Once as part of an extensive worldwide study, thousands of people were interviewed. These people were from different cultures, races, religions, beliefs, occupations, and ages. Yet all the interviewees shared one thing in common: they knew they were going to die within a week or two. These people, some of them on their deathbeds, were asked the following questions: "What do you wish you had done in your life? What are your regrets?"
The researchers expected a gamut of answers. They were rather astonished to discover how wrong they were. Nearly all the answers from this cross section of humanity were of the same type, a theme with many variations. The basic answer to these vital questions was, "I wish I had loved more."
Some of the dying people said, "I wish I had loved my wife more," or "I wish I had loved my children more." They said they wished they had loved themselves more, or their God more. But whatever the specifics of the desire, it all boiled down to, "I wish I had lived more in my heart than in my head." When it really counts, when the actions of life are weighed most profoundly and with the ultimate honesty, all our regrets are going to be the same: that we didn't love enough.
No one said, "I wish I had done Kapotasana." No one said, "I wish I had bought a bigger car." No one said they wished they had acquired more toys or become the president of the corporation. In other words, the things we consider to be important in our life are totally worthless when life itself is on the line. Then, the only thing that really matters is how much we love.
It is the heart of yoga that will beat in us long after our ability to do the poses has gone. Let us teach our students the heart of yoga, the way into their own heart. Let us teach them the poses and how to care for the physical body, but let us also help them find and care for their heart. We do not enter life with our mind, we enter with our spirit. We do not leave life with our mind, we leave with our spirit. The babble of the baby and the senility of age both contain the presence of the spirit. It is this spirit that must guide our days, or we will depart life with bitter regret.
Asana practice not really about creating great practitioners of poses. Instead, it is about learning to fully embody our dharma—our life mission—and do it with heart. Asana practice merely enables us to do what we love with more energy and focus. Seen from the perspective of our deathbeds, the greatest practitioners of asana are not those who have accomplished unheard of feats while practicing out of obligation or a fear of death. The greatest practitioners are those who understand how to use asana to enhance their connection with themselves and to open up the heart of love. If we, as yoga teachers, do nothing else but manage to create more loving human beings, we have succeeded. In the final analysis, becoming a great practitioner is important, being strong and able is important, being healthy and free of pain is important, but nothing counts as much as knowing that we have loved. Let us not merely teach the mind and the body of yoga—improving it, refining it, aggrandizing it—while the heart slips into a dire and dreadful darkness.
Perhaps the greatest service we can do for our students is to remind them in both obvious and subtle ways to find their true calling in life, and to provide them with tools to help them on their quest. As our students physically open their hearts while doing backbends and become more aware of their feelings from doing inversions, they cultivate the sensitivity to separate what is essential from what is merely urgent. It is only when we take care of what is essential that we can die without regret.
As yoga teachers, perhaps our central practice is to watch everything we teach—every method, every word, every action—and ask, "Is this approach merely a means to achieving a greater pose or a deeper breath, or is it essentially helping my student to love their life more? Am I merely teaching poses or am I teaching students to love more abundantly and die contented?"
As teachers, we must first love ourselves and our work. We can do no better than to follow this timeless advice: "Do what you love, love what you do, and deliver more than you promise." The true passion for teaching lives only within teachers who love both their subject and the teaching. This is because they know they are living their dharma. When I feel my dharma, I have no choice but to be in love with my subject and my teaching. Then teaching is no longer a job, but a fulfilling way of self-expression that allows me to manifest the love I feel for who I am. It is a way of spreading the joy and peace of yoga and creating an inner balance that leads to bliss. When I feel this, I am living my dharma. I am fulfilled.
Mother Theresa said, "We can do no great things—only small things with great love." The most important thing we can do for our students is to feel a great love for our teaching and our practice. If you have lost your love of teaching, it is time to learn something new. Just as married couples need to take time out for themselves and go on "dates" to restore feelings of love and joy, we need to take time to renew and refresh the love of our craft. Just as our bodies need regular asana practice to be restored, so our teaching needs regular care in order to remain healthy and vibrant. Find a teacher, take a workshop, go on a retreat. Find a mentor who truly loves yoga so that you can absorb some of that love and inspiration. Going to workshops or retreats and studying with master teachers is not indulgent, but essential.
Another way to renew our love of teaching is to remind ourselves that we are participating in the cosmic drama. As we help others embody their dharma, we are assisting the spirits that guide their lives. As we love our students and enter into the mystery of their unfolding, our teaching is filled with unexpected magic.
The greatest service we can give our students is to love our own practice--our teaching, our students, and, above all, our own self. Then, as we breathe our last, we will smile knowing that we have lived, loved, and died without regret.
Recognized as one of the world's top yoga teachers, Aadil Palkhivala began studying yoga at the age of seven with B.K.S. Iyengar and was introduced to Sri Aurobindo's yoga three years later. He received the Advanced Yoga Teacher's Certificate at the age of 22 and is the founder-director of internationally renowned Yoga Centers™ in Bellevue, Washington. Aadil is also a federally certified Naturopath, a certified Ayurvedic Health Science Practitioner, a clinical hypnotherapist, a certified Shiatsu and Swedish bodywork therapist, a lawyer, and an internationally sponsored public speaker on the mind-body-energy connection.