Once again, Bikram Choudhury is in the news...and not in a good way (cue up Britney Spears' Oops I Did it Again). In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a Bikram fan and never have been. There's a little too much sweat and ego there for my liking. I know a group of folks who love Bikram. Swear by it. Claim it's changed their lives and transformed their bodies and souls. When I visited with them, they wanted me to come to a class. Normally, I'm a try anything once (and withhold judgment until experiencing it for myself) kind of gal, but I flatly said, "I refuse to go to a Bikram class. It's a hard limit for me." [what can I say -- the whole 50 Shades movie frenzy has entered into my consciousness]
I've known quite a few people who have devoted themselves to a particular teacher and found themselves adrift when said teacher is accused of wrong-doing. It's a long way down from the high atop the pedestal perch. It makes me question the teacher/human divide. When one devotes him/herself to a teacher, does that mean that the student admires the person or the teachings? Does the humanity get separated from the teachings?
If you knew your yoga teacher didn't have a personal yoga practice, cheated on his/her partner, and enjoyed taking prescription pills and mixing them with alcohol, would you still be an avid student, a devotee, have respect for your teacher? Does it matter that a teacher crosses certain boundaries (not commits crimes) in his/her personal life?
I'll admit that I'm a walk the talk kind of person. I can respect a person's teachings but won't want to work with him/her if it feels to me like he/she isn't walking the talk. I also tend to keep in mind that my teacher is human, not a perfect being. Maybe this is why I've never liked Bikram -- a little too much encouragement for worship. That doesn't feel right to me.
Of course what the student does is up to the student. If the student devotes everything to the teacher, then that responsibility lies with the student for the choices being made (Note: I'm not referring to rape and/or abuse here -- that's a whole different story. But I am saying be careful what your choices are or you could be putting yourself in the position of victim.). If you choose to affiliate yourself with a guru and build your business upon that affiliation, then understand that you're linking yourself to a person who may or may not commit personal scandal in the future. It's like sports endorsements. Everyone reveres the sports star of the moment and puts him/her on a pedestal...until there's a DUI or a domestic abuse charge levied or some other sort of drama that knocks the star off that pedestal of perfection. PR turns bad and the endorsement deals dry up because no business wants the face of their company to be one who's looking a little rough in a mug shot.
I had an experience once with a teacher with whom I had great respect for. She had so much knowledge and had practiced a specific style of yoga for years. I loved observing her teaching, I loved taking her classes. I saw her regularly and over the period of a few years, I noticed that she spoke a bit inappropriately about her students. She didn't commit any crimes or do anything awful. It reminded me that teachers are humans. They make mistakes, they falter, they aren't perfect.
Our not seeing and understanding this is the problem. We give up our personal sovereignty, ignore our gut feelings, we pedestalize (yes, I made the word up but it's appropriate here) mere humans expecting perfection when there is none, we become children seeking approval from these elevated-to-divine-status teachers. Respecting someone is one thing, blindly following him/her is quite another. Sometimes we forget this in the yoga world. We make assumptions that popular yoga teachers are more enlightened then the rest of us. We mistake knowledge and charisma for perfection and royal status.
Who gives these gurus the power? We do. I've often wondered why Hollywood actors/actresses are so elevated in status. They are revered as gods/goddesses when they are mere humans dealing with all sorts of human failings. Then I see people buying entertainment magazines and watching entertainment networks and reading gossip magazines/blogs and I realize that it's us -- we're the ones who give them the power. If we gave no energy to Hollywood, if we stopped reading all of the gossip, the whole star nonsense would fade.
We forget that we have that power. Instead we're continually giving it away to these things/people outside of ourselves. Over the last 5 years or so, I've withdrawn my energy (and my money) from a lot of things. I remember that I have the power -- the power to choose who and what I devote myself, my time, and my money to. If I don't like the way a company conducts itself, I don't give it my business. I don't care about reality TV, so I don't watch it. I've removed all sorts of products from my life, I've removed TV, I've removed certain foods. If it doesn't resonate with me, I don't give my attention to it.
Yes indeed, we do like to talk about the revered yoga teacher who has fallen from grace, don't we? I'd like to suggest reclaiming our power and not feeding the human as perfect guru whom I devote my life to story instead. Empowerment over gossip and judgment feels so much better, yeah?