Yoga, An Inner Guru and You

I am my own guru

sitting-lotus Guru is a word that is infrequently used in my vocabulary. Frankly, it feels pretentious, superior and a bit intimidating. It is too heavy of a word to throw down at a party and not tangible as part of the cultural norm. Yet, when incorporated in the context of “the guru within” I can swallow and follow that notion, especially as it relates to my yoga practice.

The first time I heard a yoga instructor say “Listen to your inner guru.” I had one of those moments where my mind stuttered and my head wobbled back and forth on my neck and whatever I was thinking about came to a slamming halt. It was as if I got the big “ah ha” and momentarily I didn’t move, let alone inhale or exhale like the rest of the class. For some reason, I felt brilliant and light and granted permission all at once. It landed. I had a guru.

Wild Hair Yogi - My Inner Guru
Wild Hair Yogi – My Inner Guru

Within me was my very own sacred, intuitive, otherwise unreachable voice of wisdom that I had been granted full access. My external perception of a little man sitting in lotus pose in the high mountains of Tibet, out of my reach, suddenly became a palpable entity residing between my throat and heart chakra. I envisioned this guru with wild curly hair piled high, bright bohemian clothes, gaudy jewelry and the distinct presence of grace and ease.

My teacher’s one liner packed a lot of punch. This phrase about an inner guru got to me and has stayed with me for several years. These words created a shift not only for my yoga, but for some of life’s big decisions, too. In my earlier yoga practices, I relied on my yoga teachers for guidance of how to move and what to feel. In my life, I was seeking counsel from close friends to deal with difficult curveballs. With time and this new chickie guru inside, I became better equipped to inquire more easily: What am I present to? What feels most in alignment to me now?

Instead of checking with my ego or my overly emotional feelings, I was able to check with a more compassionate, gentle, knowing within myself. My inner guru felt less harsh than my over analytical mind; more sound than my gushing heart. Over time, I have been able to witness the difference between the voice in my mind that prattles continually, has a strong opinion and is driven beyond reason and the voice that truly has my highest interest in mind. My yoga instructor who used, but didn’t overuse, this phrase, was able to bring a spiritual influence to my yoga experience without laying it on too thick.

As a teacher, I don’t want to be a student’s guru. That feels like too much responsibility and a job I am under-qualified for spiritually. As a student, I want freedom and guidance. I want to experience what is present and alive within me in that moment, that day. I want, for myself and my students, to be inspired by the experience in yoga. The concept of “inner guru” becomes the teacher and the student as a new entity in and of itself.

As yogis we are familiar with the experience of movement, sensation, edges, and energy but accessing or influencing the source, center or soul of ourselves or someone else can be a hard nut to crack. The inner guru practice, however, leaves the nut cracking to the individual and invites them to get beyond the noise and into their personal truths. In my experience, the wise voice inside takes the yoga practice to a level beyond personal potential to a spiritual potential that is perfectly fit to each individual’s journey. The concept is subtle, yet powerful.

My inner guru is as much a sensation as it is visual perception. When I inquire with my inner guru, I can feel a different sensation between my version of something and the truth of the deeper context. For example, if I ask myself “Did I give my best at crow pose?”, my answer might be “yes”, inclusive of permission to have tried less with a list of excuses, like being tired or not ready. My guru’s answer might be “no” with encouragement to give the pose one more try. My inner guru knows that I exited crow pose early because I was afraid of falling on my face. In reality, I gave into fear instead of mustering bravery and confidence for a better effort. My inner guru is both honest and inspiring.

Imagine being in the warming, peaceful presence of a guru. How wonderful and honoring it would feel to be the receiver of their gifts and blessings. I can easily visualize a white-robed guru and humble seeker exchanging energy and age old wisdom. That glimpse and feeling of teacher and student together has provided me with many lessons to practice in yoga and in life. It has shown me how to connect with and respect my own inner wisdom as if it was equally as sound as that from an outside master. It reminds me to practice humility by extending honor and self-respect to my own inner guru and to be curious about the entity that resides in others, and to be mindful of respecting and honoring it as well. I may never make it to a high mountain in Tibet to sit in the presence of a cross-legged spiritual master. Yet, with this one phrase during yoga class and a different perception of an underused vocabulary word, I was offered my own mountain top to become the student of a wild haired, brilliant and sacred teacher.

Dr. Erika Putnam

By Dr. Erika Putnam

Dr. Erika Putnam is a chiropractic physician by trade, a writer at heart and a yogi by fate. She has practiced chiropractic for almost two decades and owns a yoga studio in Idaho. The two practices connect structural stability with the true core of well-being. As a doctor, she brings a hearty helping of nurturing nerdiness to her classes. Her venue is a colorful mix of teaching. She teaches anatomy to students at yoga teacher trainings, yoga for medical professionals’ classes, and creative writing classes with yoga-inspired exploration. She pines for a view of the Montana skies and the smell of Idaho mint from her road bike. Pedicures in the shade of Rocktoberfest are her favorite self-care indulgence.