Reflections from Guru Purnima

By  Vanessa Webb | 


Out of the mouths of babes, there it was: “YOGA WORKOUT”…words spoken innocently by one of my Yoga students but which, hit me like a roll of thunder. Everything about me felt like it morphed into Van Gogh’s “The Scream”.  How had I failed her as her teacher? I blubbered within myself, “But whaa…everything I talk about is so NOT yoga as workout. Oh, my classes, oh whoa-is-me…”, then, the mental silence of being struck dumb.  I had always thought I was imparting the idea of becoming more fully who we are through Yoga, by mindfully infusing the practice in all that we do.  But here it was, the reality in this moment: one of my students was still relating to “yoga workouts”. How did this haaaaappen?? These two words somersaulted me into my competence as a teacher, my silent incomprehension was rolling fast and furious within me.  The comment’s impact put me into a focused questioning within myself. Most of the forthcoming revelations actually ended up being inspiring; as I shifted around with ideas of what was perception, what was ego, what could be sorted and changed…for myself, for her as my student, and between us as student and teacher; both of us practicing the path of Yoga as individuals…but together. I was acutely attuned to the relationship between student and teacher, which is both a swimming interaction of learning and teaching between two people, yet a clearly defined development within a single individual, at the same time. 

I, personally, have great respect for the word “teacher”, and it is an honour to be one.  I feel the word “teacher” signifies the values, wisdom, and the knowledge from a lineage as old as time.  And it is not to be taken for granted, that teachings will be brought forward in their true essence and with the authority of a master. The teacher needs to have lived it, walked it, experienced it, applied it, and gone deeply into it…without these lessons a person isn’t capable of imparting any of the resulting richness and truth into their teachings, because it just isn’t there in them. I feel Dr. David Frawley said it beautifully in one of his articles about Lord Shiva: “Those who practice yoga should always remember Shiva, the great lord of yoga. If one can surrender to Lord Shiva inwardly, all the powers and insights of yoga will naturally be revealed at the appropriate time and manner. Shiva is the inner guru of yoga and all true gurus function with his grace and insight”.  It is by Grace that as a teacher, we are given any kind of competency and privilege to share sacred teachings to another.  Without this Grace, we’re not capable.  What makes us qualified to receive the Grace is only a guess, but it seems to be related to a genuine wish and devotion to that which is good and aligned with what is Life giving. 



And so, like Murphy’s Law, there she was in her glaring overconfidence, having performed a number of yoga stretches, finalizing her display by lying on the floor with bare feet in the air, skirt having tumbled down her legs (or up them, whatever it is from that angle).  A new recipient of her 200Hour YTT was “sitting” beside me in a workshop of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras.  I think you can guess that this was pushing some of my buttons, and though she didn’t handle the class with the grace of a respectful student, the teacher handled it with the grace of a wonderful teacher.  I so respected his response to her, which was to not have one. Sadly, we’ve created a closed minded attitude in modern times, toward authority, toward respect of the student teacher dynamic.  This is demonstrated not only through unwillingness to be a student but as a flimsy respect as teacher. Clearly, being a student is a learning curve in itself these days. Students need to know the art of surrender, the giving over of the ego.  We seem particularly challenged by this in the West, as if we’re somehow afraid that being a student is equated with being inferior…and so what if it does mean that? What if it means simply, that you don’t know as much as your teacher and that a level of humility is actually quite healthy at such times? Have we in the west ever considered that? Having humility is an awareness of respect, of honoring the wisdom of what has come before you, it’s not about an inferiority complex. Having awe and wonder for the passing down of timeless traditions and age-old wisdom is a gift to be grateful for…to be so inspired by, and in awe and wonder of. The discipline of letting yourself be guided, in a way which might rub your control issues the wrong way, is something to be thankful for.  Because being teachable means we’re capable of gaining greater self-awareness which creates a more refined version of who we are.  It is this quality that defines a teacher.  If we feel we’re too good, too full of ourselves, to be teachable, we’ll never be qualified to lead.  Can we have the humility to honour another who imparts something of value on us?

Needless to say, Guru Purnima is a day that I consider to be very special.  The outpouring of genuine gratitude and honour shown toward true teachers on Guru Purnima recently, was a heart touching celebration.  These devoted expressions of gratitude from student toward teacher gave me renewed hope in a world which has come to toss the word “teacher” off the tongue, in a manner that is without thought.  Because it seems, for the most part, we have lost the understanding of the word “teacher” itself.  Not only does this loss reflect our relationship toward the teacher, but what we think being the teacher is.  This loss means that we lose the understanding of what qualifies us as a teacher, what to expect from our students, as well as what to expect from ourselves as a teacher.  This all comes in to question.  Guru Purnima allowed me to witness and offer, the respect for those who have gone before; honouring them for what they have come to know (perhaps through great challenges).  This praise, not just for teachers who help us learn to memorize and recite our mathematics and facts, but for teachers who give of wisdom, knowledge, and insight toward an enlightened mind, was refreshing and as it ought to be.

Because teachers don’t have to teach, they teach because they care to do so.  Sharing knowledge is an offering of great care and love. To be devoted, seeking, committed, accountable and disciplined are all traits to cherish as a student, because they develop us into someone worthy of being taught.  Teaching is the way through which humanity brings timeless values forward into the present, without which we would be completely lost as a species.