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Thanking All Your Teachers

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Last weekend at the Yoga Journal Conference was a whirlwind, and a whole lot of fun. Since I wasn’t teaching until Sunday, I had the opportunity to take some classes. I studied with Gary Kraftsow, Desirée Rumbaugh, Seane Corn, and Leslie Kaminoff. I was in the audience for Deepak Chopra’s evening talk, and I listened in for bits of talks from Matthew Sanford, Beryl Bender Birch, and Rodney Yee. I narrowly missed Julie Gudmestad and Bo Forbes, but I’m hot on their trails, too.

Over the years, I’ve studied with just about every well-known yoga teacher there is, and many others. What strikes me is that although we share the same title–yoga instructor–we can be so different in just about every way: personality, poses, focus, knowledge, opinions, and communication style. Yet this weekend, the core message was the same from everyone: Find balance, live in balance, and take actions from balance. I heard it again and again, in every conceivable way.

I was fortunate to have conversations with the people who put on the conference, and this parity was also part of their vision of creating a community offering where people could be equally exposed to the healing benefits of yoga, no matter what teacher they resonated with the most.

It did my heart good to hear this. I’ve seen pockets of separation in the yoga world, stemming from a “my style, your style” mentality. It’s the reason why I specifically didn’t want to create a style of yoga, but rather a “take” on yoga that anyone could use, whether they’re an Ashtanga yogi or a Kundalini practitioner.

The thing is, there are many doorways into your true nature, all that lead to your inner teacher in the lifelong process yogis know as svadhyaya, or self-study. If you can honor that the guru you seek is so often the Self, then you are less likely to dismiss teachers that don’t work for you or revere the ones who do. (You also won’t hang on to blame, anger, and resentment in relationships of any kind.)

You can thank your teachers for the fact that, whether you choose to embrace their ideals or not, they have helped you remember who you are–and who you aren’t. In this way, they have all been instrumental to your growth and transformation. This view can bring more sukha, or ease and freedom in everything you do.

Yoga can be frustrating, because the lessons from different teachers are sometimes contradictory, and there can seem to be no clear “right” way to do it. But that’s also the wonderful thing about this path. It’s yours alone. The practice asks you to gather information and listen to your instructors, but then ultimately to turn inward and claim the personal style of yoga that you need at that moment, and to keep the channels of inner communication open for a lifetime.

Yoga is a journey that always, and unerringly, leads back to you. That is both its greatest challenge and its most fabulous gift.

Core Question: Are you able to thank your teachers; ones you liked, and ones, well, not so much, for helping you realize who you will and won’t be? Tell us about your experience!

Core Pose: Utkatasana Twist (Chair Pose), variation

This twist will help you turn inward as you remain grounded, centered and balanced–all good tools for your inner teacher practice.

Stand with knees bent and feet and knees pressing together. Inhale your arms up, keeping your spine long. Spin your chest to the left as you place your right elbow onto your left knee. Roll your left shoulder back and engage your obliques to help balance the work of the arms with core strength. This twist has a twist: Look down instead of up for a sweet stretch of the neck and shoulder.

Remain here for 5-10 breaths then move into a gentle forward fold. Return to Chair Pose and repeat on the other side.