How imperfect can a yoga teacher be?

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I recently heard a well-known yoga instructor say something very nearly exactly like, “You have no business teaching if you’re thirty pounds overweight.” This got me thinking about degrees of imperfections and what qualifies a person as a teacher, beyond the requisite teacher training. For instance, if you’re looking for a personal trainer or a fitness instructor, you probably do want the one with an optimal physique as proof of their pudding. Or a drill instructor: for a drill instructor, you want someone who clearly punishes themselves, too, because it’s one less thing your brain can run away with as they’re shouting in your face.

Yoga is at least in part a physical endeavor. Is it primarily a physical endeavor? Do we practice yoga to purify and cleanse the imperfection so completely from our bodies that we really believe ourselves impervious? I guess if that’s the point of yoga, we really do want only the youthful appearing, halest and fittest among us instructing it. I, for one, am disturbed by a pervasive sense that if you have the “right” personal practice, and are performing it correctly, you won’t be subject to the maladies of the flesh.

We have certain stories about progenitors of yoga-dom overcoming and healing their own maladies. These stories form part of the justification for practice, our collective mythology. Is this the corollary of that self-healing myth: If your practice does not heal you and grant you a life of perpetual wealth, peace and robust good health, it is not yoga. If you practice dutifully and correctly you will not suffer. And to go one further: If you suffer, either you did not practice or you did not practice correctly.

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3 thoughts on “How imperfect can a yoga teacher be?

  1. I think it’s a dangerous way to think. I once had a teacher who was in her late 80s – yes, she had a nice slim body and yes, she still cycled to the class! But gradually she developed a little arthritis, and eventually she died. We will all of us age, and pass on – the media industry generally is full of people who give us false ideas of what’s possible because they’re full of botox – but is it realistic. I think not.

  2. Indeed, Jennifer. I believe the very motivation is suspect, and the vision of perfection underlying this malady of thought is, well, imperfect.

    You are right: we all age, die, we have pain and break in various ways. We heal, too. And I believe – know in my bones (literally) that yoga is part of healing. But not because if you practice you will not break, will not suffer. But that when we practice we transmute the occasions and causes of our pain to something beyond mere suffering: to meaning. One can have a richly meaningful practice with a downright ugly Warrior I (from a textbook standpoint). We cannot always avoid the “second arrow” of suffering, as the Buddha is said to have called it. But we can always bring awareness to our suffering and transform both the experience as well as our lives. Thanks for reading.

  3. Pingback: Hip Replacement, Recovery and the yoga of healing | Yoga IS Love, Truth, Beauty: Here, Now.

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