The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Your Student, Your Teacher

A few weeks ago, one of my students approached me after class and blurted, "Why is yoga so hard for me? Everyone else is able to do the poses, why can't I? What's wrong with me?"

I recognised her type immediately. A passionate, attentive and diligent student, whose physical ability doesn't measure up to her mental ambitions. A student who takes yoga more seriously than her peers but who has to work doubly hard to achieve even half of what they have achieved. A student whose frustration could lead her to either throw in the towel or throw herself more deeply into her practice. She stood there, despair shining in her eyes, and my heart went out to her.

Taking her aside, I gently reminded her that awareness and intention mattered more than results. I told her that yoga isn't only about excuting perfect asanas and assured her that the asanas would come with time. As I emphasised that ambition doesn't belong in a yoga practice, I felt an odd sense of deja vu. Suddenly, I recognised her again. This time on a different level.

She was me.

Students appear as teachers in many forms. Some are potholes, who threaten to derail you from your spiritual path. Some are diagnosis, deepening your knowledge as you search for a prescription. Some are roadmaps, who show you another route to the same destination. Some are budding flowers, who remind you why you love teaching. And some are mirrors, who reflect what you otherwise wouldn't see.

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, renowned author and yogi, says you always attract that which you need to learn from. So true! In my five months of teaching, I've seen myself in three of my students. It's a startling, humbling and invaluable experience. Since then, I've learnt to look beyond my obvious feelings towards a particular student. Why does she inspire me? Why am I provoked by her? Why do I find her challenging? Each answer teaches me a little more about myself. It's a wonderful learning curve but it can be tricky.

I have to remind myself that although my student mirrors some of my qualities, he/she isn't me. Which means I cannot assume that he/she feels the same way and would benefit from the same solution. I cannot be as hard on him/her as I am on myself. If that quality is one of my character weaknesses, I cannot feel annoyed towards him/her for also possessing it. Most importantly, I cannot cross the invisible teacher-student boundary and embrace him/her as a bosom buddy. What I can do is embrace the lesson he/she has unwittingly taught me and use it to groom the both of us. Which is what I did with this particular student.

As I extolled the virtues of practicing without expectations, I realised how difficult it has been for me to practice what I preach. My student, who now looked at me gratefully, showed me what I needed to do. The next day, my personal practice began with the simplest asana - savasana (Corpse).


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