by guest author and Wellington Yoga Teacher Bruce Foley
Being a yoga teacher feels like two opposing forces pulling at me simultaneously.
I am attracted to the act of teaching and derive great pleasure from it. It makes me feel good about myself as it tests my sense of courage and self-belief. It answers the question as to whether it is OK to trust my instincts because an intuitive class structure rarely lets me down.
I see validation; recognition and understanding [of the path chosen] in the eyes of those who participate. Anyone who deserves to be called a teacher knows how the gratification of ones own ego interferes and degrades the authenticity of the teaching process itself.
I always feel good after teaching in as transparent a way as possible because I know I’ve made other peoples lives a little bit better, or sometimes a lot.
I’ve helped people suffering from depression to keep their head above water, and I did it without needing to know their life story nor require them to risk the fragile things stored inside their hearts. Beyond the class I know that I have shared a set of tools that they may be able to use on their own to self-medicate in a truly natural and healthy way.
With so many positive attributes associated with teaching it may come as a surprise to learn that I am often repelled from being a teacher.
This is negative force that at times has threatened my desire to continue teaching.
I worry about being seen as a stereotype, something not real. Western culture has a narrow and messed up view of Yoga, and eastern doctrine is so elevated that I can’t even see the top of it because I fall so far short of the ideals.
I worry about what my participants see – or what they don’t see – when they look at me. When they ask me to challenge them, inspire them, but not break them. To show them the way.
After years of teaching I can see what it has given me, and what it has not. I made a decision a long time ago that Yoga would not ever be my religion. I would not throw myself blindly into it, relinquishing my own essence, my desire to search for answers to questions posed by my own heart, questions that are often so formless and organic and wild that I could never hope to trap and define them in something as simple and artificial as words.
What do they see?!?
It is instructive to look at a couple of well known Yogis, who to my mind have been confused with being the process, rather than a conduit of it.
John Friend is an obvious and contemporary example. A beacon of virtue and a paragon of clarity and confidence. Showing a new and meaningful way into Yoga for the modern practitioner, only to then fall from grace in the revelations of both his home-wrecking philandering and the financial pilfering of the great riches his Yoga empire had accumulated.
The messenger got well and truly shot down when the illusion of greatness was shattered.
If one is inclined to think that Yogis might naturally choose to show compassionate equanimity in the face of such a fall from grace, think again. While many quarters did react with a calm and well-thought out philosophical response, many of those in the Yoga mosh-pit brayed for sacrificial blood.
Then of course there is Bikram Choudhury. Many western yogis have embraced this man as if he is the yogic equivalent of the second coming. It’s baffling and appalling that people can’t see through the 2 dimensional larger than life façade designed to make this man the wealthiest self-made Yogi in modern history.
I don’t dislike him, nor do I deny the powerful good he has brought into many peoples lives. I just don’t understand why people can’t see him for what he really is. Again, the messenger has become confused with the message, and in this case, he sits on a pedestal made of gold.
But this is not me.
I do not wish to be shot down nor elevated up. I am not the source, I am not the process, I am just working as a channel to deliver and realise an idea turned into motion and energy.
The process is perfect, in the most beautiful and truest sense of the word, but I am not the process and I am everything the process is not. I’ve heard it said that we are what we repeatedly do, but I have no ambition nor desire to be falsely identified with something as sterile and inhuman as a beautiful idea.
I have doubts, I have fear. I question myself and sometimes I only half know what I’m doing.
At certain times in my life I even feel that I am a trainwreck and the only thing I am sure of is I have an innate capacity for love, and as long as I don’t lose sight of that, I will continue to sparkle in the classes I teach, no matter how dark my life becomes outside of them.
At the end of my most recent class a gentleman I have not seen in a long time came to talk to me.
He told me of his injuries. He told me of his sickness. He told me of the breakup of his relationship and of his new partner. He told me of the death of his new partners mother and of the fact that his son was no longer living with him. He told me of an $80,000 bill he faced because his house had been built badly and leaked. He told me of the pressures of his job and how it was sending him on trips around the world, leaving him little time to spend on himself, thus explaining his absence from Yoga.
When finally he stopped talking, I took a moment to wonder what on earth I could possibly say, and I realised there was nothing I could say, so I hugged him instead.
I don’t think he expected that, but it was the right thing to do, as I felt something crumble, not just in him, but in myself too. It turns out he didn’t need to hear the words I didn’t have to say. He just needed someone to care. I did care, all I had to do was show it.
Being a Yoga teacher requires cultivation of the heart. It requires you to grow as a person, and in true form, as you give, you get back.
If there is a God, then God meant me to teach, he gave me that gift, but he never said I needed to be any better than anyone else because of it. I don’t think he ever wanted me to live with such a burden or responsibility, and I unshackle myself from it.
I know I am not the process, I’m just a slob like everyone else. As long as I share that process with genuine sincerity and with an authenticity that can only come from within, then I am simply following my calling.
The bottom line is, if I didn’t teach, I would still be a slob, but I would be a bigger slob than the one I am now.
Read more about Bruce Foley, including information about where he teaches in Wellington.