Musings on the Student’s Relationship with the Teacher

Memories from my early days, over 40 years ago now, of going to teachers to teach me Yoga were generally around the notion, replete with conscious and unconscious expectations, that the teacher was there to bring out the best in me.

For example I feel that many of us if group class teachers are used to working with the Lazarus factor (raising folks from the dead each week). Here we can get caught or even need the expectation, both in you and/or in the student, that you will be or are ‘the one’ to revitalise the students tired and/or wired bodies as well as restoring confident dispositions.

However my experiences arising from working with TKV Desikachar stood that notion on its head. This was not through anything he said or did but from my own slowly acquired realisation that my way of looking at the relationship was confused.

Better to be clear about being confused,
rather than being confused about being clear.

What arose for me was the realisation that if I was going to be able to have access to what I was looking for and/or needed to learn from Yoga it was up to me to bring the best out of the teacher, rather than expecting/wishing/hoping for it to be the other way around!

Furthermore that shift towards committing to this attitude of engaging in learning as my responsibility rather than just having expectations around my teachers teaching continuing to inspire me had an interesting side effect.

“Saṃkalpa is mainly the intention to do something,
to be serious about my goal; it is something I feel I must do.
Saṃkalpa must be on both parts: student and teacher,
like when we chant ‘saha nāvavatu…’.
Saṃskāra means the purification,
like cleaning a vessel before I use it for another purpose.
It’s a kind of Viyoga or separation.
It concerns how I prepare for the situation.
The Saṃskāra is an effort in both directions: student and teacher.
Saṃyoga means there is a good exchange;
something begins to happen, something is given and something is received.
The best teaching has all three of these.”
– TKV Desikachar speaking at a ten day meeting in London June 15th 1998
with his 16 senior Western students from 8 countries

The very act of cultivating ways to bring the best Yoga Teaching out of my teacher forced me discover what was latent within me in order to do this. Developing working with and from that place brought out the best in me as a student in ways that still continue to inspire me even though its now 40 years since I first worked with my teacher.

I had shifted from a place of dependence on the ‘other’ to inspire me, to one where I could look within myself and find what was needed to bring the best out of the other and thus the situation. Yoga would perhaps call this process Svatantra.

Further reflections on TKV Desikachar’s Teaching and Svatantra……

This can also help to shift us from expectations, projections and associated judgements around ‘the desirable and undesirable’ qualities of the teacher towards a mood of what can I learn and how can I facilitate this learning, in spite of or as well as from these qualities, as part of my growing into Yoga.

Chapter four of the Yoga Sūtra tells us that there is nothing to be acquired from outside, it all already exists within our inherent nature. We just need a means to access, realise and express its potential. One outcome of this process is an understanding of the appropriate relationship between independence, interdependence and dependence that remains with you irrespective of the presence or absence of the ‘live’ teacher.

Yoga practice evolves from an external other cooked restaurant experience
to an internal self cooked home experience via the stages of:
1. Dependence on an outside teacher and external ambient venue.
2. Interdependence where we add the beginnings of a home practice to our outside support.
3. Independence where we have refined the skill to rely on and
be primarily nourished by our home practice.

This is Svatantra.

For that learning I am grateful to my teacher.
Śrī Gurubhyo Namaḥ – Guru Pūrnimā 2016

2 thoughts on “Musings on the Student’s Relationship with the Teacher

  1. Thank you for this – I agree wholeheartedly and I think it is a principle in all relationships in life, not just in the student-teacher relationship. ‘Yoga tells us that there is nothing to be acquired from outside, it all already exists within our inherent nature. We just need a means to realize this.’ That means is all around us, it can be in/through the present or absent ‘live’ teacher, it is ultimately in ourselves and how we choose to relate to the world.

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