I’ve always liked being put on a pedestal —by my friends, my husband and especially by my yoga students. It does feel good! I would assert that we all like that feeling of being uncritically admired.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to being adored. As a yoga teacher your job can become about living up to the expectations imposed by students. For instance, you have to look good at all times and your yoga poses must always be polished. You mustn’t lose your temper and you definitely mustn’t get sick.
Eighteen years ago I received a rude awakening when I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the hips. I felt my ego crush like a stepped-on grape. I convinced myself the disease would spell the end of my career as a yoga teacher. The words “hip replacement” filled me with dread and resistance. Most of all, I didn’t want any of my yoga students to know I had a serious condition.
In those days I only wanted to present a perfectly healthy, ever-youthful image because that is what a yoga teacher is meant to be, isn’t it? I wasn’t quite ready to step down from the pedestal.
Over the years, as my arthritis became worse, the symptoms became more obvious. I started to make necessary changes to my lifestyle and adapted my yoga practice. I also made a crucial decision; my experience was not shameful or a stigma, but rather it could be useful for others to learn from my experience.
I wrote an article about yoga and arthritis around eight years ago, partly as a way of “outing” myself. Because I wasn’t fighting against the existence of the arthritis, I felt more at one with myself and with others. Interestingly, my students didn’t seem to make much of my story, except to enjoy that I’d had my name in print.
The absolute truth is that we’re all going to be sick from time to time, and some of us will get a disease. We will all age and one day we will die. Yoga won’t save us from the inevitable, but being faithful to our practice is undoubtedly fruitful.
I finally had my double-hip replacement surgery earlier this year, and my rapid and smooth recovery has reminded me that nearly 40 years of yoga practice is like money in the bank—except that it’s an investment in mental, emotional and spiritual health, as well as material in my case.
On my healing journey I’ve discovered that whether you’re a yoga teacher, a prime minister or an admired partner or parent, you’re more likely to end up suffering from carrying others’ expectations. They become a burden and may end up entrapping you.
Dismounting from the pedestal and being authentic has given me a more powerful platform to stand on than a figurative podium. It’s a place where I can include all of myself, even the parts that may be perceived by others as weaknesses.
This kind of role model creates tremendous space for others to accept themselves too, warts and all. By not resisting any part of ourselves, we develop inner strength and can entirely do away with the allure of a pedestal.
Eve Grzybowski has taught yoga for the past 30 years. She is the founder of Simply Yoga in Crows Nest, NSW and the author of Teach Yourself Yoga. Eve writes about yoga and her life at www.eveyoga.wordpress.com