I recently had a rough flight. Bumpy landing. Maybe lost a wheel or two. Maybe refused an oxygen mask in lieu of muscling through impossible circumstances. But the flight is over, and we’re walking away, and I find I don’t need to talk about it anymore.
(This is a metaphor).
The last chapter of my life is in the crash-landing position, heaving, with its head between its knees. Wondering which way is up, and if there is a ground, and if we’ll make it.
Simultaneously, I have become terrified of flying. I do it anyway, and pretend to be cool, except when I also jump six inches when someone taps me on the shoulder with pretzel mix and a napkin.
(Who eats pretzels with a napkin, the Queen?)
When I start to panic, I listen to Jaya Lakshmi & Ananda Yogiji, and in my fever, often have a visual of a plane full of white ninjas, the Kundalini tribe, chanting, smiling, and washing their cares away in that sweeping motion - arms over the head.
Mantra. The power of words, intention, repetition.
It gets me through the flights, and it’s getting me through this.
(I think I can.)
We start teaching mantra for a the same variety of reasons we teach anything: we saw someone else do it, we think we’re supposed to, it’s on a list of objectives provided by a studio, we want to be cool, we actually understand and like it.
If I teach mantra, it’s usually dividing the class in three and starting the right side first:
“Row, row, row your boat…”
Which, as it turns out, is a pretty decent mantra.
In my class we bless the rains down in Africa. We howl with Shakira. We groove with the X Ambassadors who believe we are SO gorgeous, and we like our sugar with coffee and cream.
Thoughts become words, and words become actions, and this makes words a really interesting middle man between what you’re doing (actions) and why you’re doing it (thoughts). Yoga says change your words, change your life.
The genre and the language are less important than your connection to the meaning. When you are in the Seat of the Teacher, you are flying the plane, my darling. Your thought-mantra gets blasted over the PA system while the message you’re trying so artfully to convey with your spoken words can get lost.
It’s a lot of responsibility, and it starts with you.
Mantra is your oxygen mask. It won’t teach the class or fly the plane, but it will help you think clearly.
(Don’t forget it).
An instructor gives you what you ask for, what you want. A teacher gives you what you need, whether you want it or not.
A guru shoves your shadow into the spotlight, illuminates what you've tried to conceal beneath layers of makeup and social constructs.
And they may not even know they've done it.
I question anyone who calls themself a guru, truly. We choose our teachers, they do not choose us. We stalk them by soaking up their words, their classes, their very essence and then - if we're lucky and we've done a bit of work, maybe with their help - we graduate. We transcend that relationship and move along.
Sometimes kicking and screaming, and sometimes, without a thought.
When I teach teachers, I'm often asked how people can teach things they can't do - and I like to answer out of both sides of my mouth.
On the right: If you are instructing asana, you can easily instruct someone through the contortions of the body without asking your body to do that very thing. And earnestly, I believe that performing an asana for someone to replicate is often mistaken for "teaching" by both the teacher and the student. We believe that those whose poses look sexy or perfect or accomplished on Instagram to be great teachers, simply because they can lick their elbows or dangle precariously over the edge of a cliff wearing incredibly tight pants.
(It helps to have a tight a$s).
This is not teaching. It may be art - either performance or photography - and it has some merit in that sense. But it is not teaching, and it is not yoga.
On the left: You cannot ask a student to meditate if you do not. You cannot teach lessons you have not learned. You cannot remove darkness when you remain in shadows. Teaching involves having been there - as in, the place where the ego roams, or the sadness stews, or the desperation runs free.
This is not a double standard. Let me tell you why.
You can be skilled at teaching and know only a small number of things. This can make you a great teacher.
You can be terrible at teaching and know ALL of the things. This will never make you a great teacher.
I have learned this lately, as I realize that what I teach has evolved from the basic asana, the rudimentary anatomy into the synthesis of material and integration of everything I've experienced so far.
A guru is a person who shoves you into the spotlight - often by accident - and never, ever, because it will make you bow down to them and call them a guru.
My guru was a boy who only spoke one word, and never took a step. My guru was a ridiculously amicable divorce. My guru was a 6cm polyp named Polly.
What is yours?