In the wake of the sexual misconduct scandals presently rocking the entertainment industry, so many people are left wondering: what do we do with the work—often work we love—of individuals who have committed heinous acts?
It is a question worthy of deep exploration, but it is also a question that has existed within the yoga and fitness communities for decades (if not longer).
What do we do with the words and practices of great teachers who have fallen from grace? One need only cast a stone so far as the edge of a yoga mat to find a litany of the disgraced from within the yogic community.
Yet, the disgraced need not be teachers in DVDs, on the covers of magazines, or even savvy guru tycoons who have established seven-digit followings on social media. The disgraced can be little known. The disgraced can be our own local teacher. The disgraced can even be us.
These scandals—in Hollywood, in yoga-wood—are sensational for the fact that they touch on dark truths about the nature of being human. They offer to us the startling insight that great works and great teachings can come from people with dark histories.
They hold up a mirror to many of the things we try to ignore in our society, and possibly even in ourselves.
When one finds a teacher whose words or practices resonate, it can be deeply unsettling to then discover that the teacher has fallen short of their own teachings. For some, the psychic discord is so great that they either defend the teacher blindly or they abandon everything associated with that teacher—every word, every practice, every kindness. To do either—to defend incoherently or blatantly reject everything—is to never have been fully present to the practices in the first place.
It is to have needed magic instead of practice.
Teachers are human. To need a teacher to be flawless is to need a non-human entity or a spiritual saviour. Sometimes, students want to see perfection in a teacher as they crave a sense of hope about what they could become, or they simply crave hope.
Consider though: is it possible that Kevin Spacey can so effectively tap into creepy personas for dark roles because of his own darkness within? Is it not the same for yoga and spiritual teachers?
I once saw a comical meme about yoga teachers that read something like: “10 percent of yoga teachers find yoga through illness or physical ailment; another 10 percent find yoga through spiritual seeking; the remaining 80 percent of yoga teachers are simply neurotic control freaks who use yoga to channel their neuroses.”
The meme was, of course, funny and received many laugh emojis on Facebook. Most people in the yoga community can appreciate the element of truth in such a blanket statement. Yet, the lines blur quickly when it comes to our expectations of teachers, leaders, or any pillars in our lives.
Regardless of how one teaches yoga, even a purely physical practice can sometimes have spiritual consequences regardless of the teacher’s belief system. Therefore, it would be imprudent to think of yoga teachers as gym rats leading the charge to physical wellness. The fact that teachers create a safe space for breathing and being with clients leads both parties to vulnerability.
When I first began teaching six years ago, I rarely engaged with my clients in any meaningful, personal way outside of the practice. I was terrified that they would get to know me and realize that I was hopelessly imperfect. I saw the positive differences the practice was making in their lives and I did not want my own imperfections to impede their journeys.
This, of course, was not only naive, but it was effectively untruthful—a “hiding out” of sorts—and it did a disservice to both myself and my students. Not sharing of myself meant that not only was I teaching, in part, from a place of fear, but I was also effectively ignoring the fact that I, like everyone else, was on a journey.
Yoga does not heal us overnight; in fact, yoga is only one tool in a large toolbox of self-healing modalities. To need any other being to be something other than what they are is to deny one’s own humanity and setup scenes of disappointment.
Yet, so often, this is what we see in the yogic community: teachers who appear healed and full of light, and then fall when something chips the flimsy, austere veneer.
So, what should we do when we discover a great teacher is more human than we previously cared to believe?
We should carry on.
We should utilize the practices that served us and continue using them until they no longer do.
Teachers, at best, are merely modes of transmission. Most teachers rarely say anything unique; they teach from the teachings they too were taught. They also teach from their own darkness and their own light, which exists in all of us. Most probably, this, in part, is what led them to being a teacher.
Even more important though, we, as humans, should encourage the truth of humanity in others. Rather than seeking perfection, we should seek truth and genuine connection. To experience such connection though, we must do so without attachment to the outcome. If it matters that another person is imperfect, then there is inner work to be done on our end.
Rather than seeking an external guru, seek inner wisdom. Heal yourself so that it matters not what others do. A teacher, a mentor, an admired artist, cannot fall from grace if they were never put on a pedestal in the first place.
In turn, as teachers, we should live our truths. We should own our imperfections and share of our own struggles when the time warrants it. We should own our humanity. We are teachers—not gurus, not saints, and certainly not deities. We are humans, completely fallible. To practice yoga in a way that conceals one’s humanity is to practice something other than yoga, a practice based on the idea of union.
It is undeniably disappointing, and even frightening, when we learn of dark flaws in others, particularly those we once perceived as worthy of our admiration. It can even take us back to early realizations of parental imperfection, when the veil of childhood began to lift.
Yet, the gift is in the illumination of the inner work yet to be done and in the acceptance yet to come.
Author: Julie Bolitho
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May