Who is my Guru?

Yoga Practice

In London, where the yoga world is so strongly-branded and style seems to be as important as fashion brands, this can make a teacher feel like an impostor if they don’t clearly identify with one school or guru. Someone asks “what do you teach?” If the teacher responds with “ashtanga” or “kundalini” or “iyengar”, this clarity of style holds a status above the teacher responding with “I really follow my own experience and I don’t feel I really adhere to one particular style”.  The latter response holds less weight at first assessment but if I’m honest, some of the best teachers I know are following their own instincts and experiences and making yoga personal to them and their lives.

Is it important to follow a guru or style of yoga?
A guru (in the modern day, well-known teachers or schools of yoga also hold the place of the guru) is said to be the “bringer of light”, a guide who leads you to your own transformation. For one reason or another, I and many teachers of yoga have chosen not to go down this singular path.

For me to be brave enough to follow my own heart, gut, instincts and feelings brings about a great sense of honesty, truth and sincerity in my work as opposed to following another’s journey or way (which admittedly does have its own merits). The mind stuff and the critical inner voice can be a tough barrier along the way to trusting that you’re doing the right thing at the right time and that what you offer is of value even though it doesn’t have a specific qualification attached to it. I know I have had and probably will continue to have many days of “what do you teach?”, “is this really yoga?”, “I should re-train and improve”, “I’m lost”, “are my boundaries too hard or too frail?”, “am I tricking everyone into thinking I’m really good at this?”, “am I pretending to be a therapist or just giving a fine quality of attention to people?”, and so on. This inner critic can at first seem to be a self-defeating or sabotaging attacker, but actually, when I can be less defensive or fearful, she’s asking really helpful questions for self-enquiry. I believe that if you’re having these big self-undoing questions and engaging proactively with them, it’s a huge sign that you care and you are aiming for your best. And through that you are developing in a firm yoga that is of huge value to yourself and others.

Listening to our feelings and intuition is the strongest teacher or guru I think anyone could possibly have. As a child I was very in touch with my feelings, emotions and dreams, like all children are. Then growing up, I started to lose faith in myself for one reason or another, I began to think my analytical/critical head was queen of my kingdom and my feeling intelligence was not as valid a faculty to follow.
Permission to follow your own feeling intelligence is not an easy thing to give, why?

  1. Our culture likes certificates given by authorities other than ourselves to prove the value of something we have, hold or do.
  2. Doubting or denying our truth and true selves is apparently something we humans have done for centuries. The first of the five kleshas reveals this as it describes avidya (ignorance of the truth of what we are). We deny the truth of our feeling intelligence, we ignore facts and live in ignorance. This quashes the truth not only of our self (who, how, what our condition is) and what is good and right for us in a given moment, but it also clouds and misjudges external situations, schools of thought and other beings. This ignorance can easily be brought about by not questioning a lineage or guru when your inner intelligence says mmmmmmm, that does not fit or feel right for me but you decide oh, they must know better, they are my teacher. Then you deny your own truth and you deny the world of yoga it too.
  3. A big obstacle to following your purusha (feeling intelligence/inner knowing) is the ego (asmita). The problem with the ego is not that we have one, it is good and vital for the acts of daily life, rather the issue is that the ego is integrally fearful and attached to ‘the known, the safe’. It is attached to habits, regardless of whether these habits are sustainable and beneficial to the life of our individual and global existence. This fear not only prevents us from following our soul but it actually belittles the very fabric of our inner knowing as being unruly and ridiculous!

When we come closer to ourself and our own truth, we very clearly see our challenges, our weaknesses and our areas for improvement. This seeing is an invaluable gift and it is also at times very hard to drink in. Our assumptions and concepts of what we think we are, what we think yoga is and who we expect our guru to be will be challenged, and as these become less solid, we will no doubt experience resistance and discomfort. We may have spent so long investing in and upholding our ignorance, or our guru and their lineage may have spent lifetimes upholding an ignorance that, naturally, to accept and release, will demand time and energy. For example, outdated religious views are changing but the resistance to accepting “we got it wrong and we need to change” for those who have followed and believed and invested in a way of being for their whole lives and maybe the lives of their ancestors way back is massive! It is inevitably met with enormous resistance. It’s the same for us. If we believe for ten or more years of teaching that it ‘should’ be done like this, once that ‘should’ is questioned and seen, its ignorance can be challenged, overcome and removed to then most likely be replaced by new challenges. ‘C’est la vie.’ Each challenge is accepted from a higher state of awareness and each overcoming lifts us to a higher state of living and a closer state of being with self and life.

I see in teachers who have spent a lifetime looking in and out at themselves, their students, their work and the world with a clear critical eye, the yoga they share ripples out with such sweet medicine that you only have to enter the room to feel relief and clarity in your being. This is a far cry from those who have simply been handed a manual and unquestioningly taken it on to teach. I don’t believe all guru-led work is like this. I do feel teachers not adhering to a style or a specific way should be acknowledged with respect for the warriar/warrior journey they are taking towards their highest truth.

Copyright © Alex Hanly 2007-2015


I am passionate about practicing yoga, teaching yoga, baking, family, breastfeeding, art, sustainable living, dancing and community! I recently started new yoga classes in Elham Kent.
Yoga – uncovering the essential joy of life!
Trust and yoga