Be your own guru
There’s a lot of talk in the yoga world about gurus. But to practice yoga in the modern world, you don’t need to have a guru. ‘Guru’ is a word that is used more in India, and it has the connotation that you give your life to this person, that you kiss the feet of this person and that you must be wholly accepted by this person. This doesn’t describe the kinds of relationships we have with our yoga teachers, and this is where the term tends to be misused a lot.
I have had two very influential teachers in my life but I wouldn’t say either of them were my guru. The first was the very well-known Bikram Choudhury, who I did my teacher training course with in Hawaii. Before I attended the training, I knew what Bikram Yoga was, as a practice, but I didn’t know anything about Bikram, the man himself. I watched some videos of him and I was a little apprehensive – there he was driving a Rolls Royce and yet teaching that we shouldn’t have an ego. I wasn’t sure what to expect!
But Bikram was a good teacher. He was very straight, blunt and sometimes harsh. He’d tell you how it was without any kind of ‘screen’. I found him to be quite funny at times – he could make you laugh, make you cry, make you hurt and make you bored! It seemed like a lot of people didn’t quite know how to take him. You either love Bikram, or you hate him. But he teaches you life.
There were a few very important things I learnt from Bikram that stay with me to this day. Don’t give up. Keep breathing. Patience. Without these lessons, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today.
Following on from my teacher training with Bikram, I had the opportunity to study at another teacher training course in Mexico with Tony Sanchez, the founder of the CORE 40 style of yoga. A lot of people in the Bikram world had been talking about Tony and had told me if you want to do ‘real’ yoga, Raja yoga, that Tony was the man to see. I felt an instant connection to him when I arrived at training. He was the opposite of Bikram – very quiet and reserved. Again, he was an amazing teacher. Whenever I asked him a question, he would answer with another question, forcing me to seek out answers on my own. I would say that Tony taught me to be my own teacher, my own guru.
I learnt a lot from Tony, and especially a lot more about the history and roots of yoga. He also taught me meditation, and to persevere, to keep practicing all the time. We are always learning, whether it is from our teachers, from our peers, our students, the environment or life around us. It’s all about exchanges of information.
Now I feel I would like to find yet another teacher, to round out the experiences I gained with Bikram and Tony. There is a very old Indian man, Dharma Mittra, who lives in the United States who I feel I could learn a lot from. I’d love to go to India, to study with some ancient teachers, though I’m worried yoga is more about business in India these days… there are no more old yogis living in the hills!
I believe in this day and age you need to be your own guru. You need to seek out the answers to the questions you want to ask. You need to find your own truth. Over the years I have taught myself to be able to detach from my mind, and to really see the ways in which I am functioning. To recognise patterns I keep falling back into by practicing non-attachment. I have taught myself to practice consciousness. And I am always reminding myself to go back to my breath. A teacher can show you the way to these things, but only you personally, can take yourself there through self-awareness.
Seek and ye shall find.