Teaching Yoga is an honor. It is an opportunity to share what is most sacred in us, and an opportunity to guide others in the process of transformation. This is not a small thing. It is not only an honor; it is an enormous responsibility. For who among us can point the way to transformation if we ourselves have not tread that path?
No one steps into the role of Yoga teacher without a whole lot of support from our families, friends, communities and our own teachers—Yoga teachers and teachers of other disciplines. In other words, the whole of our lives creates us as teachers, but the Yoga teachers we choose will, perhaps more than any other factor, determine what kind of teacher we become.
I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon the Yoga teachers who have most influenced my teaching and my life: Donna Farhi, Judith Hanson Lasater, the late Mary Dunn, Elise Miller, and Pujari and Abhilasha, all of whom worked directly with B.K.S. Iyengar in their formative stages as yogis. I’ve attended workshops here and there with many others, all of whom have contributed to my knowledge and practice. But the teachers who have most influenced my practice and teaching are the six I mention by name.
After participating in some 15-20 workshops and three teacher trainings with Donna, I’ve learned how to treat my body and mind as partners in this practice. From Donna, I’ve learned the importance of listening to my body and practicing with integrity. From Judith, I’ve learned so much about the inner workings of the body/mind, and how life on and off the mat are really the same thing. Mary was a fount of enthusiasm and commitment. She taught me about the joy of tapas. Elise has shown me the power of humility and kindness in teaching.
Pujari and Abhilasha most fit the traditional mentor/student model for me. I met them at a weekend workshop in 1985, and realized immediately that these were teachers I needed to learn from. I attended many Yoga and vipassana (insight) meditation retreats at their small center, The Last Resort, over a period of 25 years. Some of my stays there spanned 30 days. Pujari and Abhilasha have been present for my inner transformation—my darkest nights and most joyous celebrations, my particular obstacles to awakening, and the moments when I transcended those obstacles. While all teachers I’ve mentioned have been models of integrity, it is my many retreats with Pujari and Abhilasha that gave me the safe space of complete acceptance that has allowed me to find my own integrity as a human being and as a teacher.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Pujari and Abhilasha were on the fast track to what would be called Yoga “stardom” these days. They chose instead to open a small retreat center that would house no more than 10 participants at a time. Their intention was to live a day-to-day Yogic life and to share that life with small groups. Their deepest commitment was to waking up and creating a space where others could wake up. They gave 100 percent at every retreat, and the power of their generosity of heart quietly transformed the lives of many, many people. People from all walks of life came to let go, fill up and open themselves to new ways of experiencing the world. Their retreats were always full and had waiting lists.
My years of working with Pujari and Abhilasha taught me that the Yogic path is not one of rainbows and unicorns. While there are certainly moments of experiencing the vastness of being, the transformation process is about slogging through our deeply held, life-shaping beliefs—the filters that distort the reality of who we are. It is an incredible gift to have had the non-judgmental support of teachers who understand the painstaking process and where it leads. More than any of the multitude of asana techniques I’ve learned, it is deep meditation in the compassionate hands of these teachers that informs the way I teach.
A few years ago, Pujari and Abhilasha retired from teaching retreats. They will now devote their lives even more fully to practice, along with experiencing some of the joys of worldly living—things like vacations—that they put on hold all these years. In every morning’s metta (lovingkindness) meditation I honor them—and all my teachers—for all they have given me. My Yoga teachers have taught me that I am not a person alone in this world. I owe whatever wisdom I’ve gathered over the years to everyone and everything I’ve encountered, especially my teachers.
As you begin your practice each day, take time to acknowledge your teachers. Who are your most influential Yoga teachers? How has your life changed because of them?