Inspired by questions from students and friends, here I begin a series of musings on various things YOGA, from the practical to the mystical. It's an enormous subject matter, that is enormously subjective, so please take my Yoga Thought Bubbles with many heaps of sea salt if you choose to read on.
And please feel free to send me your questions, and we can share in this digital dialogue together.
Yoga Thought Bubble 1: How do I find a good teacher?
I thought it appropriate to begin this blog series with the question of how to find a "good" teacher, as the teacher is usually your foray into the yoga world. I put quotes around "good" (and would use quote fingers if I were speaking to you about this in person) because how you feel about your teacher is so personal. As with all relationships, it is ultimately about your personal connection. Does the teacher say things that stir your spirit, that feel like she simply must be talking specifically to you? Do you feel like you learn and grow in some way, every time you take his class?
I suggest that if it's possible, read the teacher's bio or check out his website prior to attending class. The bio usually serves as a helpful introductory blurb to who the teacher is, not just how deeply he can bend backwards. To me, more important than the level of physical achievement a teacher has reached in her own practice is whether her philosophy / perspective of yoga (and of life, really) speaks to you. Of course the physical aspect is important as well; the practice is physical, after all, and in a yoga class, the teacher is using the language of the body, whether demonstrating or offering an adjustment / enhancement. But permeating the physical will be his energy, and whether it is vibrating on the same wavelength as yours. It's very much like how it would be to listen to a lecture in a language you understand versus a lecture a foreign language.
After reading the bio and choosing a teacher, try to take that teacher's class at least a few times. As with all relationships, there needs to be a period of getting to know the other person. Sometimes it feels like love at first sight, where you feel really wowed and inspired and changed forever! This might blossom into a long term relationship, or it may not withstand the test of time. In other instances, it may take more time before you energetically warm up to the teacher, so it's probably best if you don't immediately write anyone off because you weren't that impressed or moved during the first class. Speaking from the teacher's perspective, sometimes it may just be that you caught us on an "off" day.
When you do find a teacher that you really love, you'll probably find it helpful to maintain a fairly consistent practice with that one teacher. This isn't to say that you should only go to one teacher. That would be unnecessarily limiting, because you can and will learn something from everyone. I can honestly say that I have either learned or been really touched (not in that way) (well, except for that one time...) by every single teacher I have ever taken class with. But to have one teacher who really knows your practice and who you are as a person is an incredible gift. Whether recognizing when you're ready to advance in a given pose or when you're in need of a shoulder to cry on, your main teacher will become your yoga foundation, your yoga roots, your "mentor", so they call it. This will be someone who is truly interested in your growth and evolution as a person, a depth that can only be reached if you really open yourself up to him/her.
I am infinitely grateful for and humbled by mine.
And not to worry: your relationship with your yoga teacher isn't expected to be a monogamous one. I asked my teacher about that once, because I felt guilty (thanks, Catholic upbringing!) about wanting to attend someone else's class. She laughed and thought it was sweet of me to be concerned about her feelings, but as the yoga practice is about detachment from the ego and one big love, she encouraged me to go on and sow my yoga oats. She said, "It's totally fine and great to take other teachers' classes as you'll probably get something different from them, because we're all teaching from our own personal experiences. But you'll probably find that you have your home that you always go back to."
For me, this has proven to be very true. I now live half a world away from my teacher, but no amount of time or distance has really separated us (especially in this wonderfully modern age of technology!). As the years have passed, and time zones and zip codes have changed, and babies have been added into the mix (hers, not mine), she is still my yoga home.
So, to me, finding a so-called good teacher is a pretty big deal. I daresay it's akin to finding your life partner. Do a bit of due diligence, have an open mind and an open heart, and feel for that intuitive pull in your gut that will always ultimately guide your way.