For me, being a yoga teacher is, among other things, a tremendous joy and passion to which I am deeply committed. I would be lying if I said it was only to serve others. In fact, by serving others through teaching yoga and body work, I benefit from an increased sense of self-worth. When I feel I’ve taught a good class or have helped someone feel better, I feel good too. My spiritual path provides me with a rich ground to experience life; to engage in a dialogue with self about who I am and how I perceive the world. It is also a tool that helps me to stay grounded even in compromising situations (which I seem to find myself in often!) In this way, this path is also an ongoing challenge; to be continually drawn back and forth between roles as ‘observation post’ of the sakshi, who is aware of a larger, interconnected universe, and the smaller, ego-based self complete with its insecurities, opinions and critiques of the world. Based on discussions with other teachers, my guess is that I’m not alone.
At the end of the day, even the chirpiest, most peaceful, seasoned yoga teachers are human beings who are in the grips of the mind which, try as we may, we will never fully control. Whether the teacher is consumed with how many people are on their class roster, what people are saying about them in the changing room, how they might compare to the ‘competition’ or how they feel in their own skin on any given day; rest assured that at one time or another, all yogis are shadowed by the interplay of ego and insecurity.
To be a teacher at all requires an ego – a sense of self enough to sit or stand in front of a group of people and wear a ‘hat’ of sorts to gain attention and trust of the people in attendance. Then, there is the paradox between the practice of losing the ego as a practitioner, and holding a reign on the sense of self enough to command a class and stand behind what is being taught.
To take it a step further, there are various methods of yoga that can play a part in defining the teacher’s ego; these styles generally come with their own label and sub-meanings, including its associations with this or that clothing, place, lifestyle, or superstar. A teacher can understandably become consumed with wearing that label a little too tightly as a second skin; hiding behind it or even being conditioned by it.
Of course, we live in a culture of labels. Starting with our name, the place we live and brands we consume, it is all too easy to get caught up in a trap of seeing ourselves as a brand; business professionals even champion it. This is territory well covered in books such as No Logo by Naomi Klein. Even more thought provoking is Spiritual Materialism by ChÃ¶gyam Trungpa, differentiating long term happiness with (small)self-improvement for ego-based intentions. One of my favourite quotes from this is the following:
â€œThe attitude of “heroism” is based upon the assumption that we are bad, impure,that we are not worthy, are not ready for spiritual understanding. We must reform ourselves, be different from what we are. For instance, if we are middle class Americans, we must give up our jobs or drop out of college, move out of our suburban homes, let our hair grow, perhaps try drugs
[or get tattooed]. If we are hippies, we must give up drugs, cut our hair short, throw away our torn jeans. We think that we are special, heroic, that we are turning away from temptation. We become vegetarians and we become this and that. There are so many things to become. We think our path is spiritual because it is literally against the flow of what we used to be, but it is merely the way of false heroism, and the only one who is heroic in this way is ego.â€
I often hear or sense teachers judging one another and/or their students based on certain criteria whether be based on clothing, diet, method of transport, preferences or aversions to studios or yoga styles. Rest assured that any judgement transferred from one being or group onto another is based on perception; and this the ego at work. Every ego implies insecurity, and thus, stepping out of this and into the larger framework of the interconnected matrix of which we are all a part is, for me, an important practice and constant process in finding even a fleeting happy existence outside of the this world of murmurous churning thoughts.
There is always a delicate line between having a presence as a professional (having a website with a timetable, self-publishing words such as these for the world to read), and being true to one’s intention. I remind myself daily of priorities and blessings (family, health) and continually re-set my personal reference points of practicing compassion and attentive humility.
And when all else fails, I take great solace knowing that each moment I can start fresh, begin again…