The Importance of Teachers in Yoga: Choosing Our Guides for the Journey

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali instructs yogis to practice non-attachment. It’s only when we move beyond our attachment to our human nature that we clear the path to connection with a higher power. We need to move beyond our minds. We also need to acknowledge the importance of teachers in yoga. Our teachers lead us to the truth that is already within us.

Yoga is an experience of being. As yogis, we can approach enlightenment, not through our thoughts, but through experience. We use many tools (practices) to reach this goal. The first practice Patanjali suggests in the Yoga Sutras is meditation.

The goal of meditation is to go within and connect to the truth that is already there. But how can we be sure what we perceive within ourselves is true? How can we learn to meditate? Few of us can do this work alone.

The Importance of Teachers in Yoga

It’s important to realize that, while truth is within us, most of us need some outside help. We need a starting place—a resource—that can help us find our own inner teacher. This is different from deferring power to another source. It’s not mindless faith in a set of rules to follow. When we work with our teachers, we’re acknowledging that more experienced yogis can show us how to find the power within.

For yogis, there is an ultimate teacher. We may call that teacher God if we choose, but the name is not important. In the Yoga Sutras, the ultimate teacher is called Ishvara. Patanjali acknowledges that yogis can become enlightened in many ways. The pace can be slow, moderate, or quick, depending on one’s discipline and practice. The quickest way to enlightenment is by devotion to Ishvara.

In sutra 1.24, Ishvara—the supreme teacher—is described as “a particular yet universal indweller, untouched by afflictions, actions, impressions and their results.” Ishvara is the teacher of teachers, and surrender to this ultimate power is one step along the yogic path.

We can’t underestimate the importance of teachers in yoga if we want to get past our egos and chattering minds. We need our teachers to introduce us to the practice of yoga. That said, we must also choose our teachers with care.

Choosing Our Teachers

If you’ve practiced with more than one yoga teachers, you’ve probably noticed that each is unique. To be effective, a yoga teacher needs to connect with her or his students and vice versa. If something your teacher tells you doesn’t resonate with you, pause. Consider whether you are resisting truth or whether the teacher is misleading you. This isn’t an easy distinction, but it’s important one. Let your conscience be your guide.

Remember, though, that your conscience is not your mind. We’re trying to still the mind to reach an inner knowing. Experienced teachers who have traveled this path can help guide us. The best of these teachers will lead us to our own inner teacher.

The yoga journey has no finish line. There is only practice. The longer you travel, the more infinite and expansive your perception of truth will become. Thank your teachers for their guidance on this journey, especially the one that dwells within you!

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Maria Kuzmiak

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