When I first studied yoga in the early 1970s, I marveled at the flexibility, twists, and pretzel-like body shapes that I saw in a book called Light on Yoga. I hoped that one day I could achieve those poses, or at least could glean understanding about my own limitations that would give way for me to gain such suppleness. Subsequently I began focused study into the discipline of that yoga teacher, BKS Iyengar.
He stated that a teacher must give hope. That tiny yet towering word ‘hope’ is synonymous with inspiration, promise, desire, aspiration, and optimism. I have come to understand what he meant.
I attained greater flexibility – both in my body and my spirit – while I committed decades to practicing, studying and spending time at intensives to achieve certification. It was the promise to grasp more about life and the desire to find balance and strength that compelled me to move forward. Now I fully believe that it is hope that must underpin what I teach. For in this subject, teaching the body teaches how to still the chatter of the mind.
New students join my classes and I must ask – as I do of everyone – if they have any health issues about which I need to be aware. They will look at me blankly, which then prompts me to list certain situations: spinal fusions, high blood pressure, any recent retinal surgery? Their challenges are their gates, and their gates contain their fear within. Fear itself is limitation. And it is hope that is the key that will unlock those gates, and ultimately liberate the limitation.
I recognize that this response from new students requires their quick assessment about how much they reveal themselves to me, essentially a stranger, in so fresh a situation. But mostly, they will confer their trust, and confide. I recognize that their answers compel me to uphold their trust. Here is another area where the hope comes in.
Teaching allows me to pinpoint what I know and offer it to them. I teach to alleviate their fears, sometimes to eradicate their pain, and always to deepen and grow in their yoga practice with solidity and confidence. I teach to provide them with a spark that will illuminate their personal journey. That spark is the hope.
I am not writing about a spiritual quid pro quo. Rather, I recognize that I have to infuse the students with their sense of possibility. This then, is the meaning of his choice of the word “hope.”
I believe I must give inspiration and possibility, and infuse realistic hope into a spiritual practice. Hope applies in every situation and on any realm. It is a pretty wonderful four-letter word. And I believe we all desperately need to give it to each other.
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