Final Guru Purnima thought: The value of having a guru

I never, ever thought I’d have a guru.

That’s the most persistent reflection I’ve been having during our extended Guru Purnima here at the Confluence Countdown.

Perhaps I can boil it down to its essence: “What?”

My “yoga journey” is dotted with moments of pure disbelief: I’m singing the Hanuman Chalisa? I’m driving 200 miles to get to Tim Miller’s? I’m getting up at 5 a.m. for asana practice? My feet are getting somewhere near the back of my head in Supta Kurmasana?

I’ve scheduled an appointment with a Rolfer?

We’re going on a Yatra?


These moments of disbelief are, I think, crucial. Each time, they force me back to “beginner’s mind” and keep me from taking any of the journey too seriously, for granted or too lightly.

I have a guru? is another.

On Monday, a friend who was hoping to get to Ashtanga Yoga New York for its Guru Purnima celebration asked me, “Who’s your guru?”

I didn’t even have to hesitate.

“Tim,” I responded. (Full disclosure, I really “texted.” Our cross-country conversation was on our smart phones.)

Tim and me (and Hanuman)

On reflection, the immediacy, the ease, of the answer becomes more shocking.

I have a guru?

The question stumps me because, if I’m anything, I’d think it would be “grounded.” And I don’t mean that in the way you hear it in yoga studios. You hear it said there because yoga tends to enable a bit of levity or, too put a Western pejorative on it, flightiness. In asana, you’re trying to stay a bit rooted, a bit “seated,” a bit counter to that desire to fly away to the land of Siva.

I’m “grounded” in the practical. (I’m also grounded in my body, I suppose, which manifests itself in stiffness. Thus, the Rolfer.) I’m grounded in making sure what needs to get accomplished does. I’m realistic. I’m no dreamer.


Having a guru argues otherwise. It is perhaps the greatest moment of disbelief. And thus, it keeps the yoga journey always fresh and new, each step a first one.

But it of course does something more. If there was never any progress beyond the first step, the journey wouldn’t be very successful. You wouldn’t get anywhere. The guru makes sure of the progress, nurturing things — self, practice, engagement with the world, interaction with others — along one first step after the last.

At least, that’s how it is for me. Results, I’m sure, may vary. But one thing shouldn’t:

Having the guru.

It’s easy — easier than ever? — these days to have a teacher, or teachers, even virtual ones. They might show you online how to do an asana or offer insights in at-your-convenience recorded talks. They can offer thoughts, encouragement, direction, knowledge.

But there still is something missing, something different in having a guru and not just a teacher. Is it deeper? Does it involve more surrender? Is it the historical significance?

I guess I’m just not grounded enough to put it in words.

Instead, I’ll try to demonstrate what I mean by saying: “Thanks, Timji.”

Posted by Steve

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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