There’s so much that we don’t know about yoga that sometimes it can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, my first trip to Mysore was a few months after Guruji fell ill (in 2007) so, other than a couple of led classes that summer I never had the chance to be a student of his. I was, of course, blessed to have had Sharath as my teacher since then and that is something I am hugely grateful for.
I have heard, second-hand, so many different things that Guruji said over the years though, and one that is on my mind this week is he said that it takes around ten years to get past the ‘beginner’ stage of ashtanga yoga.
For me, I think it’s going to take a bit longer than that. I still feel like a beginner, and when I hear the depth of knowledge that some of the older teachers have (or even some of the exceptional young teachers) it makes me feel like I have a very long way to go.
So along with being fascinated this week by the content of a podcast interview I was listening to with Eddie Stern, it also really made me feel like I know only a tiny percentage of what I need in order to be a truly effective teacher in this lineage. Eddie is, of course, an exceptional teacher and listening to him really made me realise that there is so much more going on in this ashtanga yoga system than we can ever fully comprehend.
Guruji was a master of many different roles; spiritual teacher, physiotherapist, coach, philosopher, priest, trickster, guru. His knowledge of the practical and philosophical aspects of yoga was incredible. And here I find myself following the instruction of my teacher Sharath to teach this method myself, without even five percent of the knowledge that someone like Guruji had. And it begs the question, as they say in India: What to do?
Here is my approach. I feel like, ok I’ve been doing this practice every day for more than a decade, I do know a little bit about it. I’ve also had one of the best teachers in the world for most of that time, so that, hopefully, helps. I’ve experienced ups and downs with the practice over that time too, so I can empathise and also advise my students on how to avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made.
So I suppose what I’m really doing as a teacher is just sharing the lessons I’ve learned through my own practice, as a student. As we all know, the practice itself – done consistently over a long time – is the real teacher.
It is really a wonderful blessing to have a great teacher like Guruji, Sharath or Eddie Stern but, in the absence of someone like that in our home-town we can just keep practising and the theory behind it all will become apparent automatically. We might not be able to articulate the physiological processes that are occurring when we’re doing the asanas (as Eddie was in his interview) but we will feel the difference in our body and mind when we practice regularly.
There is so much happening internally when we practice yoga asanas. So many things are happening on the musculoskeletal, circulatory, nervous and hormonal levels that most of us have no concept of. But, once we have acknowledged that we know nothing we can start to proceed. While we are practising, listening and educating ourselves on the path to attaining the level of mastery in yoga, the best course of action is to follow the instructions of someone who we know has that mastery already. For me that is Sharath and so that is why, at the shala, we try to teach in a way that is as close as possible to the way he taught us.
So, if you ask us a question about the practice (the classic one is “When can I do the next posture?”) we will usually give you an answer that starts with “Sharath says…”
In the meantime, thank you all for your patience. Maybe, in another twenty or thirty years, I’ll have more answers for you.