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October 4, 2014

Yoga Teachers Are Not Impervious. ~ Lisa Asha Rapp

Viranchyasana_by_Caroline_Klebl-_2014-02-20_09-54

My alarm goes off. It’s 3 a.m. on a Sunday morning, and 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 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 NJ 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 child-like demeanor about her, yet a stern discipline that makes me want to do everything she asks of me.

Upon completion of teacher training, it’s suggested we ask for a senior teacher to mentor us to keep on track and on our 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 or twice a month. I get into class by 10 a.m., 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 with my three kids and husband which is usually a pizza that just spent the last six hours driving me crazy because it smelled so good in the back of my car.

One might say this seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through to take a yoga class, and to those people my response would be, “just try it—once”.

When I first pull into Manhattan I 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 her 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 exceptional and 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 opens her talk today sharing an experience she had when confronted by a neighborhood “drunk” and how she found this person unpleasant. She goes on to describe how this person was too close to her, was speaking loudly and was grabby and then she said it again, “I found her unpleasant.” My jaw dropped.

She found her unpleasant? My thoughts were racing 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. Then it struck me like lightening—so did all of my teachers. Why? Because they are human beings with human 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 irrational 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.

But what I found most incredible in her words was that she felt small in her actions and she took note of that. She realized that being small wasn’t something she wanted, but that she wanted to be large.

When I heard her say that I almost applauded. Well, I probably did 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 they 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 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 our lives.

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