If you’ve taken a Youtube yoga class, chances are you’ve taken one with Adriene. She has more than nine million subscribers so I’m not here to debate her established, dynamic and impressive popularity only to point out the obvious: she’s not your yoga teacher.
I hear the protests rising up. But, you say, I do her yoga videos every day. Every week. Whenever I do yoga.
I think that’s wonderful. Any time we do yoga it’s wonderful. But your yoga teacher is not someone you watch online. You’re doing yoga, of course, physical postures. And you are learning, I’m sure. But a teacher, a yoga teacher for you as an individual human person, she is not.
Come back with me on a little history tour. Before yoga came to the United States, people who wanted to practice and study it learned it from_____________. Can you fill in the blank there? Right, they learned it from a guru. A master teacher. And what developed between teacher and student was something called a relationship.
When yoga came to the United States, many, many and then many more things changed. And that is fine. I am also a student and teacher of religion. I am well aware that our traditions and teachings adapt, shift and alter depending on the needs of the culture, community and time. This is not a judgement on yoga via Youtube. In fact, before Youtube there were….Books!
Yes, books! Books about yoga. Books with yoga lessons. Books with pictures of the poses. I have many of them myself. Let me ask you a question. I have read, studied and poured over, Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar. Is he my teacher? And if I say he is my teacher, though I did not sit in his classroom, go to India and learn directly from him, or look in his eyes, what does that mean for those who did?
When I went for my yoga teacher training twenty-so years ago, I made friends with an incredible woman. Her posture practice was out of this world! She could move and bend in ways I only dreamed of. She had also never been to a yoga class in her life. That’s right. Never. Not once. That’s how things used to be back then when there weren’t yoga studios everywhere and it wasn’t very popular and people thought you were weird if you did it.
Do you know what we said back then? We said someone who learned through books was self-taught. That’s the exact term I would use for someone who “studies” only with Yoga for Adriene online. To call her your teacher if you have not learned in her presence is a Grand Canyon sized crack in our understanding of yoga and teaching and that’s because it misses the two most important qualities of yoga teaching: presence and relationship.
Until we Americanized yoga, yoga would be taught by a guru. As Swami Kripalu writes in his book, Pilgrim of Love (cannot love this book more), “If you want to find the true guru, you will have to be in his presence, living close by him. It takes time for love and connection to develop.”
Now you’re going to say you aren’t looking for a guru and I get it. They have a bad rap right now and no one thinks they need them. But we do need teachers. We need teachers and mentors. When you are not in the physical presence of your teacher, what do you lose? This past year of the pandemic has helped us to understand.
You don’t get “hands-on assists.” Yes, that’s true. But the dynamic of relationship, response, offering and receiving, can only happen between people who are present with one another. Whatever else may be wonderful about online yoga, it is not this. Your teacher must be someone who can look into your eyes. Must be. It cannot simply be someone that you look at.
Adriene has more than nine million in her “global community.” What an awesome vibe! But to see and be seen, which is the call of the student and teacher, to know and be known in the specific way through yoga, this can only exist in the showing up in front of our teacher.
Believe me, I know how much people don’t want to be seen! How much easier it is to be one of the nine million. To turn on the Youtube and do the yoga in your jammies whenever you want for however long. A human teacher, on the other hand, will see you. And you will see her. Accountability develops that no App, no matter how clever, can ever simulate.
To remove from yoga the incredible blessing of presence is functionally acceptable for simple posture practice. But it is not the same as instruction from someone trained in the art of seeing you, in the practice of sharing yoga with not just words and movement but with presence. If you have ever had the experience of “being in the presence” of an incredible teacher than you know exactly what you miss when you miss the physical presence. It is the difference between watching a cooking show on Youtube and having someone come to your house and teach you how to cook it—and then you BOTH eat the meal together.
As yoga has become the lovely machine we have created here in the US, making students and teachers at an incredible rate, we must hold onto the deepest of its gifts as one holding onto a river raft going through the rapids. It is not that we can’t get something from Adriene. Or enjoy her classes. But your teacher?
Yoginis far and wide, where is YOUR teacher? You are seeking her and she is seeking you. When we find our teacher, this is aplace of home and homecoming. Not that the teacher is the practice. Never. But that relationship brings us closer to ourselves. And when we finally meet ourselves, there too will we find what we have searched and longed for all our lives.
You can hear and watch this post on my Youtube channel. That way you can listen in the car…or while washing dishes:-) https://youtu.be/Ow62POK1nwk Make sure to leave a comment on the channel and subscribe while you are there.