Tag Archives: Yogi Bhajan

Uniqueness vs Ego

The Art Student

One of my international students knocked on my office door one day. She was a 21 year-old Korean girl that I would learn was here to study engineering. Although, as I also quickly learned, she didn’t like engineering. When I welcomed her into my office, she lifted her eyes briefly to say hello before quickly looking down again. When she began to tell me about her situation she could barely hold back the tears. She was clearly under a lot of stress. As it turned out, the decision to study engineering was not her own. It was a decision made by her father as the condition of going abroad. What she really wanted to pursue was art. This was the first time she had confessed her true feelings about the issue, she said, as the tears, held back for too long, flowed with relief down her cheeks, dripping on her notebook. Her father didn’t feel that art would prepare her for any kind of career and refused to pay for a useless major, she explained.

This story (from my upcoming book) shows why it is so disastrous to compel others to fit into a pre-carved mold, to fashion them by the we-know-what’s-right-for-you pattern.

I began reflecting on what it means to truly live authentically. It means living by the light of our own uniqueness, embracing it and more importantly, sharing it, for, our uniqueness endows us with gifts that are multiplied when offered back out to the world. How may this girl help shape the world through her art? Who can know the future of her life on either path?

But isn’t this ego? Isn’t it more spiritual to not press and push and assert ourselves? What is the difference between personal empowerment and ego? Or, between uniqueness and ego?

Ego just wants to stand out.

Individuality without YOU is just difference. ~Catalyst Yogi

Standing out, or, being different for the sake of being different, is not true uniqueness.

True uniqueness is the acceptance of your own gifts, talents and capabilities. It is the willingness and courage to live from your own authority, shape your own beliefs, forge your path and create your own destiny. It is the right to be yourSELF.

Ego is not yourSELF. It is an impostor shaped from images, roles, expectations and ideas—your own outdated ideas, as well as other peoples’.

We affirm our own existence. There is no one exactly like me. My attributes are singularly my own. My uniqueness is to be respected, cherished, honored, trusted. ~Guru Rattana

While ego, in its search for approval, fame, pleasure and glory, leads us inevitably into disaster, embracing our uniqueness—our true Self—allows  us to better serve in this existence. After all, only you can offer what you have to give.

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Seeing White

Recently someone casually asked me why we wear white, as teachers of Kundalini Yoga. Here is a short passage from my upcoming book, in which I explore the significance of this color.

I didn’t count on the way it would make me feel and the way it would uplift my own presence, as well as that of others around me. White projects an air of purity and neutrality. It is why Rabbis wear white on Yom Kippur and why doctors wear white. It is why, in biblical passages, it is the color of the divine. It is expansive, rather than protective; limitless—like infinity itself, rather than contained; endless, as the compassion and forgiveness we are expected to embody as teachers, and unbounded, like the very essence of our being. In its interminable reflectiveness, it leaves you no choice but to appear, to totally show up, rather than check out, overriding any habitual inclination to hide away, as if under a dark, defensive cloak of protection. I didn’t count on the way it would evoke a certain refinement of my thoughts and actions and my general comportment. Donning the color that is universally held up high and waved humbly as the symbol of truce, it is the mark of our own transformation. And like that waving symbol of peace, it is the emblem of our own ongoing new beginning.

The color white represents the seven colors. Cotton is the flower of the Earth. It is good for your psyche, your energy, and your nervous system. Your way of dressing should be saintly and make you glow with grace. ~Kundalini Yoga Teacher’s Code of Excellence

Perfectionism; The Link between Self-Forgiveness & Healing

You can never get rid of your fears, you can never get rid of your pain, no matter what effort you make, until you have the guts to forgive yourself. Just forgive yourself. ~Yogi Bhajan (1/29/86)

I came across this quote by our teacher. Because it spoke to me, I saved it, but I found myself wondering…why? Why do we need to forgive ourselves? That analytic hex I’ve got was at it again. In my left-brained delirium, I discovered the connection in the perfectionistic tendency. So, for others who may be similarly afflicted (by the need to know, or by perfectionism), here is my take on the link between personal evolution and self-forgiveness.

  • To forgive is most literally, to forth-give. In other words, to go forwards.
  • Because the perfectionism that many of us get caught up into, creates subconscious road blocks, which manifests as a plethora of psychological hang-ups, as well as physical issues. We perfectionist types literally make ourselves sick over the possibility of failing in some way. Forward-thinking healers in the medical profession who have embraced this phenomenon, refer to the myriad psycho-somatic conditions more euphemistically, as mind-body issues. Letting ourselves, or others, down, is so unbearable, that mind-body issues, such as pain or depression, becomes more acceptable psychologically. So, forgiveness, in this regard, is more about forgiving what we perceive to be failures, so that we can move on.
  • The secondary emotions that accompany the perfectionistic tendency result in additional unconscious baggage, such as guilt, regret or even anger, which is perhaps the the worst of all because of the internal backlash it generates. I like to refer to these emotions as “backpack emotions,” that only perpetuate our issues.

In short, when we let go of harmful emotions, we simultaneously enable ourselves to heal. Those toxic seeds worked as a scapegoat, in effect—a distraction, of sorts, that allowed for an ailment that our minds considered more acceptable than personal disappointment. Letting go enables our personal liberation.

How to Turn Anger into Forgiveness (Four Tools)

Lists are cute, but…they can only take you so far. The reason is usually because they tell you the “what” at the expense of the “how,” rendering them entertaining, and perhaps inspirational, but simplistic.

For example, I saw this piece of advice, in a list, just last week:

Give up the need to always be right.

 

A good pointer, for sure. After all, the need to be right is not worth the price of your inner peace. But, alone, it’s a bit like that pair of shoes that looks really good, but won’t help you much when it rains. First, we need to understand where this need comes from. Yes, it’s the ego’s obsession. But for practical purposes, the need to be right arises, all too often, in the midst of conflict, and in the nub of an argument. And it comes with anger (the deeper problem), which is escorted by the inability, or unwillingness, to let go, which, in its turn, comes with the inability, or unwillingness, to forgive.

So, what do you do when your mind is spinning, your composure is slipping and your heart is raging? Here are four tools to use, either alone, or in any order you choose:

1. Affirmations. To diffuse anger.

And you thought a Zen person would only tell you to stop talking to yourself! It all depends on what you say. Talking to yourself can either be a help or a hindrance. We talk ourselves into things and out of things all the time and can skillfully talk ourselves out of being angry if we commit to the task. We can start by reminding ourselves that it is our choice to refuse anger and turmoil and instead choose peace and tranquility. It’s also a choice to be offended and if we’re not offended, there’s nothing left to “prove.”

Anger starts out as a feeling and can quickly turn into words, or even worse, violence. And as both the Yogis and the behavioral therapists say, you are not your feelings. Meaning, that bit of anger that starts out as a nudge can be nipped before escalating into a coercive shove.  It’s a kid, talking out of turn. “Thank you for sharing,” you might say, and move on.

But, what about those television shows that tell us to punch things and get it all out? Anger is not something that needs to be nurtured or “practiced.” Which is why, “venting” doesn’t work. Venting is destructive, rather than constructive. Anger is a habit, like everything else. By venting, you are nurturing the combustible mixture of blame and resentment, clinging to the short-lived illusion of relief due only to the effect of exhaustion.

So, how do we talk to ourselves effectively? A positive affirmation is a bit like a mantra, which, when used properly, results in healing and restoration of the mood and emotions. By repeating a mantra, you are enabling your mind to focus on what you want it to focus on, rather than on the continued negative self-talk that only spins the anger. An affirmation can create a powerful shift in your attitude, resulting in peace of mind. An example would be something simple, such as, “I Am Love,” or, “I Am Forgiveness,” or, “I Am Light.” Notice these are all grounded in presence, as opposed to the past or the future realms, which keep us grounded, in turn.

2. Perspectives. To diffuse anger and enable forgiveness.

The need to be right is a poorly covered power struggle, with you vying to maintain control. The palpable tension it creates is driven on by your belief that there is a price the offender must pay, for their wrongful words or actions.

Remember back, for a moment, to a time when you acted rudely to someone you loved, when you unintentionally hurt someone either because you were distracted by your own troubles or because you let your emotions take you for a ride. Sometimes we don’t even know why we do certain things. We can hardly understand, let alone control, our own moods and behaviors—how much more difficult to fathom someone else’s? It’s seldom even about us, at all. Remembering our own slips and blunders brings us quickly into a state of equanimity and calm compassion. It lets us remember that we too, have been there, done that.

3. Visualizations. To Forgive and let go. 

This is a powerful Buddhist meditation I learned many years ago from one of my teachers. It is both startling and highly effective—if done with concentration. Here is the shortened version:

Imagine the dead body of the person who angered you. Visualize their body as distant, pale and lifeless. See, in your mind’s eye, the lifeless body beginning to rot. Imagine worms crawling in and out of the eye sockets and the mouth, and all of the crevices, eating away at the putrefying flesh. Finally, see nothing left, at all, but a strewn pile of dried-up bones. 

This ancient meditation will remind you of the fleeting nature of existence. It will remind you of how silly it is to get hung up on what usually turns out to be nothing at all. It will remind you, most powerfully, of the precious, short time we have to spend with our loved ones and to cherish that time, rather than waste it on nonsense.

5. Breathe.  To diffuse anger and quickly switch gears.
Truth: Most people breathe unconsciously. Which means, too shallow and too fast. We don’t fill up our lungs, which means, we’re not getting enough oxygen and we’re not expelling carbon dioxide. Aside from the health problems that would likely be ameliorated through deep breathing, what it means for our purposes here, is that we’re irritable. The Yogis have long known that shallow breathing is associated with anger and ill temper. And to make things worse, stress uses up even more oxygen. To turn things around, take three big, long breaths—but really do it! With one hand on your belly to act as a guide, bring that breath down toward your belly, expanding your diaphragm until you look like you’re pregnant! This activates the parasympathetic nervous system and effectively kick-starts the relaxation response, immediately bringing you into a different state of mind.

“The art of deep breathing is also the art of real living.” ~Yogi Bhajan

It’s All About Switching Gears

My Project
I just finished the main portion of an advanced supplement to my training as a Kundalini Yoga teacher. This module focused on Vitality and Stress and is one of five voluntary courses we can take at the level two classification. What I call the main portion was the time spent in the company of our Sat Sanghat (community) and teachers: three weekends during the last month, which began at 7AM on Saturday and ended at 5PM on Sunday. We basically just went home to sleep on Saturday night. In that way, they were like meditation retreats. But also because, although there was a copious amount of information exchanged, the emphasis was on our experience. So, the days were transformative and intense, with our teachers taking us through the numerous Kriyas and meditations related to the topic of the course. Our continued work is to be done on our own, and consists of reading, journaling, follow-up meetings, an exam, and a 90 day sadhana (personal meditation) to be done every day for 31 minutes.

I have decided to make two of the journal entries public, by way of this blog. The first of these follows, below. It has to be done in a very specific way—we explore any situation from the perspective of what we call, in Kundalini Yoga, the negative mind, the positive mind and the neutral mind, followed by a short commentary arrived at from the state of shuniya—non-attachment. Because this module focused on Vitality and Stress, the situation should be one which was potentially stress-provoking. And it is supposed to be done in an unedited, free-flowing manner.

The perspectives I will present may or not be mine. They may be fabricated, or derivative of those reactions I have witnessed in others around me. Because this is public, I’ll preface the actual journal with an introduction, focusing on the role of the three minds.

Introduction: On The Three Minds
Life without conflict exists in a coffin. ~Yogi Bhajan

So, how do we get through our conflicts with grace? How do we come out clean? The problem comes into focus when you consider that for the majority of the population, the negative mind—which serves the legitimate purpose of alerting us to possible danger—serves as the go-to mode. They get paralyzed by an incessant flow of self-doubt, suspicion, anger, fear and hatred. And they live there. The worst is that in order to feel better, they drink, smoke, party, shop, gamble and take drugs. All of it is for the purpose of silencing the negative mind, of escaping. Our power lies in our ability to switch gears: to go from the negative mind to the positive mind, and finally to the ideal vantage point of the neutral mind, which, like a mirror, reflects reality as it is, without bias or preference.

“It doesn’t matter if you are a Sikh or a Moslem, or a Hindu or a rabbi or a Christian or Jew…if you are a millionaire or a pauper, or if you are beautiful or ugly.” None of it matters if you don’t know how to switch those three gears, says our teacher, Yogi Bhajan.

He says it would be like driving a car and getting stuck in fourth gear. An accident waiting to happen. But all the everyday meltdowns are due to exactly this—getting stuck, like that car. Getting stuck in the negative mind. Although the negative mind is of utmost importance, we don’t want to live there. But we do.

The Situation
My son tells me his ex-girlfriend is pregnant. He tells me she is set on having the baby. They do not intend to get married. He acknowledges it is his. Now his comments as of late make sense: “I think it would be cool to be a young Dad…I’d teach him/her how to play guitar and surf.” I ask all the usual questions, the whole routine that parents do, about what his responsibilities will entail and the changes that may arise in his relationship with his ex. But I am calm.

The Negative Mind
The poor child—growing up in the midst of likely turmoil and perpetual disagreement and disharmony. And this will derail my son from his goals. How will he afford child support at his age? I wouldn’t be able to take on full-time infant care at this point in my life! The disputes between them will inevitably cause her stress, which will create a toxic environment for the developing baby. They’re too young to hold it together for the sake of the child. They’re going to fall apart. How will they ever iron out a mutually satisfactory arrangement when they do? And how will they maintain a peaceful correspondence? 

The Positive Mind
The only thing that makes anything difficult is lack of motivation, and nothing motivates like becoming a parent! Nothing makes a man out of you faster than becoming a father. And I already see positive changes in him—he’s glad he didn’t buy a motorcycle. Hallelujah to that. And he’s talking again about finishing his tests in aviation. This was a timely kick-in-the-pants. Funny how the universe works! No body’s asking you to take on full-time infant care! I’m actually looking forward to holding a little child-spirit in my arms. A little mini-my-son! I’d love to take it around and teach him or her all I can. We’re going to completely spoil it. And I can water-paint while it sleeps. And push the stroller while I walk Marcel at the same time. I’ll be one enthusiastic, young-ish Grandma!

The Neutral Mind
In Indian spirituality, they didn’t choose to have this baby; the baby chose them. It is beautiful. Because it’s life. It’s natural. Everyday, babies are born in as many diverse situations as your imagination allows. No one is ever ready to have a baby. And when you scratch beneath the surface, even the ones who meet society’s expectations and appearances are a mess. Appearance is never a guarantee of anything. The most important thing is a mother’s loving arms and she has shown herself to be equal to the task. I was just like her when I had my son. I was her. And nearly the same age. And equally determined. Fiercely protective from the first moment. It grounded me and brought such joy into my life. The things I thought mattered didn’t matter at all. It was just the two of us for over two years and those years were so cozy and sweet. I would just stare at my baby’s beautiful face. I shall tell her this. Life will present us with one challenge and seeming crisis, one after another, for ever. That’s what we’re here for. The only question is, how will we present ourselves?. With love and acceptance? Or with fear and insecurity? From expansiveness? Or limitation? After all, we can either accept it now, or accept it later. My task is to show up as a source of upliftment, positive energy, love and support. I can do that. Their challenge is to rise to the occasion. I get to watch my son grow up now. I choose to reside in faith. We don’t really get to control much, anyway.

Final Comment
As my teacher Gurudhan said, “our task is to open ourselves up to what is in front of us.” God…the universe…infinity…life…will put situations in front of us. Are you receptive? It’s all about change, he explained. “And how we face that change is part of the adventure of going into different realms of consciousness.”

When you are not bound by the negative force or the positive force…Then YOU are the force. ~Yogi Bhajan

~

PS. Stay tuned for the second journal entry!

Emotions Don’t Make a Man

Sometimes I receive notes from people I don’t know. Sometimes they ask me for advice, and sometimes I’m able to give it. Here is an (edited) version of a recent one.

Question from an unknown friend:

I have always read about “letting go…” and specifically about letting go of the ego. Isn’t this the purpose of Yoga and Buddhist practice? I think it sounds good but I wonder if it is healthy overall to let go of so much in life. Isn’t part of life just feeling good and acting upon emotions? Isn’t that part of a fulfilled life to accept those feelings? How do I know when I should allow feelings and emotions to exhibit themselves or not? I struggle with this immensely. I almost feel like ego is me and therefore only death would detach me from any thread of ego attachment. When I have an opinion – am I just supposed to suppress it? Thank you for your time.

————

My response:

Friend:

You said: ” Is not part of life just feeling and acting upon emotions? Isn’t that part of a fulfilled life to accept those feelings?”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone could tell you, “Yes, you’re right, I guess that’s what life is for.” But I can’t be the one. You see, this very idea is what Yoga (and Buddhist practice) is there to correct.

The whole purpose of “having a practice” is to steady the mind. Yoga is about the mind, not the body. It is about managing your energy, your emotions and your thoughts, so that those emotions don’t manage and overwhelm you. It’s therefore about you managing you.

Imagine if we took your question (in quotes, above) and made it universal, which is to say, allowed for society at large to act on it as a sort of “rule.” The result would be exactly like the fourth grade school yard, where anytime anyone gets angry, they just stomp and scream and throw their toys at others. After all, they would simply be “acting on their emotions.”

But, here’s the thing. Society is actually like that. Most people have not learned to manage their emotions, have not evolved to where life is about anything other than their passing feelings, nor have they come to identify with any higher purpose of existence.

It’s all about “how I feel.”

And so, we have road rage, prozac, addictions, dysfunctional relationships, war, hatred, envy, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, emotional disorders, a never-before-seen number of learning disabilities, stress, tension, and political elections that resemble an afternoon at the local kindergarten.

When body, spirit and mind are in a state of balance, which is to say, at the very least, that the “negative mind” doesn’t govern, those emotions don’t seem so overwhelming and living becomes more peaceful. What does this have to do with “letting go?” We stop getting so caught up with those habitual thoughts that only keep us limited—judgment thoughts, self-deprecating thoughts, doubtful thoughts and resentful thoughts—the kinds of thoughts we don’t want to characterize our ideas of ourselves and others. Because our thoughts weave the fabric of who we are.

It’s as Yogi Bhajan once said, in his characteristically straightforward and slightly mischievous way, “it’s not emotions that prove you’re alive. The way to find that out is to check your nose. If the breath goes in and out, then you are still alive.”

You see, once we begin to quiet the spinning mind, once we begin to relate to that which is infinitely greater than our passing trifles, once we begin to become truly conscious beings, then we relate to those emotions differently. We learn not to define ourselves by them and they begin to lose their hold and power over us. We become more stable and more able!

Kind Wishes,
~Donna

One Year Ago: The First Teacher-Training Diary

It was this time last year that I made the decision to deepen my practice as a Yoga teacher. It was a long time coming–I heeded the calling of my heart to study directly under my beloved masters of Kundalini Yoga at Yogi Bhajan’s first and only studio, Yoga West.

It had taken six years, and at least two weeks of waffling, to finally commit. I remember the night I called to say Yes; I took my walk as usual, only the pink-stained evening sky was pinker than usual, the drooping golden sun was twice as gold as usual, and the crisp autumn breeze that chilled my just-washed face was the most delightful breeze there ever was.

I knew I would want to chronicle this life-changing journey, and I did. Here is the first of several teacher-training diaries I wrote, that were originally published on Spirit Voyage.

I walked briskly down the street in the rain, carrying an open plate of assorted curries and rice. Zigzagging around two Jewish families, out for Saturday services, I sought a moment of refuge in my car, to absorb the somewhat magical events that had transpired that day.

Still flush from the long group chant, I watched as the raindrops coalesced on my windshield. My voice had melted away into the warm sea of long “Ek Ong Kars.” I had lost the sense of where my own voice ended and the others began. The vibrational frequencies of 58 voices fused into a lush whole and time itself evaporated like dew. It was as if we all dissolved into some invisible swell that had gently washed over us. I took a bite of the creamy raita on the side of my plate and watched one single raindrop trickle down the window, leaving behind a long, clear squiggle for peeking through to the glassy, rain soaked street.

As all the genuine spiritual traditions remind us, it is through the dignity of letting go that wisdom is attained. In subtle paradox, it is by losing that we gain. In chanting, it was not merely our voices that we offered up to the infinite, but our very sense of self. In exalting the sacred mantra through chant, the tangible and the intangible disappeared into unison. At another moment, a white head wrap and an outstretched leg extended in front of my own, while mine lay, in turn, behind another. Together, we all carried on, and for the duration of the kriya, our bellies pumped air as one rhythmic body, like some multifaceted breathing apparatus. We were a woven cloth. For a time, personal space melted away, along with the intangible sense of separateness that keeps us from our own divinity.

In the shadowy world of separateness and duality, bad habits loom. Fear looms. The hum of adversity is often dispatched from the depths of the psyche, still on automatic, like a broken old alarm that sounds for no reason. There was a moment when mine hollered out – victim to the old triggers. But one of the Yogis inspirited my heart and knocked all sense out of me. I thanked him. And with a gentle word he sent me off to sharpen my tools. We are empowering ourselves to glide above those old patterns, to fly, wholly powered by spirit.

We have been gifted with invaluable tools of Kundalini Yoga, and we are learning how to use them. Through the timeless wisdom and functionality of these kriyas, we are learning how to scrap the unconscious negative reflexes and oust the heavy blocks that prevent the wholeness of mind and radiance we seek. Yogi Bhajan was forthright about the efficacy of what he called “the Yoga of awareness,” revealing that by practicing its techniques correctly, “we fry this subconscious mind; we make toast out of it and eat it.” Seeing us falter during a particularly intense kriya, Gurudhan reminded us to “become the nervous system.” “Keep going,” the yogi called out, as we disappeared into the kriya, as we became the kriya. We were mastering our energy rather than the other way around.

In some ways, this process reminds me a bit like getting thrown into the washing machine and then spat out again. And I’m hopeful it’ll be a cleaner, softer, more appealing me than what originally went in. I knew the intense, nine month period wasn’t an arbitrary figure. It’s as Guru Singh explained that first night: Like a birthing, after nine months, we’ll come out of the birth canal pure and new. “First you’re like eager babes,” he mused, as he surveyed the room full of the novice’s enthusiasm. “Then, as you begin to feel comfortable and more at home, you’ll start to relax and you’ll be draping your bodies all over, like you own the place.” But he continued on, explaining that by the end of the training period, we will have come full circle, only not exactly in the same starting place. When we get ready to emerge, as Aquarian teachers of 2011, we will be like eager young babes again. But in a different way.

I still have the teacher training pamphlet from 2005 in my Yoga files. Although it was because of Guru Singh, that I took that flyer five years ago, and because of him, that I finally committed this year, the boon is that through this intense training program, I will also have the benefit of learning from other masters, that I am quickly growing to love. Soon I will look upon them all as my teachers. And I will officially count myself among the third-generation disciples of Yogi Bhajan, himself.

It is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful, but also a tremendous responsibility, for these timeless teachings will be reflected in my own conduct and in the way I bring them forth to others as a teacher. But, it was a calling of the heart. And this is a brave heart that can only become more brave through practice.

On the Notion of a Perfect Teacher

   I watched a documentary about the American spiritual teacher, Ram Dass. His Be Here Now, has long been one of the staples on my book shelf. Now 80 years old, he talks candidly about the struggles he’s faced after his stroke. He confessed the moment when, on the verge of death, he failed to orient himself toward God. That’s the ultimate test, he explained, and according to him, he flunked it. “I still have a lot of work to do,” he says.

His honesty touched me. It is often assumed that those on a spiritual path don’t slip and fall. But as my Zen teacher has said, it’s not whether you fall or not, it’s how quickly you can get back up. In Yoga, we look at growth as it manifests in degrees and stages, the real measurement of which is entirely internal, and rarely consistent. Progress in anything, including life itself, is never a straight line. But what we do have, as seekers, is an ever keener insight into the difference between what our minds have concocted and reality itself; the tools needed to snap out of our delusion; a willingness to laugh about our own folly, and with time, perhaps, the courage to make things right.

As teachers, we can be hard on ourselves when we do find ourselves splashing around in the dark waters of old habits. At our final Yoga teacher-training weekend, Joey told us he had had an altercation with someone just before arriving. I was listening. I had just exchanged words with a demanding student.

We had both been rocked off center and we shared our feelings with the group. We were disappointed in ourselves. We were about to graduate as teachers of Kundalini Yoga. We both share a feeling of responsibility for maintaining the dignity and excellence of this tradition and part of how we do that is through our own conduct.

What happens, Joey asked, when this sort of thing happens and we’ve got to teach a class? Do you cancel? Of course not—what an idea! You go and you teach, our teacher said. And in this tradition, what that means, is that first, we “tune in.” You never know who will be there and what they will take away from the class. There might be someone in your class that day who will decide to become a teacher herself, or who will be so moved as to make some positive life-change. And chances are, you too, will forget all about whatever it was you left outside the door before you took your place on the teacher’s bench. And you did leave it outside the door!

Tuning in means going beyond ourselves to align with the greater wisdom we deliver as teachers. In this way, the teacher is more like a messenger than an originator. The teachings come through us, rather than from us, and have nothing to do with our individual personality or quirks. They go beyond the words that are spoken and are communicated subtly through our own presence.

The conventional, or western, or academic, notion of a teacher is of one that dispenses information and data. From our perspective as Yoga teachers, this reduces teaching to nothing more than a “professional trade.” As our own founding teacher, Yogi Bhajan, quipped, if we look upon teaching in such a shallow way, as merely a profession, “we will train many preachers, but no teachers.”

Our focus should be on getting out of our own way and on uplifting and guiding others, rather than on our own success or failure. Our obsession on perfection is just another ego trip. And that doesn’t mean we stop striving toward excellence—our very ability to develop excellence is directly proportional to our ability to stop striving. At least where that striving is tied up with our ideas and notions of who we should be. We had better simply let go of ourselves.

When we begin to do this, we begin to manifest a certain grace when we teach. Ironically, the very shift in the way we understand our duty as teachers, from one in which we recite information, to one in which we serve, is the first step toward inner transformation. But it takes faith and trust to relax into this role as a conduit of truth. To be entrusted with the task of serving, of being a source of light, makes it, most surely, a noble profession. As such, “to be a teacher is the ultimate human end,” Yogi Bhajan concludes.

Anyone who teaches to be a teacher rather than to serve, will fall. ~Yogi Bhajan