“The teacher’s job is to reveal the inner truth of the student’s divine self. When that job is done, this relationship must end. This is the final representation of yoga’s ultimate goal, which is liberation. It is counterproductive for a student to remain with a teacher beyond the scope of his or her learning” (Kaivalya 64).
Five years ago, I embarked on my own transformation from yoga as a form of exercise to yoga as a way to liberate myself from, well, myself, as it turned out. Part of this transformation was to complete a teacher training program. I had no desire to teach yoga at the time; I was already a burned out high school teacher looking to get out of teaching, not deeper into it, thank you very much. I wanted to know that I was doing my crow pose right. And I really wanted to do advanced inversions and I had neither the core nor the upper body strength to do them. So, those were my goals as a student in teacher training: master crow pose, and be able to stand on my hands. Deep, huh.
When I met my teachers, though, and one teacher in particular, they both validated and challenged my goals by agreeing that it’s really fun to be able to stand on your hands….but…the ability to stand on your hands isn’t a lot different, ultimately, than the ability to stand on your feet. As I would come to find out, for some standing on their hands is actually easier than standing on their own two feet, who knew.
I had a lot to learn, and, fortunately, my teachers were up to the challenge. “The teacher and student within the context of yoga exists for one purpose: to guide the student home to their highest truth” (Kaivalya 63). The teacher with whom I identified the most and considered my primary “teacher,” did just this. I became her student beyond teacher training; I attended her classes nearly exclusively for the next four years. She questioned me, challenged me, pushed me physically and mentally, and I fell into the role of student very willingly. As a full-time teacher, it can be hard to feel permission to be a student. Of course you can ask any teacher and the stock answer is, “We are all always students; we are all always learning.” This is a true statement, but teachers (of any grade, subject, philosophy or concept) feel a greater responsibility than most to be self-taught. It can be a challenge to give up the teacher persona and give oneself over completely to the seat of student. Again, ask any teacher and they will say their toughest audience is…a room full of other teachers!
My yoga teacher said to me over and over again, “Just be yourself.” “Just be yourself.” “Just be yourself.” My “highest truth” revolved (and still does) around cultivating a level of authenticity that I wasn’t allowed to have through most of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. In fact, my greatest life challenge, like it may be for a lot of people, is to “just be myself.” My teacher’s early sense of this, her willingness to push the lesson over and over again both on and off the mat, created a connection that, at times, seemed both deeply satisfying and deeply unsatisfying. Satisfying because I was learning amazing lessons….unsatisfying because learning is hard, and I was especially uncomfortable with not knowing all of the answers.
The time has come, inevitably, for my teacher-student relationship with my teacher to end. Because the universe has its own way of doing things, this has not come by my choice, or hers, but, rather, by a series of events that have naturally progressed to her relocating to another state. Though I believe very strongly that it’s the teacher’s role to empower her students to realize their own gifts, their own strengths, their own ability to go forward and find new teachers, it’s not easy; it’s scary. But, there’s a lesson in all things. By being so myopically dependent on my one teacher to the exclusion of all others, did I misappropriate undue power to her? Did she, by not pushing me to explore other teachers, miss out on an opportunity to teach me; and, can I take a lesson from that in my own seat as teacher?
Tonight should be my last class with my teacher, but I’m fully prepared to accept that my last class with her may have already happened. Every year in my role as a high school teacher I would say goodbye to my seniors, wish them well, offer them the privilege of calling me by my first name (few do, even 10-15 years after they graduate), and tell them to “keep in touch.” While there are some students I miss seeing and talking with, my sense of loss has never equaled my sense of joy and pride as I watched them move to their next stage. I’m now understanding a little more why some of them acted out in the last weeks of school, became overly emotional, stressed, or sassy. It’s fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of letting go of a teacher. Fear of an inability to take their lessons and move forward. All the fears I’m having now.
My next stage will be to take a step back. I’m not just saying goodbye to my teacher, with all of the gratitude within me for her constant, steady presence in my life; I’m saying goodbye to a stage of my yoga life. I began yoga, as many do, from a very physical mindset. I wanted to lose weight and touch my toes. In teacher training, I wanted to advance those physical abilities. But now, my teacher has, unknowingly yet forcefully, issued one final challenge: to look for my yoga beyond the physical. Beyond the dance. Beyond the vinyasa. Beyond the asana. To see that there are other limbs of yoga and to move toward a new level of liberation. To push deeper to find that authenticity that is my highest truth.
I’ve been preparing for this on some level since the day our paths crossed. Every beginning means an ending is in sight. Every hello means an eventual goodbye. Every rise into an inversion means an inevitable descent. Every savasana is a period at the end of a practice…and the next sentence must come. The teacher in each of these beginnings is to move gracefully from a goodbye; the teacher in each goodbye is to trust that a beginning, too, is taking place.
Kaivalya, Alanna. Sacred Sound: Discovering the Myth & Meaning of Mantra & Kirtan. Novato, CA: New World Library, 2014. Print.