I’ve been doing yoga for a long time, and over the years my teachers have been a diverse bunch, ranging from a deeply introspective yogi who spent a year naked on a hill in Kashmir (really) and insisted his students wouldn’t benefit from the practice unless we did four grueling 2-hour classes per week, to my current one who is a cuddly, beer-quaffing guy in baggies who says things like, ‘chakra schmakra, whatevs,’ and is just happy when people show up.
And what strikes me is that, while I enjoyed the seriousness of the yogi’s class and being all righteous and ohm shantied of an evening, the guy who arrives in shorts and a t-shirt and smacks his hairy stomach before telling us to put our ‘tits to the floor’ is every bit as good an instructor as the other guy who walked around during Shavasana throwing water from the Ganges on our heads.
And it’s a funny thing about us humans – give us half the chance to be vain and pose-y, and we’ll grab it with both hands. I know myself – when I go to yoga in my turquoise Lord Ganesh vest with matching beaded necklace, I am instantly more enlightened. If I happen not to be wearing makeup that day – hell, I’m practically Baba. And it’s particularly ironic in light of what yoga practice is supposed to be about – humility, self-awareness, acceptance and detachment. But, who doesn’t stare at the next ou and think, shoo – now that is a kak downward dog, my friend. Or, no, lady, you really need to think about getting a pedi. Like, yesterday.
We love judging, comparing and bolstering our own egos, and there can be few people more lacking in self-irony than the kind of instructor who shows up in tie-dyed trousers, reeking of patchouli and doesn’t even bother to hide her disdain for we pitiful mortals who can’t do the head stand and probably ate bacon for breakfast. And if the instructors can’t leave their egos at the door, what hope do the rest of us have? I guess it’s a good example of the adage, ‘we teach what we need to learn.’
Unless you do have nothing better to do than be naked on Kashmiri hills, it’s pretty tough managing eight hours of yoga a week, never mind following the recommended diet of lentils, water and air. And that’s okay. That life is not for everyone, and who wants to give up Chardonnay? While we are all suckers for marketing, and beer-loving guy opts not to wear purple harem pants and a rose quartz headband, what he gets right is his enthusiasm for this beautiful art, his sense of humour and his refusal to put himself on any kind of pedestal. He’s a just a dude who believes in yoga and wants to share the love. And, isn’t the most important thing that, instead of watching the Kardashians over a bucket of KFC, we’ve shown up with our little rubber mats and are willing to stretch and sweat and learn?
So, to my mind, the best teachers are not the ones who fasted in Bengal and flagellated themselves with banana leaves (though they’re certainly an interesting bunch), but those who remind us to leave our judgements and prejudices at the door; that we are all flawed and ridiculous and, at the end of the day, more alike than different. And if we could all remember this and live our lives accordingly, the world – and it’s yoga classes – would really be miles more fun.