Don't Idolize Your Teacher
I have been to several workshops with highly accomplished yoga teachers over the past few years. I’ve noticed that after the events, groups of attendees will get together and ask each other, "How did you like it?" Most people will start out complementary. But if you’re around people who feel comfortable with you, you’ll inevitably begin to hear some disappointments. “The workshop was really great, but this teacher always talks about the same things.” Or, “This workshop was great, but I didn’t get my question fully answered.” Or “She was not warm enough/didn’t give me enough assists/couldn’t help me achieve a certain posture…” the list goes on. I am guilty of it too--going into a workshop with an esteemed teacher with a high expectation and being surprised when the teacher ended up being…human.
In the past, I have even gone so far as to feel like I was starting to dislike one of my teachers, which perplexed me. This was a wonderful person…no reason to dislike. I finally realized that my feelings were from putting this teacher on a pedestal and feeling disappointed they weren’t able to live up to this impossible standard I had created.
What is this tendency to put teachers on a pedestal? I think we take our hopes and desires of what WE want to accomplish with yoga, and throw it all onto esteemed teachers to be the living embodiment of our ideal. We want to believe that our teachers are super-human, because that means we, too, could be one day. If we spend enough time with our teachers, maybe some of their magic will rub off on us!
But the reality is that all teachers are human. They are flawed, like the rest of us. I think it would be scary to be in that position of high reverence. People pay money to see you, and have sizable expectations. You have to be “on” at each and every workshop, no matter if you feel tired from travel or sick or grumpy or uninspired. You have to give yourself completely and be vulnerable. As they say, “with great power comes great responsibility.”
The same thing goes when you work with your teacher day-to-day. You may look up to your teacher so much, but it is impossible this one human could have all the answers for you. And really, that isn’t their job. Their job is simply to help you figure out the answers for yourself. I think any good teacher operates from that place. And while I do think it is necessary for teachers to instill confidence within their students, I don’t think it is helpful when teachers try to live up to this idolization, since it isn’t authentic. In the past, I've experienced a couple teachers who seemed to want to maintain their position on the pedestal, and that made it difficult to connect to them in a genuine and trusting way.
I try to remember that my teachers are human. If I am really seeking something from my teachers that they are unable to give, my first tendency may be to feel frustrated with them…but I try to always have compassion and remember their humanness. Teachers give themselves so selflessly, and I am so appreciative. If I have a frustration, perhaps the problem is ME… pushing too hard or wanting something before its proper time. Maybe I am the one who is clouded and unable to receive the guidance.
Or you know what? Sometimes teachers just flat out make mistakes! Maybe they didn’t give their best workshop. Maybe they rehashed old material. Maybe they were feeling ill and were unable to give their energy. Maybe they even gave you the wrong information in an asana. I mean, I think all teachers really hope that is never the case, but I’m sure it happens from time to time. We have to allow our teachers the freedom to make mistakes and not hold them to an infallible standard. If they are teaching, it is 99.9% likely they are doing it for selfless reasons and trying their best. For many, teaching is part of “their yoga,” a necessary step in their growth and self-discovery. Just as none of us are likely to attain 100% perfection in our asanas, teachers probably won’t ever be perfect along their path, and we need to be accepting of that.
Nowadays, it’s actually comforting to me to realize my teacher is not some perfect being, just as I’m not. When I am able to show acceptance for the person my teacher truly is, I also give myself permission to grow within yoga without holding some crazy high expectation of myself down the line.