When Your Teachers Leave

When a beloved yoga teacher moves on, students get a first-hand lesson in impermanence.
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When a beloved yoga teacher moves on, students get a first-hand lesson in impermanence.
hands-on assist in yoga

I was happily settling on my mat for my Saturday morning yin class a few weeks ago when Dido sat down on a bolster at the front of the room, looking serious. Usually, her mood never travels south of jolly, so I knew something was up.

She said, "I'm not even sure how to begin to approach this..."

Uh-oh. 

Fortunately, what she announced was, on the whole, happy news. Her husband had gotten a job in California, one that he'd been aiming at for a long time. They'd be moving in a few weeks. Obviously, she wouldn't be able to teach us anymore.

So even though she and her family were about to undertake a great (and hopefully profitable adventure), this news still left me feeling sad. When I moved back to Austin a little less than two years ago, I was pretty well broken, financially, spiritually, and physically. All the yoga practice in the world—and I'd pretty much tried everything—hadn't been able to save me. I arrived in town with no teachers and no practice, other than what I could persuade myself to do when I rolled out my mat on my dirty livingroom rug.

But I had an intention: I was going to find some good teachers, and I was going to make yoga work for me. A good local mix quickly developed, but Dido had a good-humored, no-nonsense approach mostly devoid of New Age woo-woo, particularly when it came to my physical injuries. She gave me some very practical, easy suggestions, tailored to my specific practice, and I soon started to feel a lot better. Though my practice wasn't as superficially intense as it one had been, I felt better, and more at ease in my body.

So that went on pleasantly for a year and a half. Then, essentially overnight, it ended. Almost simultaneously, I got an email from my beloved yoga teacher Patty, who'd run the one-room Los Angeles studio that had been my yoga home for years. The landlords were jacking up her rent, and she'd be shutting down operations at the end of June. So now, suddenly, in addition to losing my main teacher in Austin, I also had nowhere to practice when I visited friends and family in Southern California.

These losses made me wonder why I need yoga teachers at all. I don't turn to them for "spiritual" reasons. That feels a little cultish to me. Once you start calling someone spiritual, it creates attachments. Idols always fall. I also don't use them for exercise. If I was just looking for that, I could get my bike out of the garage.

But I do need teachers, for an extremely radical reason: So they can teach me something, preferably something specific. For Patty, it was certain alignment principles derived from her long study of Iyengar yoga, and also how to create a loving, unpretentious community among your students. Another teacher in L.A., Mara Hesed, taught me the rudiments of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series in a makeshift studio in her tiny apartment. Richard Freeman, who conducted my teacher training (probably against his better judgment) refined that Ashtanga series and taught me a ridiculous amount of stuff about pranayama and Buddhist philosophy and anatomy and meditation and the Upanishads, among a multitude of other topics. It was the best training.

Dido, my teacher in Austin who is now no longer my teacher in Austin, had her own set of knowledge, from which I was happy to glean. Before she left, she did a 12-hour weekend workshop, which I attended. I learned how to prop students in restorative poses, how to put together a Yin Yoga sequence, and how to write a basic yoga nidrascript. No one had ever taught me that stuff before. And now I have it, until I die, or, more likely, until my marijuana habit robs me of my memory.

The departure of one of my favorite teachers has given me a lesson in impermanence. No experience, pleasurable or unpleasurable, enriching or moronic, lasts forever. You just need to glean what you can from the moment and move along. Also, don't forget to express gratitude.

Thanks, Dido.