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It’s Not the Teacher, It’s the Teachings

By Shabad Kaur Khalsa, LCPC, LMFT, E-RYT 500

“There should be no misunderstanding given to the student that the teacher is all-knowing, all-doing, omnipresent, omni-this or omni-that. That's a quality reserved for God, not a teacher.”
-Yogi Bhajan  3/23/90, Los Angeles, CA

Last week a student who was new to Kundalini Yoga quietly informed me that she stayed away from any yoga classes for three years because an instructor (in another tradition) told her she was doing postures “wrong” and she “was not a candidate for yoga practice.”

What?! I would count that as a traumatic experience with yoga, and needless to say, this woman was carrying a lot of negative messages about herself since that day. I told her that I was inspired by her gutsy move to attend my class.

The power that a yoga teacher holds is one that cannot be under-estimated. A good read for all teachers is Donna Farhi’s groundbreaking book, “Teaching Yoga, Exploring the Student-Teacher Relationship.” Farhi discusses yoga-teaching standards and ethics in this book in really honest and direct ways. She reminds us poetically that when a student comes to a Kundalini Yoga class, we are “holding their heart in our hands.” It is not a small thing. The book Master’s Touch is ‘On Being a Sacred Teacher for the New Age.’ Sacred. That should certainly inspire us to be serviceful and humble teachers!

My husband, Shiva Singh, has often shared his recollection of Yogi Bhajan at Winter Solstice in the early ‘70s with our Teacher Trainees. A woman who had her baby carried on her back was bending over to touch Yogiji’s feet. Shiva Singh watched as Yogiji gracefully turned her around and kissed the baby, which for Shiva Singh dispelled any possibility of misunderstanding our relationship to our teacher.

As Yogiji would often say, “I’ve come to train teachers, not to get disciples.”

So I personally work to remain eminently teachable; so that I’m learning and responding to the students in the give-and-take process of teaching each class. Yogi Bhajan advised us to ‘be a forklift,’ so, breaking that down step-by-step, we approach a subject, ground ourselves (find the humility of the moment), reach out, and uplift them.

This first invites a lot of deep listening {suni(an)}. Tuning in launches with the Adi Mantra, and I continue to actively tune in throughout the class. My thought balloons might be, “How can I best reach these students today? What prompts or phrases can I introduce that are firm yet encouraging? What is the vibration in this room right now?” There is curiosity and inquiry required to really deliver the job.

We are blessed and supported by the teachings of the Golden Chain! Guru is that which takes you from the darkness to the light. In the House of Guru Ram Das, in the tradition of Kundalini Yoga, the light of the Guru passes through the Golden Chain.

I love to describe the Golden Chain recognized as chainmail, interwoven by the rings side-by-side. So when a student takes my classes, and has or will take a workshop or class by another Kundalini Yoga teacher or trainer, the chain is expanded in all directions. It’s not just linear! The relationship and support of the teachings continues. And you know what is super-strong, nearly impenetrable, and shining? ‘Golden’ chainmail!

A committed teacher truly wants their students to exceed the teacher’s own abilities. Yogi Bhajan always reminded us to expect our students to be 10 times greater than us. That’s why we’re called Aquarian teachers - call on the image of Aquarius, kneeling humbly in service, and pouring water from the bottomless pitcher. Bring the Infinite to the students by letting them touch the Infinite within themselves.

Now if we get caught up in imagining that we are somehow better than those in the class, well, look out! Spiritual ego results in the student eventually bumping into a brick wall—namely, the teacher’s ego—and this can cease the student’s growth in their own Divinity. In that situation, we only bring them to our human personality, which is limited by time and space.

And the inverse is true. So keep true to the teachings as given. Even if a class is delivered by a teacher who is ‘green’—still gaining their teaching chops, or just having an ‘off day’—as long as they have respectfully delivered the Kundalini Yoga class with the structure of tuning in, following the sequences as given, and closing with the Longtime Sunshine song; the student will still have an experience.

Patanjali beautifully states in the Yoga Sutras, that the only alignment necessary is to be comfortable, steady, and relaxed in asana. Same goes for the teacher, so be comfortable, steady and relaxed while holding the space on the sheepskin. At the end of our classes we often remind our students they are bowing in respect to their own effort and in respect to the teachings. It has always been, it is now and shall always be the teachings, not the teacher. 

Shabad Kaur Khalsa, LCPC, LMFT, E-RYT 500, KRI Level 1 Lead Teacher Trainer, organizes and leads the Annual Midwest Women’s Yoga Retreat. She is co-founder and director of Spirit Rising Yoga Center and Spirit Rising Foundation. She has taught Kundalini Yoga as well as practiced psychotherapy for nearly 30 years, integrating the yogic teachings into treatment for adults and couples. She is honored to have served Yogi Bhajan directly and has transcribed, edited, and illustrated several books including his Women’s Camp lectures, Master’s Touch andFlow of Eternal Power. The health and empowerment of women through the teachings of Kundalini Yoga is a cause that is near and dear to her heart and she also specializes in Humanology, marriage, conscious birth, self-care, and health and wellness.[email protected]