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Alanna Kaivalya Headshot

Oh Yoga! I Know That Change Is Gonna Come

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We are witnessing a revolution. Or, rather, a necessary evolution in yoga. The events of the past few weeks have caused such a stir and a ruckus in the yoga community that even members of other yoga disciplines are starting to wonder about the efficacy of having only one or two leaders at the helm. Yoga seems to have built into it the idea that there should be one end-all-be-all person (a guru) that gives us everything we need to develop into perfect yogis. It just doesn't work that way.

There is a very deep misconception about how the principle of a guru works. It can never be embodied in one person because humans are fallible. If we haven't discovered that about our teachers yet, eventually it will come to pass. This realization is necessary in order to understand what the guru principle actually embodies, which is the fact that perfection (or divinity) cannot be found anywhere outside of us. It is within.

We do need external teachers for a while to guide, teach and hone our understanding and skills. But, at some point, all a teacher can do is lead us inward. Like a big cosmic U-turn, the guru is ultimately only trying to lead us home. Sometimes this critical lesson comes in the most shocking of ways. Our beloved teacher topples from a pedestal and we suddenly realize how much power we gave to them. While it's genuinely hard to be disappointed, it's ultimately even more detrimental to surrender our power to someone else. Yoga is designed for us to access and channel our own internal power. That simply can't be done if we give it to someone else.

It's like the story of the baby tiger who is raised amongst a flock of sheep. He grows up thinking he's a sheep. But, one day, a grown-up tiger walks by and sees the baby tiger amongst the sheep. He asks the little tiger what he's doing with the sheep, but the little tiger can only muster a "baaa baaa." The adult tiger grabs the little cub and starts to show him what it means to be a tiger. He roars and tries to feed him raw meat, but the little tiger chokes on it... like most of us do when we're first fed the truth. But, some of the meat gets down and suddenly the little tiger feels stronger and lets out a roar. It isn't until the adult tiger shows the little tiger his own reflection in a pool of water that he finally understands who he is and begins to feel comfortable in his own skin. Armed with the power of the truth, shown to him by his teacher, he knows himself as what he is -- a mighty tiger. When he learns this, he leaves his sheep flock and fully inhabits his tiger body with pride and dignity.

In this story, we see that if we are raised amongst sheep, it takes someone who has already embodied some bravery to show us a different way. This is an important purpose of teachers! They're incredibly valuable for showing us what is possible and how to become most fully ourselves. And, as Joseph Campbell says, "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." Like the big lion showed the little one, teachers can illuminate certain things about us that allow us to fully grow into our own power. The trick is making sure that we don't give our power to someone else.

It doesn't matter how awesome that someone else is. If our power is in their hands, it's not in ours. We are the ones who can most greatly wield our power. Like the famous Marianne Williamson quote, "As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same." Let's take back our light.

It is time for those of us who have seceded power to another to reclaim it. The greatest teachers out there would want us to do this. It's what they've been teaching us to do, as Douglas Brooks reminded us in his letter recently: "To surpass the master is to repay the debt."

And, it may scare some to do this. As teachers, it is scary to think students don't need us. As students, it is scary to think that we could be the source of our own wisdom. But, ultimately, fear plays no part in what yoga teaches. If there is any fear in the system, the system remains corrupt.

Let's change the system. Let's honor the teachers who lead us home -- whether through challenging circumstances or glorious ones. Let's honor ourselves as we do what we can to embody the highest teachings of yoga, which include love, forgiveness, empathy and surrender. Without these things, we are destined to replay the events of recent days. We can learn from our recent history and redevelop a new structure and thought process in yoga that allows us to walk as equals: as both teachers and students.

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