“I am your guru, I will always be your guru” was one of the first sentences spoken by a yoga teacher leading a 200 hour training. Hearing stories like this always makes me worry about vulnerable students during teacher trainings, which is pretty much everyone. The minute you open yourself up for this kind of journey there’s an instant vulnerability, especially to the influences of a teacher. This alarming trend of self-proclaimed “guru teachers” inspired me to write an article about finding your guru. But I felt like this needed to go deeper: like those who were taking advantage needed to be exposed.
Fortunately, I am a firm believer that the universe has a way of working things out. After the emergence of multiple lawsuits against widely popular guru teachers it’s clear the global yoga community has finally put its foot down. No longer will we stand for sexual harassment disguised as physical adjustments or the advances made by unethical teachers.
Beyond the the obvious unethical behavior there is a wider issue at stake for those seeking spiritual salvation. Suddenly, we are marketed with the idea of a guru teacher and being sold on the idea of reaching “samadhi” (union with the divine: pure bliss). Despite being optimistic, I have a hard time believing anyone making claims for their “enlightenment.” I trust that anyone who has attained such a state would have no need to proclaim it to the world. I do accept there are leaders with priorities other than gaining status who hold genuine concern for people rather than profits. Abundance is possible while helping others in the process, I am simply suggesting that not every single guru teacher has this in mind.
I am not saying do not seek spiritual freedom or a yoga teacher. Find a yoga teacher who is humble, skilled, and confident without being overzealous. Luckily, there are many passionate teachers in this world who have found this delicate balance. Here are a few warning signs and what to look for in a yoga teacher:
1.) If someone refers to themselves as your Guru or Teacher (exclusively)… RUN
Yes, they can call you their student but beware if there is an attachment to exclusivity. There are so many amazing teachers that have valuable insight to offer. However, beware the guru teacher. This may be a situation where bolstering their ego takes priority over truly making a difference. Any great teacher can recognize there are many other skilled professionals in their field without feeling threatened by them.
2.) Their method is “the best” method
One of the unique parts about teaching yoga is all of the different perspectives offered. There are so many types of yoga and teaching styles that can fit specific needs, so how could you justify “the best” method? For instance, during asana practice (a.k.a. the poses), alignment and teaching methodology has many inconsistencies even between well-known, experienced and knowledgeable teachers. When you also consider all of the different body types and abilities there can’t really be one perfect method. There are many experiences, intentions, and considerations, but who is to say what is “right” and what is “wrong.” The way that I’ve come to terms with this concept is finding what is right for me, and that is what I like to share with students. However, what’s right for me may not be for everyone, which is perfectly fine.
3.) Understanding that we are all human
We’re all human, we’re all sharing this experience… So let’s stop putting yoga teachers on a pedestal! Don’t get me wrong, I have a few teachers who I really look up to. They have incredible teachings to share, but one of the greatest qualities a teacher can possess is empathy. A teacher is not immune to sadness, weakness, doubt and fear, but hopefully they are determined to overcome these hurdles and encourage you to do the same. These fluctuations are part of the human condition, but the frequency and variability of these emotions can be soothed with yoga and meditation.
If you are seeking a teacher, be cautious of the warning signs but maintain the understanding that we are all human. We all seek growth, and continue to be in the process of learning. It’s the ability to connect with your own true nature for purpose and guidance. I encourage everyone to find great teachers in their life, but always listen to their inner guru. This will be your most powerful tool to discovering true value in the knowledge you already possess.