May 6, 2015

The Respectful Student/Teacher Relationship & What Makes a Guru.

Yoga_Teacher / Visitor7

So often, we define “relationships” as being with loved ones, family members, and friends. 

However, throughout any given day, we will encounter many relationships, on different levels, and with various people.  Examples of these relationships may include the grocery store clerk, our server at a restaurant, and… yes, even our yoga teachers. 

What is the true role of a yoga teacher?   

Let us begin with a few definitions regarding the different types of teachers. There are yoga instructors, who instruct classes and postures, similar to a class you might find at a fitness center, mostly focusing on the physical aspect of the practice. Next, we have yoga teachers, who not only instruct postures and classes, but in addition, teach the lifestyle, philosophy, yamas and niayamas (the inward and outward observances of yogic living) and the like.

Then, there is the often-confused term of “guru.” The word guru means, yoga master, or spiritual teacher. Guru comes from the Sanskrit word “gur,” meaning to raise or uplift. A true guru will have attained an extremely high degree of spiritual development before serving in the capacity of a guru. The word “guide,” rather than “guru” is sometimes more easily understood

Depending on where you are in your practice, you can determine which one, or ones, of these “teachers” you are connected with at this time. Any of the above should be serving as a good example of yogic lifestyle, maintaining the integrity of this sacred tradition.

Having had the opportunity of teaching yoga over the past 25 years, I feel it is an honor, privilege and blessing, to do this sort of work. I also feel it is essential that a teacher of yoga uphold an attitude of seva (service) to their students, offering inspiration, motivation, knowledge and example.

True teachers, or gurus, continue to learn and grow, while at the same time, serving as mentors. 

Students travel on an inward journey, seeking their own true source of inner peace and wellness. It is important that students understand that feelings of bliss, joy, truth and awareness that arise, are from their own inner guru and do not come from the teacher or any other outside source.

A guru or teacher is merely a representative of the guru within, assisting in expediting the process of growth, toward self realization or enlightenment through guidance, energy transmission, lineage and their own heartfelt, divine-inspired knowing.  

By saying this, I am, in no way, downplaying the role of the teacher, and the honor and respect that this mutual relationship must have in order to thrive. I am, however, encouraging students and teachers to maintain a balanced attitude in their relationships with one another.

Gurus and teachers are, most certainly, human beings, with their own sets of issues, ego and karma. Often, it is assumed by students that a person in that role is beyond worldly issues. Not so.

Over the years, I have had several opportunities to spend personal time with my guru, and have discovered that he, too, has the same worldly issues as the rest of us. (I.e. business decisions, deaths, aches, discomforts and the like.) Anyone inhabiting this human form is not exempt from these things. The difference is how the enlightened master deals with life’s issues, and realizes their true place and meaning in the big picture. It has been my observation that a true master encounters all situations with grace and equanimity.

Here are some suggestions to contribute your part of the student/teacher relationship, expressing respect and bhakti (devotion) toward your teacher, as well as other students and to extrapolate the most from your practice.

Be open to receive the grace of your teacher or guru. Prepare for this and for your yoga class/practice as though you are preparing for a sacred ritual, not just, “going to exercise class.” If you are in the presence of a “true teacher” they too have done this prior to entering the classroom. You can do this by mindfully getting ready for class and perhaps while driving there observe silence, or listen to relaxing music (rather than talking on your cell phone). 

Enter the studio with reverence, taking shoes off, observing silence. You can even use the day to prepare for your yoga class by being mindful of what you eat, ingesting less stimulating foods, perhaps a lighter, more yogic diet, maybe creating a more reflective day if possible.

Be present while in class, and commit yourself fully to your yoga practice. (This is really more for you than the teacher.) Doing so will assist you greatly in achieving the awareness and enlightenment you may be seeking. Keep in mind you will also be adding to the overall collective energy of the class room.

Dress modestly, not in a distracting or revealing way. One of the yogic observances is moderation, this includes our appearance. In the newer more trendy forms of yoga, skimpy, tight fitting yoga clothes have become the norm. In traditional & authentic yoga practice, simple, moderate attire is suggested.

Surely this next piece of advice should go with without saying, but you could not imagine the amount of times I have heard a cell phone go off while I’ve been teaching a class or worse yet, during savasana. Please turn your cell phones off or leave them in your car before entering the yoga studio. Even vibrate is not appropriate.

Feel free to ask your teacher questions and for guidance with issues that come up for you. Be grateful for the teacher’s input and be open to the guidance, but stay in tune to your inner voice as well.

As with all relationships, sometimes boundaries are necessary. Again, always listen to your intuition and discern what does and does not work for you. 

Be realistic about expectations of the relationship and what you may attain. Don’t think the teacher will solve all of your problems or grant you “enlightenment.”

Sometimes, a teacher will prod a student to look inward, to “look at your stuff,”—try not to take this as being picked on or personal, but try to see the value and growth potential.

Be courteous and supportive to your classmates. Get to class on time, as arriving late or leaving early is disruptive to others. 

Avoid gossip in general, especially about your teacher. Though teachers play the role of guide, remember they have personalities and quirks too; refraining from judging or gossiping about them shows respect.

Refrain from excessive conversation. It is traditional for students to enter the classroom in silence, in preparation for practice. After class, abstain from engaging your classmates and teacher in casual conversation. Allow yourself to take the “yoga buzz” with you, offering others the same opportunity.

In closing, it is most important that the student-teacher relationship feel right, that there is growth, respect and inspiration occurring for both. I like to encourage my students to “be their own best teacher” by observing feelings, both physical and spiritual, as well as really listening to their inner voice.

Blessings on your yogic journey!


Relephant Read:

Yoga Teacher Fails: What not to Do.


Author: Cathy Woods

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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