The only place for power is in the word Empowerment
The number of scandals in the church has been met in recent years by revelations of sexual abuse by self acclaimed yoga Guru's In India and the west. The damaging side of human nature is not prevented by codes of conduct nor testaments of awakened being, it seems. So this was the background that gave impetus to the panel I was invited to participate in at this years yoga conference on the Gold Coast - Is Power a dirty word in Yoga?
So yes, in my colleagues Leanne's words “Game's Up”. It is unanimously agreed it is inappropriate for yoga teachers to enter into sexual relations with their students. The dynamic between a teacher and a student is not the basis of a relationship. The vulnerability of the student looking up to the 'wiser' Guru (therapist/doctor), sets up an uneven power base when the teacher's need for adoration/validation/? steps in to complement that dynamic.
Although this has not been my experience, either side of the student-teacher relationship, this panel did prompt me to consider some things over the last 6 months before the panel... reflecting generally on my journey into empowerment.
Many of you will be aware that I have spent time in ashrams in India. I've encountered genuine Indian Guru's and also had western teachers with an equal level of attainment. Inspired in my late 20's I spent 18 months living in ashrams and seeking teachings around India. I was pretty naive, though sensible and lucky - all of my teachers held very clear boundaries. When I reflect I see my past journey of wanting the answers, wanting the knowledge, thinking it is obtainable from these inspirational outside sources. What I got back consistently was a mirror, giving me strength to look at my self or from time to time a loving reprimand that resulted in me seeing something more clearly and feeling more fully my own inner power. The response of my teachers resonated with my own inner knowing; sometimes the words of my inner Guru, coming seconds before the teacher's same response. What is interesting though and I touch more deeply now with 10 years + more maturity, was/is my willingness to give away that power to the outside; despite the clear teachings of yoga that we are divine, complete and have that knowing within us. I play daily now with the fear of stepping into my power with the continued prompting of my teacher to do so. I recognise in this, the vulnerability that sets us up, particularly women, to be abused in our relationships, not just with teacher's, but with partners and friends. Yoga gives so much guidance to enter into loving relationships and friendships, where both/all party's are empowered.
So how does this look in the yoga class. Some of you will have responded to the small survey I conducted recently, an extension of my exploration of this topic. I wanted to know how deeply you are understanding yoga, whether I share the wisdom of yoga sufficiently and effectively. Also I wanted to check in and clarify my role in that.
If we consider asana, the exercise part of yoga. I have some knowledge that you don't about alignment and healthy ways of moving. This doesn't make me better in any way; I like to think this gives me a responsibility to share this in the class. In this I can assume the role of an authority and sometimes be very directive – I fall into using 'should's and do's and don't's in my instruction. This is a bit counter to yoga and so I try to balance it with some freedom to explore and test out and recently to do your practice without my instruction. Sometimes it's ok that the alignment is not the way I think it 'should' be; I think it's more important for you to 'own' your practice. I hope this has given you all greater confidence to step up to this. Here is the real understanding of the goal of yoga. Here you step into your power. You take given knowledge, prompted by my external, objective eye and look and see if it holds true for you. Gone are the barriers to home practice. This is the life journey of practicing asana, (pranayama and meditation) that make it a great tool of self study.
Then you have the seeds of philosophical teachings that are dropped into class - very powerful ancient wisdom at hand. Not from an enlightened Guru from India, but teachings that I have been gifted, tracing a long, long line of an ancient tradition. If these seeds hold true for you when you examine them then they too may grow into something you own that's supports your life in some way.
The heathly student-teacher relationship for me is to see the truth that the teaching point to, that is beyond the teacher. The teacher may not be perfect, they may push my buttons, they may suggest things to me that I may or may not follow, but the teaching that comes through that I recognise as truth is honoured. It feels true to me and is checked by that external, objective eye. Our minds are so crafty that our own perspective does often need checking.
So in summary I don't think it actually matters whether it is an awakened Guru, a teacher, a therapist, a partner or a friend, the process is the same. You seek guidance appropriate to the other person's knowledge base, in this you consent to listening to that guidance. When given such, the guidance is considered and if it rings true and helpful it will be utilised. Any breakdown in this process is a problem. ie. The teacher doesn't have the knowledge base; or you are not truly seeking guidance or they are giving unsolicited guidance; or the guidance given doesn't ring true – you are under no obligation to do anything that doesn't feel right to you.
So I finish then by sharing my explanation of the Purnamadah chant. Follow this link to hear me perfectly, imperfectly chant this and the other class mantras.
Om Purnamadah, purnamidam
Om, shanti, shanti, shanti
Our true nature is one of fullness 'Purna'. We are complete. It is through our mistaken understanding that we try to feel complete by seeking outside of ourselves – seeking possessions, new relationships, a miriad of self development practices etc.. The yoga tradition teaches us how to let go of the identifications that veil our true 'divine' being. When we chant this mantra, we are reminded to step into the awareness behind the mind. We realise or remember our true Self by observing all that we are not.
Listen to Rachael Kohn's interview from the Yoga Australia conference - Yoga Ethics.