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Recognizing Ourselves
in the Reflection of Our Students



Sutra II.18 prakasa-kriya-sthiti-silam
bhuta-indriya-atmakam
bhoga-apavarga-artham drsyam



Nature has the character of brightness, activity & inertia. It is embodied in elements and sense-organs. It serves the dual purpose of enjoyment and emancipation.


Looking into the heart of nature, we explore the qualities called guna in the Yoga-Sutra. Brightness, activity and inertia respectively translate from sattva, rajas and tamas. The nature of material objects as well as the nature of behaviors and consciousness relate to the characteristics of these terms.

There seem to be assumptions inherent to our relationship with these words. Sattva resonates with goodness, raja with aggressiveness and tamas with laziness. The judgments peculiar to these limiting associations will undoubtedly create uncomfortable issues as we witness these traits and respond to them. As teachers we witness ourselves in the dance between our directions and our students’ interpretations. Brightness, activity and inertia interact in ways that move us to joy as well as frustration.

All things being mirrors of the unrecognized self, our lives are rippled with changing feelings and provocations. The personalities we attract as students reflect parts of our more mysterious inner workings. We prepare, we practice, we teach and we ultimately learn as we work. Undoubtedly, any taboos that we assume become the brick wall into which we charge. “I have no anger,” is a really good one. Any teacher who indulges in the illusion of peace is doomed to a blessed awakening.

Just as the elements of nature interact and move through changes of temperature, dryness, chaos and quiet, so do our emotional rhythms. Our lives are creative. As creative beings we assert, we tire and we contemplate.

The different guna serve us as teachers in that discomfort creates awareness. We’re invited to pause in the face of any distress. “How do I feel?”, “What is this disturbance?”, “Can I shift this sensation?” Opportunities to break momentum are vertical invitations. Discomfort is a fulcrum, a pivotal point of focus. It is a gift we frequently choose to anesthetize.

Aggression and lethargy are difficult to experience directly; however, these properties are truly confounding when displayed by students. Despite our desire to offer safe & motivated learning, flavors of competition, restlessness, confusion and ennui can manifest throughout a class. Some moments find us more able to shift and adjust than others. It’s essential to hear a linear invitation when teaching offers us distress. To present instruction with resentment is damaging - to ourselves and to our students.

Consider the possibilities of allowing anger and fatigue (or even disinterest) to go unrecognized. These vibrations sabotage our plans and betray our ideals. Verbal directions and physical adjustments transmit an authentic vibration beyond our choice of words. We create feelings that aren’t legitimate or safe.

Conscious assertiveness is far more responsible when needing to make balance with aggressive energy. Although we’d like to project the image of a completely centered, forgiving and illuminated yogi, honesty is crucial to our development. Humility is the gift of realizing our agitation and resistance. Knowing a distinction between self indulgent tantrums and right action evolves in our capacities over time.

It’s much simpler to realize practical responsibilities of postural instruction than to develop emotional listening skills. Is the inner witness present to offer healthy direction as we teach? Intangible ownership of emotions is a dimension of the teaching practice that’s rarely shared. Creating a structure of dynamism and release employs certain proportions of rajas and tamas. If our dance is authentic, we celebrate a culmination of sattva. The good will permeates our breath as well as the environment throughout the class.

These skills are acquired in the practice of psychology through supervision. There isn’t a formal parallel to this in teacher training programs. We need to acknowledge the presence of our personal triggers in order to interpret our stages of growth as well as our professional needs. This is a path of revealing Self. Every emotion is a key to that which we seek.

As we refine our relationship to distress, we find the door to joy and freedom. Defensiveness dissolves, and we perpetuate the safety and acceptance which emanates from our core.

Enjoy this journey. Namaste.



by Toni Zuper
Alternative Healing
Center City, Philadelphia


published in Yoga Living Magazine -- May/June 2004 issue