Eek, a Sub! Over-Attached to Your Teacher?

A recent tongue-in-cheek headline blares, “Yoga
Quitter: Why I couldn’t say namastay in class
.” Author Jenn Fields
describes arriving to her regular yoga class looking forward to her “happy yogi
energy” teacher Steph, only to find a dreaded sub in her stead. As an 11-year
practitioner, Fields was well aware of her “unyogilike” resistance, but her
“pissyness” upon arriving to discover her teacher was absent persisted. After
“bitterly down-dogging and up-dogging, head and heart out the door,” she snuck
out of class in a “stress-ball flurry,” hoping to find another class at a
nearby studio.

In truth, who among yoga practitioners has not had a similar
experience? As human beings, we gravitate towards the familiar. We not only
choose our teachers based on merit, skill, and experience, but “gut feelings,”
templates established from life experience, and the extent to which our
teachers embody aspects of ourselves—both explicit and repressed. As such, many
students become very attached to yoga instructors, not unlike client to
therapist, or religious supplicant to clergyman. The preferred instructor comes
to represent something deeply safe, familiar; their words, medicine to the
soul. When we find that teacher we really resonate with, they often serve a
deeper need than mere “yoga instructor.”

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Yet while this teacher, for a time, may serve as a panacea,
there comes a time when over-attachment—just as in any other relationship—may
cease to serve. Safety and comfort may turn to stagnation, failing to highlight
areas in need of physical, spiritual, and emotional support. For example,
teachers tend to lead poses that feel good in their bodies, or that are easier
for them; as students, practicing similar sequences habitually may predispose
your body to injury or imbalance. By over-attaching to one teacher or approach,
you fail to expose yourself to teachings that may take you to your edge though
the spark of resistance, potentially facilitating growth.

Ch’an master Lin-chi I-huasan
famously quotes, “If you meet the Buddha,
kill the Buddha…if you meet your parents, kill your parents…in this way,
you attain liberation.” Thus, truth resides internally. No teacher or system
contains a truth that we do not ourselves embody. By affiliating exclusively
with any single system, while tremendous growth and lessons may occur, we may
find temporary safety, but shortchange our own brilliance and agency in the

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In sum, the greatest gift to our beloved teachers is to grow
beyond them, witnessing the most resisted of circumstances as the sweetest of
learning opportunities. If, on the mat with an unfamiliar teacher all we can
think of is heading out the door, what is so painful or challenging that makes
staying impossible? What truth does this offer about ourselves? And, perhaps
most importantly, how might we use this to cultivate awareness and compassion
for our shared humanity?

Have you ever walked out of yoga class or found it
challenging to take a class with a sub when you showed up expecting your
favorite teacher?

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