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I started practicing yoga on a regular basis when I discovered a studio near my home. After several months, I noticed a pattern. One week, all my teachers would have us do twists and bring our attention to the kidneys. The next week, all of them would have us do backbends and notice the position of our collarbones. I wondered if this was a coincidence. In yoga, certain poses lend themselves to certain weather conditions, but the coincidence was much stronger. Finally, I learned that the studio director had trained my teachers and they all still took classes with him. What he taught my teachers in his classes filtered down into my classes. Immediately, this put me in awe of him.
The studio director primarily teaches teachers and teachers in training but he had a couple of classes open to regular practitioners. As my practice progressed, my teachers suggested that I try one of these regular classes out. I demurred, saying that I didn’t want to rush my practice and that I would feel like an upstart attending one of his classes.
These reasons were true but the overriding reason was that I was afraid that I wouldn’t measure up. If I showed up to his class, I wanted to do all the poses as good as everyone else in the class. I wanted him to see me as a worthy student if he was to see me at all. I had many feelings about how I wanted to present myself to someone that I had never met.
Eventually, I gathered the courage to go. I was nervous as I walked to class. When I entered the studio, I didn’t see him. I had only seen him in once before when he got off a bus and crossed the street, but I was sure that he wasn’t in the room. A woman approached me after I laid down my mat. I found out that she was substituting for him because he was out of the country this week. It was a reprieve. The class was challenging, but I didn’t feel the pressure that I would have felt if he had been teaching.
The next week was the real test. This time he was there. A friend who had been taking his class introduced me. He was friendly and very accessible. The class again was very challenging for me. I was nervous and I fell while trying to do revolved triangle, half moon pose and revolved half moon pose. After class, I tentatively asked him if I could continue taking his class. He said yes. I was elated.
My teacher is gifted. His understanding of the human anatomy is remarkable. He is extremely perceptive and can see the subtlest movements. His teaching style is distinctive. He rarely instructs us directly but instead asks us to ask questions about ourselves. In trying to find the answer, I’ve learned more and more about myself.
Recently, near the end of a class, he told us that someone had requested a certain pose. He began to demonstrate this pose but did not go into the full pose. In fact, he told us that he couldn’t do the full pose. He had a student demonstrate it. While I watched her demonstrate the pose and listened to him explain it to us, I started to feel very unsettled. I had always thought that a teacher should be able to everything a student could do, and more, but this was not the case. It threw me for a loop.
What was more unsettling was that I still wanted to go to class and learn from him. My teacher’s practice was not perfect yet it didn’t diminish the value of his teaching. This seemed contradictory to me at first, until I realized that from the start my teacher had been consistently defying my expectations. I had thought that he would be inaccessible, but he was warm and friendly. I had thought the class would be a place to get answers, instead, it was a setting for self-inquiry. I had thought of my teacher as someone who had mastered yoga, and instead, I found that we were fellow practitioners. In his practice, he was making mistakes and learning from them. In class, he was sharing his practice with me. The richness of his teaching came in part from his fallibility.
I used to think of my practice as a journey where time and change were major components. As time progressed, changes would occur. Lately, I have started to think of my practice as a forest that I’m wandering through at night. Every moment of my practice, I’m learning something new about the forest. Whenever a teacher shares a bit of knowledge about his yoga practice with me, it’s like a star lights up in the sky. Sometimes the light helps me see the forest better from where I’m standing.