I received a comment/question from my previous post, The Difference Between Trust and Surrender, last week. The gist was how do we not lose faith in a particular system or style of practice when a teacher we trusted proves to be untrustworthy? Furthermore, is it possible to really separate the path from the teacher?

My answer…

It is very common for students to also lose faith with a particular method or system when they have lost trust in a teacher. I agree that there cannot be a total separation between teacher and path, but it is the way the teacher behaves and teaches that can help the student to avoid equating the two too much.

As I discussed in my interview in Ashtanga Parampara, as part of the Western educational system, we are raised on a diet of seeking approval and validation from teachers in exchange for good work. It is part of the paradigm of learning here and it makes students hungry for the approval of their teachers.

I was very lucky that Guruji deliberately sought to break that pattern when I went to study with him in Mysore. I was unconsciously applying the Western paradigm of teacher approval and validation to my yoga practice.  Guruji was not having any of it and it drove me nuts on my first trip to India.

In the end, I finally learned the lesson from Guruji that my practice was my own, independent of him and his approval. I am forever grateful to him for this. I have always sought to emulate Guruji and empower students so they would not feel dependent on my or any teacher’s good opinion or validation.

Since we are all a part of this paradigm, teachers and students come to yoga practice and can unconsciously work in the approval/validation matrix. It takes a very aware and conscientious teacher to help students break this pattern.

In the worst-case scenario, a teacher will seek to create and maintain student dependence as part of the business plan and/or to feed an inflated ego. The simplest way to make a student dependent is to make that student believe there is no separation between the practice and the teacher. The teacher keeps the student desperate for his/her approval and fearful of his/her disapproval.

It is in these more extreme cases that students have doubts about the practice when they leave a teacher. The collapsing of the teacher and practice leaves a very bitter taste for the student. Many students simply quit after having a falling out with a teacher. Others persevere because they have a sense that practice still has some value despite the teacher’s behaviour.

As teachers, it is our job to earn the trust of our students and to keep it. In your case, a healthy dose of skepticism where teachers are concerned is understandable and probably not a bad idea. No teacher is larger than the practice of ashtanga yoga. Trust your instincts and know that you have a practice that is independent of any teacher.