaps they don’t. They have disagreements with others and sometimes a little tiff with their partners. Sometimes they are in a bad mood, sometimes they make mistakes, act irrationally and have a melt down.

They are humans and they are yogis trying to do the best they can in this magnificent world.

This realization was comforting to me—I often beat myself up for not loving everyone, for getting angry and not recovering quickly, for not always being compassionate as swiftly as I’d like to be and for sometimes taking more than 15 minutes to get over a disagreement.

What I found most incredible in her words was that she felt small in her actions and she took note of that and realized that being small wasn’t something she wanted but that she wanted to be large and when I heard her say that I applauded inside because it felt like a parade was going on.

Over the years I have often heard students say they don’t consider a teacher they once followed to be their teacher any longer because the teacher did something to turn them off or showed a little too much humanity. I sat with my dear teacher one evening and asked about this—she was very firm and said your teacher is always your teacher without question. People are people and just because a teacher has a moment of weakness it doesn’t negate all the good they have done in your life.

And that’s it—people are people and just because a teacher has a moment of weakness it doesn’t negate all the good they have done in your life.


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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr




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