If I had to choose one quality that distinguishes a great yoga teacher from a bad one, it would have to be humility. There are many other qualities that are important, such as knowledge, education, commitment, integrity, honesty and kindness, and discernment. In a very real sense, humility is the key to all of these qualities.
“Gaining maturity through yoga practice requires learning to respect other people’s paths and acknowledging their strengths.
THE WISEDOM OF NOT KNOWING
If you are not humble in your yoga practice, it is difficult to desire to learn. If we believe we know everything, we can hold on to outdated principles. It is easy to get stuck in a rut. Suzuki Roshi once said that “In the beginner’s mind there is many possibilities.” The expert’s mind sees only a few. When we feel confident in our knowledge and methods, we have little reason to doubt the effectiveness of what we’re dispensed. We can learn new things when we approach practice with curiosity, humility and openness.
I was much more confident in what I thought I knew when I started my teaching career. I was more comfortable giving instructions that I had heard and practicing them without thinking about how alignment techniques fit with human skeletal structures. After I had been sufficiently humbled by my experience, I was able to begin to question the directions I had set in stone.
I was able to see deeper through open-minded exploration and humility in my yoga practice. Much of what I taught in my early years has been abandoned, and I am well aware that I might one day abandon the practices and instructions I love. Gandhi stated, “I am committed to truth, and not to consistency.”
PRACTICE IS NOT THE SAME AS PERFORMANCE
Yoga practice encourages us to be humble and open-minded. It helps us remember that practice is only that, practice. It’s not about being virtuosic or identifying ourselves. It is important to see yoga as a practice, not a performance. This keeps it fresh. Understanding that yoga is an evolving process, rather than a path to a fixed goal, allows us to be present and aware of how it changes and grows.
LOOKING INSIDE CULTIVATES HUMILITY YOGA PRACTICE
Humility requires us to examine our motives, actions and ourselves. It teaches honesty and integrity. Meditation requires humility. We don’t always like the things we see when we look inward. Our mind stuff can sometimes be frustrating, irritating, and embarrassing. It takes courage and humility to examine our thoughts and see the truth. The rewards are immense: honesty, integrity and kindness, as well as discernment.
Geeta’s interpretation of mature practice is my favorite part of Geeta’s quote. As practice matures, it is easier to accept what works and what doesn’t in our favorite practices and be open to learning from other practices. There is no single yoga practice that works for everyone. There is no one-size-fits all philosophy. Yoga practice that is humbly based on yoga practice shows us how our practice is not “better” than another’s. It is who we are, at least for the moment.
This open-mindedness–born of humility–that understands the changing nature of our own minds and bodies, and that of everyone else’s minds and bodies contains the seeds of peace.