Tuuli asked me some questions yesterday and I am posting my response here, both for Tuuli and for anyone who didn’t make it to practice for the talk at class this morning.
Every teacher that visits Yoga is Youth brings to me a memory and piece of Sri K Pattabhi Jois.
When Peter Sanson was here it was like having the man in the room. And the way magically he could put you in poses. With Nancy I remember Guruji as a healer. How he would fold one into poses, and how you felt he was working in an almost magical way on the body. With David Roche, who is coming, I remember his demanding perfection. And I remember how Guruji would sit and sit and watch David Roche practice. It was a wonder to behold for any of us, the awareness and body understanding with which David Roche moves. Guruji saw it too. He spent a lot of time watching what he was doing and noticing. He noticed everything.
With all of them I remember how emphatic Guruji was about practice. How much he cared that you did it, that you showed up, that you gave 100% of yourself. He cared as much as we did and more. This made you willing to do the same. It made it easier to overcome the obstacles. To overcome the “fearing,” go to the edge, and breathe even there.
We are very lucky to know these teachers. To have them come and benefit from their understanding of the practice. And yet they don’t always agree and it’s for good reason.
Pattabhi Jois taught YOU. This is the tradition. We think its the order of the poses and the vinyasa and I’m not saying that it’s not important where the drusti goes. What I’m saying is that Pattabhi was a good enough teacher to look at YOU and give you his best sense of what YOU needed. Sometimes looking forward is what you need. Sometimes looking at the nose. There isn’t leeway in the practice on the big things. And there is a method. But he did allow for differences in human beings and if you were around him for any length of time you learned he taught you as an individual.
The emphatic way that he taught and the way he cared about the practice is something that is clear if you study with any of his students. And the leeway with with he delivered the method was to me a clear message. All of this is a tool to develop stillness of the mind. You must find a way and stick to it as your practice. Don’t get distracted from the point of all this by the small details. They may change but the practice itself doesn’t.
As teachers we all carry a bias towards teaching what we learned when we learned from him. If he taught us the poses slowly that usually is the way we will teach them. If we were/ are given postures more quickly we tend to dole them out in this fashion. While to develop past the bias of our own body is to develop more fully as a teacher, it is also hard ultimately to be anything other than the body you are and the point of view you carry on the practice. And Guruji, too, wisely seemed to know we teach the practice from where we are and the bias of how we are.
So yes, Guruji was right, having different teachers can be confusing. He did say that many times. If you are looking for a simple way to achieve enlightenment there is a simplicity and ease to having one teacher give you a practice and sticking with it.
I do feel, however, strongly that study with the senior teachers in addition to study at the source has given me a greater context of understanding for what I learned in India. It has given me a better understanding of what they were trying to teach me. And I think that if you can step back from details as they come and stay flexible there is a lot to learn and more to be gained than is lost.
Another relevant thing that’s has come to me through all of these teacher visits is this:
While a teacher is there to support you in your practice, they are not just there to make you feel comfortable. Ideally a teacher wants you to grow. They can sense when you need someone to be there and feel when it’s time to challenge you to do something on your own. The tendency of the mind is to fall into patterns. At first when you are practicing you want to build a good pattern of practice. This is the first step in changing your life. However at a certain point when your new pattern of practice is established it in itself will become an obstacle. We become identified with that which is meant to liberate us. And this is the opposite of what yoga is for. This is why keeping a teacher is important, especially to help you through certain junctures. A good teacher is able to push you at that point, and question the habits and assumptions you have come to be identified with.
Oh I can’t do that.
If I go back alone I’ll land on my head.
And for me, I have found that staying in the stream of exposure to new information can help rather than confuse. Sometimes you may process what a teacher brings and realize it doesn’t help you. But more often they can also bring you a new perspective or point of view just when you really need it.
Like anything this can all come down to a matter of degree. Too many perspectives can and will confuse your practice. But in its proper measure it can greatly benefit you and help you to see more of what yoga is, both for the body and more importantly for the mind.