How to be Human, Together.
By Liz Huntly
I am a Yoga teacher. If you come to my class, then you are my student. Though I may be your teacher, I will never be your guru. I have neither the skills, the wisdom, nor the desire to play that role.
Because I am not your guru, I can be your friend. We can be the kind of friends who embrace when we greet each other, who remember each other’s birthday.
We can be the kind of friends who go out for a drink and get a little bit giggly over a glass of wine, or simply over the bubbly chemistry of our personalities in combination.
Maybe I will invite you over for dinner and, in the process of cooking for you and sharing a meal, I will give you my creativity, my time, and a small piece of my heart. After a while, you might become the kind of friend I can call just to say Hello.
And I might become the kind of friend that you call at four o’clock in the morning because you need a shoulder to weep on. In the years that I have been teaching, I have developed friendships with students in these, and many other, ways.
I am not your therapist. And because I am not your therapist, I can allow myself to be vulnerable before you, as much as you allow yourself to be vulnerable before me. I can tell you how I have struggled; I can show you my scars.
We have to be intentional, if our relationship remains professional, about where we draw our boundaries. But I suspect that by letting you see both my strength and my fear, you will come to know that you are also both strong and afraid, and that you are never truly alone.
You could be my family.
My parents have been my most constant teachers in life, while I have been their most constant teacher in Yoga. All of my siblings and many of my more distant relatives have, at some point, taken a class or a private lesson with me. I have two aunts in Vancouver who I teach by Skype once a week.
But what I wanted to say is that you could be my family, even though we are not related by blood. My first years living in Germany were somewhat lonely, and sometimes difficult. I had a student, who became a friend, who invited me into her home.
She made me tea, and patiently taught me German, and helped me with university applications and gave me legal advice. She listened while I told her how my heart was breaking. She was a surrogate mother when I needed it most, and our relationship was a comfort to me.
I continued to teach her Yoga, which eased some of the stresses of her own life, and was a comfort to her.
In my family — both the one that I was born with, and the one that I have adopted along the way — we take turns supporting each other, so that at times we each have a chance to be a caregiver, and at times we each have a chance to be held.
And maybe, even though I am your teacher, I can also be your lover. I have a co-worker, whose classes I have happily attended for years. While I am in his class, I respect him as my teacher, and I accept the role of being his student.
For a while, we slipped by each other in this unceremonious teacher/student/co-worker relationship, until one day we went for a drink. I had no idea then that it would be our first date, but we live together now (and I hope that we always will).
So actually, I cannot be your lover, because that part of my heart is out on a long-term lease. But I could imagine that at some point you might have a teacher, or a student, who is your equal. And you might decide to call each other mate, and moor your boats together for a time.
After a while, you might even begin to think that two boats is one boat too many, and you will start to build a small nest together, high up in one of your masts.
It will seem like a small miracle that one day you wake up to discover that your collection of hand-picked stones has landed on the same window sill as a collection of glass bottles hand-picked from places you have never been.
Slowly, the two of you will add small treasures that you have collected together, so that your memories entwine, just as your dirty laundry tangles itself together in the same wicker basket.
It might be that you have found the one person who can brave every storm with you. Or, after a few years, or a few nights, you might notice that the waves cause your boats to knock against each other in an unfriendly manner, and that it would be best to put a little bit of distance between yourselves.
One or both of you might feel like you have been left with a leaky vessel as you watch the other sail away. Falling in and out of love comes with a measure of hurt. It is part of the physics of falling.
Which does not mean I condone manipulation. I have never been manipulated by a teacher, but I have been used, and I know the wound that carves into one’s heart. I am afraid, too, that in the long story of my short life, I have manipulated others.
So I have learned, and still learn, to be cautious in how I treat people, and how I allow people to treat me. Which is not about teaching, or Yoga, but rather about being human.
When you are in my class, I ask you to respect the space I create as a teacher.
I will respect that the square of your mat is your space alone. I enter it with your permission only. With my words, and perhaps with my touch, I am trying to guide you in a direction that leads you towards your own soul. That is my job as your teacher.
I do not know what it feels like to be in your body, or how you understand what I am saying with my words and my hands. I need you to tell me if my touch hurts you, or if it makes you feel afraid. That is your job as my student.
When we roll up our mats and put on shoes and go back to our messy lives, we can choose, together, how to be human beings. Perhaps I will just be your teacher. Perhaps I will come to be your friend. Or perhaps I will simply be somebody whose Yoga class you once took.
Whatever our relationship, I promise to honor the light that is within you, within each of us. I ask you to do the same for me.
May our interaction fuel the fire of that light.
May we be warmed by the brightness of its flame.
Liz Huntly is a mover and shaker, a barefoot philosopher, a collector of languages. She mostly lives in Cologne, Germany, but feels at home anywhere she can comfortably get into Vrksasana. She’s infinitely curious about the body and the breath, plants, art, magic, beauty, failure, and how to find the sweetness of being lost in the world. For the multiplicity of ways to get in touch, visit her website.