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April 2015 - Yoga and The Guru

Dear Yoga Friends,

The concept of the guru has been glamorized and popularized in the west, but in reality it is not well accepted. The reason for this is that we place such a high value on individual achievement in the context of competition. To have a guru, one must give up the positioning of oneself in the center and open up to a divine and more encompassing intelligence in another. In the west we talk about all sorts of gurus such as fashion gurus, technology gurus, fitness gurus, etc. What we mean by this is someone who knows a lot about something and is influential in that area of knowledge.

In yoga, a guru is literally someone who brings you from darkness to light, not in terms of information, although that can be part of the picture, but in terms of a level of awareness of what is fundamentally true about existence and being human. I often wonder whether yoga as popularized in the west has the room to accommodate this scope.

In March I attended a public talk featuring two senior Iyengar yoga teachers and long-time students of B.K.S. Iyengar: Manouso Manos and Patricia Walden. What struck me most was that here were two extremely knowledgable and experienced yoga teachers, both of whom have been guided and influenced by decades of direct study with B.K.S. Iyengar, and yet their experiences of the man were markedly different. B.K.S. Iyengar had a remarkable, instinctive capacity to meet each individual in the place and manner that he felt was appropriate for that person, in a way that had lasting positive impact, provided that the individual was ready to receive his message. Looked at another way, when you become capable of relating to a guru as a guru, you receive a gift of clarity that allows you to see yourself more accurately and thereby change for the better. The guru is a special person who has the power to serve as a mirror in a deep and subtle way.

In Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, B.K.S. Iyengar translates Sutra 1.21 as follows:

The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice.

If like myself one has only an indirect personal connection to B.K.S. Iyengar in the capacity of a guru, one aspect of this man still stands out as clear as day to anyone who has practiced Iyengar yoga for any length of time or who is familiar with his life and work. He embodied the qualities described in this sutra, and sets a shining example for what can be achieved with long and dedicated practice. If I am observant of the course that B.K.S. Iyengar charted with his own practice, I can see the shortcomings and areas where I can improve.

This can of course be a double-edged sword. If we see our shortcomings too clearly and let in how far we have to go, it can be disheartening. The antidote to this is another yoga teaching, compassion. We can be compassionate with ourselves, and like B.K.S. Iyengar, meet ourselves where we are, regardless of age or limitations, and begin a meaningful journey from that spot. What does this have to do with your least favorite yoga pose? Let's work on that pose and find out.



p.s. If you are looking for a little more inspiration, here is an amazing collection of photographs of B.K.S. Iyengar over the years: http://www.relaxandrelease.co.uk/bks-iyengar-through-the-decades-1930s-rare-historical-photographs/


Chad Balch