Chasing Tigers, Poking Cobras - A Yoga Blog

Are You A Good Student?

I have a student, he shall remain nameless (or is it a he?, hmmm….), that has become concerned about wasting my time. He is most definitely not wasting my time, on the contrary, he’s making quite good use of it. His concern stems from confusion about the values of product and process. He thinks that since his product is not as polished as that of some others that the time it takes me to engage in the process with him is of less value. This couldn’t be more from the truth.

Time is a terrible thing to waste – this is one of only two things that all the great Indian gurus in recent memory agree on; the other being that coffee should be taken hot with milk and a great deal of sugar. Personally, I view the stealing of time as a most grievous sin. Time is something we have a finite amount of and to make things more precarious we have no idea when it is going to run out.

How can a student waste his teacher’s time? The teacher is there to engage the student in an educational process. This process will result in many different products along the way. As the process continues products that initially seemed to be of high value will cheapen as newer. shinier, products are created by the ongoing process. How fast is the process? That is different for everyone.

So how can a student waste his teacher’s time? He can refuse to engage in the process.

What does not engaging in the educational process look like? Here are some examples.

1.     Asking questions you already know the answer to.

Seems like a no brainer, yes? Why ask a question to which you already know the answer? Generally it’s for an ego boost. Asking a question for which you already have the answer gives you an opportunity to show just how very smart you are to the teacher. This is especially evident when the original question is followed by a tricky follow up question. Look at me everyone! I asked a super intelligent question of the teacher and then when his answer wasn’t fully satisfying I followed it up with an even more perplexing and involved line of questioning. I am so crafty and shrewd and now my teacher and anyone within earshot knows it! That’s the ego, once again comforting itself in its own individuality and superiority. If you’re going to ask a question, ask because you want to learn something. Seems like a simple task – it’s not, the ego is a sneaky beast.

2.     Doing your own thing.

People like to do what then want when they want. It is only natural. Yoga practice works against this natural inclination. Understanding that getting what you want when you want it is not always the best thing for your personal growth is foundational to an educational endeavor.

Grandparents are known for spoiling their grandchildren. They give the little ones sweets and treats, let them stay up extra late, and take them to special and interesting places to play. Then they give them back to their parents. The parents, wish to educate their children, withhold sweets and treats until after dinner, put them to bed early so they are not tired the next morning, and leave them to play in the same boring sandbox day in and day out. Why this difference between grandparents and parents? Because the grandparents don’t have to deal with the bad behavior caused by their spoiling. Just as Little Johnny is about to throw a temper tantrum because his growing sweet tooth hasn’t been satiated by yet another ice cream bar he’s whisked away by Mumzy and Daddums and Grandma and Grandpa can go back to tending their gardens and crocheting afghans in peace. 

Many yoga students spoil themselves. “This is my time.” “I’m honoring myself and what I need to do right now.” “This is what I need today.” “I’m listening to myself, I’m my own teacher.” These are not uncommon statements heard in yoga studios across the country. I, me, my, mine – these are all terms associated with the ego. If the practice of yoga severs the ego how can I, me, my, and mine be useful to that practice? Doing your own thing is just that – your own thing – don’t try to call it yoga and certainly don’t blame your teacher when you continue on your rollercoaster of suffering because of it.

3.     Being non-committal.

Commitment is essential. Without steady commitment practice with be stop and start, two steps forward one step back, or worse – one step forward two steps back. The actual amount of time you commit only affects your rate of change, the speed with which you evolve (and there are so many other factors at play as well). It is the steadiness of your commitment that produces change.

As a teacher I like to see my students often. Of course the hay ride drawn by a herd of rabid cats that we call life does not always permit my students to see me for practice the traditional 6 days a week – and I have a life outside the yoga studio myself (I know, shocking). I have students I expect to see 6 times a week, others 3 times a week, some one week a month, still others once or twice a week. That I expect to see them implies they have made a commitment:  a commitment that is strong enough to notice, to warrant expectation. If a student’s commitment changes it is easily noticeable and can be addressed.  Without commitment there is no expectation – no expectation on my part of the student, and there shouldn’t be any expectation on the student’s part of me.

In conclusion, let me rephrase all I’ve said in the positive. Honor your teacher’s time as he honors yours. Use your time with your teacher for the greatest possible gain. Ask the questions you need the answers to. Do what is asked of you. Commit to a steady practice that is within your means. I think any teacher would be more than pleased to have a curious, attentive, and faithful student.