Trusting a Guru Again
It’s late at night and I’d rather be sleeping. But sometimes inspiration strikes at the strangest hours.
It’s the night after the Sharath Miami event. As I lay in my bed wishing for sleep, I instead find myself reflecting over the week spent with the paramaguru of Ashtanga yoga. I think back to the morning I dropped Lisa off after the conference. I told her, “I don’t know what it is, but it’s been kind of an emotional week for me.” Indeed, it was. Though I very much enjoyed the week and felt it was a great honor to be practicing under the holder of our lineage, something was bothering me in the background, and I couldn’t quite place it… until tonight.
It hit me all of a sudden: being around a guru and hundreds of his students was bringing up some negative feelings from my experience of being a Bikram yogi, and feeling let down by the head of that lineage, Bikram Choudhury.
If you’re not familiar with Bikram's story, in recent years several female students have come forward to accuse him of sexual assault. And while I cannot judge a man over something I have no solid proof of myself, in my gut I knew something was not right with Bikram’s conduct around his female students--I witnessed it myself at his teacher training in 2007 and at various yoga events following. When his recent troubles came to light--especially after I watched a video from a girl I knew from teacher training describing her assault—I felt deeply saddened and let down. I’ve never been one to fully idolize another person, but I did place faith in Bikram. I paid him thousands of dollars for his teacher training, and I wanted to learn from him. I spent years of my life dedicated to teaching and practicing his yoga. I'd had my doubts about his conduct at times (prior to the allegations), but I gave him the benefit of the doubt and stuck up for him when others berated him. When the rape charges surfaced, it was the last straw for me. My trust had been broken and I became very disenchanted with the idea of a guru and following someone with blind faith.
When these unresolved feelings started showing in Miami, It cast a subtle sense of skepticism over my entire experience, to the point I even started to question my involvement with Ashtanga yoga. But now that I know where these feelings are coming from, I can look back with a rational mind and say this experience is nothing like my past one.
And it's Sharath who has made all the difference in the world for me. When I reflect on my time with him, it eases my concerns. I’ve only spent a week learning from him, but so far, it’s pretty clear he is someone worthy of trust. He exudes a genuine, kind energy. He shows dedication, care, and compassion when working with students, choosing the words with which he addresses us mindfully. He seems calm, grounded and humble. While he’s the sort of person who commands respect in a room filled with hundreds of yogis, he doesn’t intimidate, nor act superior.
At our Ashtanga Intensive at Miami Life Center, Kino MacGregor once said that a good way to tell if a certain style of yoga really works is to take a look at the head of that lineage for a glimpse at the end results. She cited Guruji Pattabhi Jois as always being kind and joyful, which inspired her to continue on the path of Ashtanga yoga. I never had the pleasure of meeting Pattabhi Jois, but from what I see of his grandson Sharath, I feel very reassured about my dedication to Ashtanga yoga.
I am not ready to throw my full faith into any guru just yet, but I definitely feel safe placing confidence in someone like Sharath. Coming from my experience with Bikram, it is incredibly important to me to respect and like the head of the yoga lineage into which I now place my dedication. Thus far with Sharath, I have that, and I am very thankful.
If the Bikram situation taught me anything, though, it’s that guru or not, we are all human and subject to imperfections, whether big or small. I will not hold Sharath or any of my teachers to an impossible standard, but I am looking forward to being able to put full trust in a lineage and a guru once again.