“In the pursuit of happiness you have tried all sorts of things-sex, drugs and hundreds of other things-and you know that such things cannot make you happy for long. But still you continue to run into the external world, trying to learn that art of health and happiness from that teacher, from this guru, from that swami. But let me tell you that unless you find the teacher within, these teachers and preachers in the external world cannot make you happy. You must learn to light your own lamp. An external object can simply show you the way, but ultimately, you have to walk the path by yourself.”- Swami Rama, At the Eleventh Hour by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
This quote is from a speech that Swami Rama gave after hosting a yoga conference with a lot of teachers all saying contradictory things. In order for a yogi to have a consistent practice, they have to stop chasing light and learn how to light their own selves up.
If we want to sustain a practice through controversy, sickness, health, loss of a teacher, loss of faith, loss of a yoga studio, injury, lose of a lineage, we have to be willing to walk the path alone. Swami Rama goes on to explain that this only happens when we are clear about why we are practicing and willing to sit in honest contemplation of our own thoughts. This is important. Many people want to be their own guru but they are not clear about the purpose of practice and they are unwilling to take an honest hard look at their own thoughts and behaviors. They are unwilling to take responsibility of their part in creating their reality. Being our own gurus does not mean that we become our own yoga asana choreographers. “I am going to pull the anatomy from this lineage, the flow from this teacher and the handstands from this dude. Tada, I am my own guru.” The “gu” is darkness/ignorance and the “ru” is the dispeller of it. It goes way deeper than how we put a sequence together.
All of this is rooted in the kleshas presented in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2: 1-9. Patanjali starts out by saying that we have to accept that there will be some pain or burning in our yoga journey and that this pain/burning is needed for purification. This is why I love Patanjali. He tells it like it is and is honest right from the start. Throughout the sutras he says, to avoid pain when possible but that it won’t be possible all the time. In this practice, we are going to come up against some mental and physical barriers that we are going to have to use tapas or burning to get through. Patanjali tells us right away to get ready for it. It is coming.
In Sutra 1:30, Patanjali tells us that we are going to have illness, lack of interest in our practice, doubt and indecision, negligence, laziness, desire for sensual pleasures that take us away from the purpose of yoga, wrong understanding, backwards movement in our practice and an inability to maintain our practice. In sutra 1:33, he tells us that we are going to come across wicked people and how to handle them.
Patanjali says everything possible to get the point across that the path of yoga is not a walk in the park! If we are going to make it through all of this, we have to know why we are practicing. We have to know why we are choosing to live by the tenets of yoga and to be on this path. After we know why, then we can start the process of working with our kleshas and contemplation. We have to admit that we suffer from the klesha of avidya or ignorance of who we truly are. Then we start to contemplate our deep rooted tendencies, the other 4 kleshas of egoism, running towards what we think will take away our pain, not facing what we feel will cause us pain, and fear of death.
Being our own gurus means that we are willing to sit with pain and discomfort by ourselves. We don’t bury it. We don’t hide it. We don’t glorify it with a story of “I am this way because of this.” It means we are willing to deal with the feeling of loneliness that comes up when you walk the path alone. It means we are willing to be misunderstood and to misunderstand. It is the conscious process of sitting with our inner voice in a deep and purposeful way.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.