Copyright 2006 Alanna Kaivalya
Many people ask me if I can recommend where they should study yoga on their travels to the birthplace of this ancient Indian philosophy. I humbly admit to them that I have never been to India. My gurus are in New Yorkand they are American.
Most people are surprised at this admission. They question me regarding this. After all, if I am a yogi, shouldnt my guru be an Indian man? Well, the gurus of my gurus are Indian men, but in my case, I look into the soft brown eyes and pale skin of my gurus when I bow before them.
Its funny. yoga has taken such a hold in America, yet some misconceptions are still etched in the practice. For example, we think yoga is practiced in hot rooms just because it is hot in India; we have this image in our minds of ancient yogis practicing warrior two and sun salutations, and we think that in order to be a true guru, your nationality matters.
In this day and age of yoga, its evolution has taken a major turn, one towards the west. More westerners are doing yoga today, at least the practice we define as yoga, than Indians. There is a saying now that there is more yoga on the lower east side of Manhattan than there is in all of India. Westerners have taken yoga to the next levela level of fitness, industry, and fashionyet many yogis still try to remain close to the roots of yoga.
One of the ways that yogis strive to remain closely tied to the true purpose of the practice is by tightening their grip on what they think is most classical, the finding of a guru. This is, in my opinion, the most important piece of yogic philosophical principles. While the west has shaped yoga and turned it into an amazing practice that many people need right now, the one thing that hasnt seemed to catch up with this tidal wave is the idea of a guru.
Many practitioners think that its not important. In truth, some think that guru is a bad word, and those who get over the stigma of what a guru tends to represent think a practitioner has to go to India to find one. This is simply not true. Yoga, as we know it, is largely a western phenomenon, and it is western yogis who have created it and helped it to evolve into the practice we know today. It is they who have crafted the practical application of yoga for modern day living, so why should we not turn to them to learn all we can of their designs? Whether it is Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kripalu, Jivamukti, Viniyoga, Power yoga, or any of the other multitudinous options, all these practices have very strong roots in the west and truly adroit western yogis at their respective helms.
Yoga came into my life in a fairly traditional (American) way. I started going to classes during college simply for health reasons, which is the way most people enter into a yoga practice. Something very strong took hold, and Ive been an avid practitioner since. A nagging desire sent me to study with Sharon Gannon and David Life, and my whole world turned upside down. In their presence, I learned what the term guru meant. In short, I learned to surrender to another being who could show me my true Light.
I know what youre thinking, Wow, thats some pretty esoteric, frou frou talk for a western girl! Believe me, I would have thought so myself before I stood in their presence, but something in me shifted as I listened to them talk at my teacher training. I felt that strong sense of individuality that Americans prize so highly start to slip away. Suddenly, life wasnt all about me anymore, and for the first time, I didnt feel alone. To put it bluntly, loneliness is nasty. A study by the National Institute of Aging says that, People who feel lonely have more health problems and a shorter life expectancy than those who do not feel lonely. Loneliness plagues Americans; it causes stress, shortens our lives, and, in general, makes us a despondent and sorrowful lot.
Well, Ive found the cure for this common American disease called loneliness, and its a guru. Yes, finding someone who will ru (remove) your gu (darkness or muck) is a surefire way to find peace and a release from the ills that plague you. You see, we are all like tiny drops of the ocean wandering around, and until we get back, we dont have the great vast sea of knowledge or bliss from which to draw. One of the quickest ways to get back to the ocean is to find yourself a guru, a person or group of people, who can teach you lifes greatest lessons without your protest and without your ego saying, Im going to do it my way. Some people think that surrender to a guru makes you bland and uninteresting, but by adding your drop of the ocean back into the voluminous sea, you actually have more to draw from and can become a much more rich and vibrant individual.
You dont have to travel to India; you dont even have to be Indian. You dont even have to practice yoga very much to find a guru. The great thing is about this tradition is that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, so, sit back, relax, be receptive to all the lessons life brings to you, and get ready to discover yogas untapped resourcethe tremendous power of surrender to a guru.