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The Path, The Teacher and Losing Faith

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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.

My Interview on Ashtanga Paramapara

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My interview is live on the Ashtanga Parampara website. Thanks Lu Duong for the opportunity. It was a lot of fun to participate in this project.

To read the interview, click the image above.

Tom Rosenthal – Photographer and Ashtanga Yogi

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I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to profile Tom Rosenthal. We’ve overlapped in Mysore so many times as well as in New York.

He’s got a a great eye and I love his work. His dedication to practice lends him a unique sensitivity to photographing yoga asanas.

The Sacred Space gallery is very special and worth perusing.

Check out his website.

Reply to a Comment on my “Healing Injuries” Post

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I wanted to share a comment and my reply from my recent post, Healing Injuries with Ashtanga Yoga.

The comment:
Sorry mate – you could not be more wrong – when you have a muscle tear caused through stretching too far in ashtanga you should not try and “HEAL” yourself by doing more ashtanga. I disagree entirely, my wife who is a yoga instructor injured herself when another instructor pushed her too hard in an adjusted ashtanga position and as a 30 year old female, it took her 18 months to get back to where she was before.

My reply:

Your comment is an expression of anger recalling what must have been a very trying time for you and your wife.

I’m truly sorry to hear that your wife was injured as a result of an adjustment. It’s unfortunate when that happens. I don’t know the details of what happened to your wife. I don’t know which asana she was doing or which teacher was helping her and went too far.

There are some asanas that I don’t often adjust because students are too vulnerable in my experience. I also measure my adjustments based on the relative flexibility of a student. It’s often the case that a more flexible student risks over stretching and injury far more than a stiffer student. My teaching style has never been based on only deep adjustments. There are some instructors who make a name for themselves in that way, but it comes with inherent risks as your wife learned.

I’m going to have to disagree with your comment, though. Here’s why.

Your comment is a logical fallacy. You propose that if one gets injured practicing ashtanga yoga then one cannot heal oneself doing ashtanga yoga. This is 100% incorrect from the standpoint of logic.

In addition, citing the length of time it took your wife to heal is not at all relevant to the ability of ashtanga yoga to heal injuries regardless of their cause. As a result of suffering an injury doing the ashtanga practice, she and/or you may have chosen never to practice ashtanga yoga again. That’s fine and maybe reasonable under the circumstances particularly if the teacher involved wasn’t able to restore your trust in him/her and the practice itself. However, it still doesn’t alter or weaken the point of my post.

My wife suffered from wrist and knee pain in the past and used ashtanga yoga to heal herself. It took her about eight months to heal her knee and about a year and a half to heal her wrists. During this time, she had to back way off in her practice. It wasn’t easy and she had her doubts at times about whether it was ever going to get better. Both injuries healed as a result of practicing ashtanga yoga.

I want to again offer my regrets that you and your wife had to go through her injury. That completely and utterly sucks. I hope she and you are still practicing yoga regardless of method or lineage and are finding it useful and beneficial to your well being.