In today’s world of “rock star” yoga celebrities there is a tendency for students to glorify their yoga teachers just as much as there is a tendency for yoga teachers to want to be glorified. Students want to follow and teachers want a following. Students want approval and teachers want to be loved by all. This is off course, not true for all teacher-student relationships in the yoga world; and there’s certainly nothing wrong with admiring a knowledgeable teacher and wanting to learn more under his/her guidance; but as yoga is much about finding your own truth through your own practice, blind faith can be incredibly damaging.
Traditionally, the world “Guru” refers to a teacher or master. Gu (darkness) and ru (light), refer to “one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.” While yoga is a physical practice (whether in meditation or through movement), it also walks the fine line between spirituality and religion. While spirituality implies freedom, a search for knowledge and truth within oneself or the universe, religion on the other hand is dogma. The dictionary definition of dogma is “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” Religion requires blind faith. In blindly following, we can easily turn our yoga practice from spiritual to religious, and in doing so, we lose our ability to think, observe and experience our own unique condition.
Since the popularization of yoga by Krishnamacharya in the early 20th century, many forms and philosophies of yoga have emerged. Krishnamacharya’s lineage gave birth to Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. A classical form of yoga also grew from the teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati and gained in popularity by the work of his disciple, Swami Vishnudevananda. More recently the yoga world has seen a flood of even newer forms such as Anusara, Jivamukti, Scaravelli, Forest, Power, Yin . . . . and the list goes on!
Each form of yoga is differentiated by its approach to the philosophy of yoga and its approach to alignment. In some cases, the names of postures may even be slightly different. As responsible yogis, it is important to view each form of yoga as an offering of knowledge. Draw inspiration from all types of yoga. At the same time, question them all. Do not follow any single one with blind faith while judging all others as wrong. If in the end you choose to follow in absolute purity one single form of yoga, do it consciously and with knowledge and awareness that the lessons of the others do not benefit you. But then again, it is impossible for us to try every single form of yoga, so therefore, I suggest always keeping an open mind. Try to avoid thought processes such as “My teacher taught me this. You are saying the opposite, so therefore you are wrong.” These are the kinds of thoughts that lead to war and as yoga is much about peace, it is important for us to respect and accept everyone’s own unique path on their journey to discovering their own truth.
Remember also that you are your own Guru. While there are certainly many knowledgeable teachers out there to study with, very often, their opinions and teachings may conflict. Do not be discouraged or confused. It is up to you to determine what is right for you. In practicing with awareness and honesty, the answers will reveal themselves.
Blog post by Julie (juliehana.com)