Teacher, Student, Teacher: The circular relationship
A student of mine named Natalie qualified last year to teach yoga with my Yin teacher Norman Blair and Ashtanga teacher Melanie Cooper. She has recently taken the great leap and started up her classes. I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend a couple of them and I’ve begun to help her to publicize them so that others might experience her lovely teaching.
Some interesting and surprising reactions have come about as a result of this and it got me thinking about the role of the yoga teacher…
Two weeks ago, as I sat on my mat waiting for Natalie to start her class, another student walked in whom I did not know (but who obviously knew me) and said, “I didn’t think you went to other people’s classes April?” I think I merely looked slightly shocked in response.
When I suggested to my own students that they go to Natalie’s class, two of them responded that they couldn’t possibly do that because that would be “disloyal” to me.
Natalie said that while teaching she often heard my voice in her head and she wanted to be careful not to use words I use.
These occurrences got me thinking about my own relationship to my teachers, the beliefs I hold and the importance of the teacher-student relationship.
My Yin yoga teacher Norman Blair comes to my classes. It is an honour to have him there. I believe a good teacher is also a student and learns from and is inspired by their students.
I think there is a lot to be valued in having one teacher, one voice. When I was first introduced to the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice, John and Lucy Scott were my teachers. Then, they moved to New Zealand and I felt “teacher-less”, then they came back; then they got divorced. This was a wrench. If I went to work with John would that be being “disloyal” to Lucy? For the record, I have seen them both since they separated and it has been wonderful experiences on both accounts.
I do think a plethora of teachers causes confusion in practice (and particularly in a system like Ashtanga). If you cannot get to the same teacher at least pick a lineage. Pattabhi Jois taught John and Lucy and John and Lucy taught me. When I can’t get to John or Lucy I see Sandra Howling (a student of John’s). Yes, they all see the practice through their own personal lenses but they sing the same song.
John Scott shared a letter from one of his students, which said:
What is the role of the Yoga Teacher?
To me the answer is simple and clear:
To SEE that LOVE is all around
To make that LOVE VISIBLE to others
To plant that SEED of LOVE in the students
To help them in turn GROW that seed of LOVE
The teacher is the gardener and the guardian of that SACRED GROWING cycle.
To ease suffering, yes, and to fill all wounds with LOVE.
So really if you get this from your teacher then I’d hang on to them but there also always comes a time when we have to let our teacher go…
Like these words from my first teacher of yoga Baba Hari Dass who said:
Nothing is greater than going within (to know the Self). The real guru is your own Self. If you don't know the Self, then the physical guru is just another object.
In the end, it has to be about your own inner teacher. The practice has to become yours, not teacher dependent. But we need the teacher initially and those words of the teacher that we hear in our minds are the guidance.
In my classes I often hear my teachers’ words leaving my mouth…but these words have also become my own words and my own yoga mantras.
“Work honestly, meditate everyday, meet people without fear and play.” – Baba Hari Dass
“Just this body, just breathing.” – Norman Blair
“You can do it.” – Lucy Crawford
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting the words of your teacher leave your mouth. After all, you want to say them because they inspired you – pass that inspiration on to your own students!