One of my dearest yogi friends once told me: “A good yoga teacher should disappear.” It took me years to understand what she meant.
Finding My Teacher
I started my yoga practice to heal from being hit by a car. I didn’t love it. I didn’t even really like it. I tolerated the one day a week when I headed to that dry, sterile space on the recommendation of my doctor.
My teacher was fine. Competent and experienced. Dry and precise — not surprising given the style of yoga she taught. So I went to class and stretched my limits and, more or less, endured it.
Then I found a new brand of yoga. My new teacher overflowed with personality, dynamism and compelling energy. She inspired a near cult-like following in her students, and her studio felt like a special secret that only the anointed few had been let in on.
She encouraged me to go deep and I didn’t want to disappoint. I sweated through 2 hours of flowing practice every morning, coaxing my body into positions it had never before taken, and swelling with pleasure under the warmth of her approval and that feeling of “Aaaaaaahhh” at the end of a vigorous practice.
Unfortunately, I was also hurting myself, without knowing it. Those early years of my practice lacked something. And that missing something was me.
I still, sometimes, love the feeling of a poetic, well-choreographed yoga sequence, fluidly performed to the rhythm of an infectious beat. It just feels so good.
But sometimes the personality and magnetism of a teacher or a class serve as just another ego-gratifying form of entertainment to help us avoid what is actually happening. Sometimes a teacher, swollen with the thought of having something important to say, fills up the space between every breath with too many words and too much of their “wisdom.”
When this happens our yoga practice can become another way to not be with ourselves and what is actually happening. Right here, right now.
Why a Good Yoga Teacher Disappears
In the aftermath of a surgery and the months of healing that followed, I saw the wisdom of my first yoga teacher and her simple, practical teaching. I realized I had to find a new way to approach my yoga practice — if I wanted to continue it at all.
I consider myself lucky that my injury forced me to start slowly and quietly. Not because that is somehow inherently a better way to practice, but because it gave me the space and the softness to listen to what my sensations had to tell me, before I started moving too quickly to notice. To connect with the subtle experience of the channels of my body and the impulse of nature that runs through it.
A good yoga teacher disappears because their role is to act as a signpost and then get out of the way. To whisper to you, “look here,” as you seek out the feeling of alignment. Yoga is in the moments when you check your experience against your inner knowing seeking to find harmony and resonance from within.
What are some of your favorite ways to connect with your sense of knowing? Share with us in the comments below!