Teach Mastery, Not Membership
As teachers, it is wise to include among our goals the intention to produce another who is a better teacher than ourselves. Yogi Bhajan, master of Kundalini Yoga, constantly reminded his students they needed to be ten times greater than he was. This seemingly lofty ideal not only serves to keep the technology and teachings of yoga alive throughout the ages, but also serves to keep us humble as teachers.
There are three keys to accomplish this. The first key is to be humble and remember that we teach to uplift our students, to awaken to our students, and to liberate the consciousness they already possess. A teacher does not teach for gain or loss, recognition or appreciation, popularity or infamy.
The second key is to recognize the stage a student is in and teach according to the needs of that stage. We all grow in stages. We need different challenges and lessons as a child, as a teenager, and finally as an adult. In yoga, we go through five primary stages. Find the level of each student's needs and skills, then lift them up one notch. We will discuss the five stages in Part II of this article. Now we will explore the third key, which is to teach your students mastery, not membership.
Mastery vs. MembershipIt may seem simple—and it is. But it is not always easy. The mind and ego seek security and certainty. They seek it automatically and mostly unconsciously. We are uncomfortable standing before the unknown when we are unsure of our status.
Here is an example. Students learn a pPranayama such as Breath of Fire (a rapid pumping of the navel center while breathing powerfully through the nose). The students take the normal steps of modeling the teacher, recognizing the mechanical movements needed, focusing on the energetic changes that accompany the practice, and crystallizing a steady, clear awareness. Excellent! They can do Breath of Fire for three to 11 minutes, steadily and without minds drifting.
Then, like water freezing and solidifying, they suddenly become members of the "accomplished ones." They now have something. A subtle divide splits their perception into those who have it and those who do not. An ego develops that makes them just a little cold, a little self-defensive, perhaps awaiting acknowledgement. Perhaps comparing themselves to other members of the accomplished breathers. As they attain more and more, the split becomes more rigid. Everything is right, well done, and transparent, but separated by a clear, cold barrier. They risk becoming gymnasts instead of yogis; instructors instead of teachers.
This is very natural. The mind seeks security as much as variety. The positive feelings of accomplishment that come with mastery are certainly welcome and earned. But once we think we have something, then we have to defend it, promote it, expand it. We want to secure what we have gained.
Teaching Accomplishment and Pure IntentionThis is a world apart from the intention to crystallize the accomplishment and to qualify that accomplishment to meet the identity, frequency, and values of our Self. As teachers, we must test each action and accomplishment on the touchstone of consciousness and monitor our minds' tendencies to use them for personal gain or subconscious needs. Then we can act purely to uplift our students and make them their best. This has two steps.
First, to crystallize the accomplishment, we bring our actions before our infinite Self, our unlimited consciousness, our divine Being. We make sure the actions and efforts we make are from our original Self. Then we assess our reactions to the action. We filter the mind's reactions until we can be with the accomplishment as it is. We qualify our Self as real and original in this action. We are fully present to it and to its consequences. We accept the consequences of the action and the identity it expresses.
Secondly, become zero. Stop everything. Want nothing. If you have a desire, desire to be desireless. We always have desires. Each thought leads to feelings and desires. So direct that desire to be desireless. Feel everything as a gift of the Infinite. Feel you lack nothing and that this moment is as it is, complete and present.
It is only when we spend some time wanting nothing, being nothing, that we can fully engage life, commit to our identities as teachers and humans, and let things come to us according to the identity we establish in our actions. It is this state that adds intuition to your perception, so you can see what is, and what the consequence is of each action.
Just think of buying a car. You have many influences in making your choice. You want to buy one that is "you," whether it is basic or luxury, classic or sporty. In most states, you have three days to rescind your decision and take the car back without penalty. In those three days, you must decide whether you made an impulse buy or a wise choice. You qualify the decision in consciousness before your Self. You will check the car out based on how it actually performs, not based on your imagination or the sales images you saw. Lastly, you will assess what is needed to maintain the car—driving skills, mechanical maintenance, taxes, and the uses you have for it.
In those three days, you become you and the car becomes a car. You disentangle your ego and understand yourself. Rather than becoming simply another truck owner or compact car owner, you become a master of your own choice. Own yourself, and then choose the car fully awake.
Practice AwarenessIn our life, we do not have three days. We cannot return life to the shop. We have one breath to be conscious and qualify our Self. To do this is a simple mastery of the Self. It is to become aware. It is the art of yoga. Do not let your student be satisfied with anything but mastery of themselves, and teach them to qualify each action and thought before their unlimited consciousness.
One student went through all the stages to learn Breath of Fire and demonstrated it to me perfectly for eleven minutes. I smiled with genuine appreciation for the results and said, "Now that you've perfected that pranayama, you are 100 times further from your yoga than when you started. Begin again today and continue for 40 days. Do each breath as if it is your first. As if you know only this breath. As if each breath is a gift of God, like a kiss of the infinite. You belong to nothing but acknowledge everything; you master nothing but yourself. The first step is the same as the last—innocence." From that point, the student began to assess himself, rather than seeking approval from me.
Meditation for Cultivating Thoughtlessness*Here is a practical meditation to cultivate the state of zero-shuniya (a state of absolute stillness where your identity neither is nor is not), as taught by Yogi Bhajan. With the help of this meditation, you will gain clarity as to when your students just need a little extra guidance as you teach them to master themselves, rather than teaching them to belong to you or to the ego of their accomplishments.
Play some healing music in the background, preferably healing mantra. The mantra originally taught with this meditation is "Guru Guru Whahe Guru, Guru Ram Das Guru" by Singh Kaur.
Sit straight.*meditation used by permission: ©YBTeachings, LLC.
Gurucharan Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., L.P.P.C. , is director of training for Kundalini Research Institute (KRI). His most recent books are Breathwalk and The Mind, coauthored with Yogi Bhajan, and Psychospiritual Clinician's Handbook, coauthored with Sharon Mijares. You may find more about Kundalini Yoga at www.3ho.org and may contact Gurucharan at email@example.com.
Subscribe to YJ
Join Yoga Journal's Benefits Plus
Liability insurance and benefits to support
teachers and studios.