By: Mitchel Bleier
I was watching the original Karate Kid with my 8-year old nephew the other day. Mr. Miyagi said, “There are no bad students, just bad teachers.” Woah, it made me pause and think just how important taking the seat of the teacher really is, and how little I could understand that until these last few years when I took time away from teaching. What did I know when I started teaching at 19? In some way that was a gift - my ignorance protected me from thinking I knew more or better — or worse, that I knew it all. But as I gained more knowledge and experience over the next 5, 10, even 15 years as a teacher, then that little knowledge — and let’s face it, that’s barely enough time to scratch the surface of knowing yoga/life — ended up requiring more care and caution than I knew. I’ve realized how many mistakes I made as a teacher. In some ways, I was stubborn and had to do it my way, and in some ways, I was just modeling the behaviors and actions that I was taught - my teachers whether they knew it or not passed down to me not just their teachings but their behaviors too. I didn’t know then at twenty or twenty-five how much I was modeling the behavior, mannerism, and actions of my “role models.” If I only knew then that we humans model movement and behaviors, and therefore, the way we handle emotions unlike other animals where movement is instinctual, then maybe I would have paid attention more closely to how my role models were molding me. I am very grateful for my teachers and what I learned from them, but I see their humanness, as I see mine. There is in all this my revelation that I needed to mature and understand more (perhaps that is true for my teachers too) what the magnitude of being a teacher means. Perhaps having given more time to let things develop, tested the results, and just waited would have been more prudent, then jumping in so quickly. Thankfully I am learning. It’s a truth for me. I see this cycle as something that has to change, the same way I have to be a more deliberate parent — a different parent than what I had. I love my parents and they are wonderful, but repeating the parenting model I grew up with will keep breeding the same reactions, emotional responses, ways of communicating, et all. I have to remold myself to be more than what came before me. Otherwise, I am repeating this broken system.
I’m not saying all new, young yoga teachers will be immature or not understand the weight of the seat of the teacher as I. I will say I am just starting to understand it now. It has taken me over 20 years, and it took a little time away and letting things go, as cliche as that sounds. As a teacher, I have an enormous responsibility. It is that simple. “There are no bad students, just bad teachers.” We (students) learn our behaviors from somewhere - at home, school, the office, the playing field, military, media, or the studio, we can all use better models to learn our roles in life. I have learned that power is not anger. I have learned that discipline is not punishment. I have learned that what I know is not better than what someone else knows and that I can learn from anyone and be better for it. And I am modeling this for my son or the students that attend class, a course, or training with me.
There is a time to marvel in the physical feats, tricks, and illusions of the yogi, but if it replaces the wisdom that happens with age, experience, mistakes, and maturation then we will keep repeating, and not evolving from, this broken system where knowing or unknowingly we are acting as and modeling what came before us. Why are there so many feelings of insecurity, feelings like we are not worthy, never enough, distractions, cravings, and dissatisfaction still looming even greater than ever amongst the yogis I interact with, or bigger, in our culture? The evolution starts with us the yoga teachers: in our homes as parents: in the workplace as the leaders: and any person who at any time has the attention of someone else. Think what role you are modeling.
I will always push my physical boundaries and try to do things that inspire me because it is who I am, but I know that it is not what defines yoga nor does it solely prepare me to hold the seat of the teacher with honor. Now, I understand the great weight to be the teacher, and I carefully and lovingly choose to be a role model as a teacher, and especially a dad, so the future feels hopeful.
This is what I mean as Advanced Yoga.
Finally, I apologize to all and any students that in my ignorance, or arrogance I have harmed. I had no ill intention in doing so, but with malice or not, the action is still the same. As I forgive my teachers, I hope any student I’ve taught can forgive me.