The Best Teachers Are Not Perfect

Theres a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. – Leonard Cohen

My husband is a yoga teacher. When we first met I had conjured up all these ideas of the type of person he would be. I figured he would be really calm, and eat super clean all the time. He obviously wouldn’t watch T.V. because he would need to spend all his spare time reading books on yoga to advance his spiritual repertoire. And he definitely wouldn’t drink alcohol – ever.

I sort of assumed he would be a flawless human being. Because that’s the requirement for being a good yoga teacher these days, right?

This is not the case.

I mean, he’s great, but far from perfect. He is calm a lot of the time, but he also jokes around… a LOT. We watch Netflix almost every day (though he does have like 3 different copies of the Yoga Sutras). We drink wine together, and when the time is right (usually on a moon-day), we indulge in some not-so-clean vegan treats. And sometimes, he misses practice.


Photo Cred: Meghan Powell

In my time as an Ashtanga practitioner, I’ve noticed these notions of what a teacher ought to be like seem more rigid. Maybe it’s because of the traditional aspect of the Ashtanga or the austere manner in which this practice is done. But all too often I see students set ridiculous standards for their teachers. They expect them to subscribe to this ideal they have created. They place them on a pedestal, expecting the proverbial sun to shine out of their mula bandha.

Now, I will be the first to say that I respect my teacher infinitely. I once told David that if he told me to pick my nose to help me deepen an asana, I would just do it assuming he knew what was best. When we are in the room, his word is gospel. I respect what he has to teach me. I listen and apply his feedback usually without question. But do I think he is a perfect human being, akin to a Yoga God?

Of course not.

I mean, he’s obviously the closest of all the human beings I know…

But I don’t think that of any teacher, and truthfully, neither should you.

Don’t get me wrong, it takes a special kind of person to teach this practice. To have the wherewithal to do the inner work every day, to set an example for their students and to teach in the tradition of the lineage. While these special people do their best to be decent practitioners and human beings, we need not forget they are just that – human.

Your teacher probably watches Netflix – maybe even more than they rehearse the yoga sutras.

Your teacher probably eats junk food from time to time.

Your teacher probably drinks alcohol on occasion.

And maybe, just maybe, they miss practice sometimes.

Your teacher is grappling with their humanity, just as much as you and I, while also being held to this ridiculous standard of perfection. It’s probably exhausting.

David and Jelena

I think what makes a teacher truly unique and incredible, is not how akin they are to God, but how unapologetically human they are.

I find it so beautiful when a teacher shares their humanity. When they are vocal about their struggles, and their faults. It’s relatable and empowering. It makes me, as a student, feel like there isn’t something wrong with me because I don’t follow all the yogi rules.

I feel relieved actually.

To me, a teachers brilliance lies in their imperfection and authenticity. It lies in their ability to show up and be themselves – flaws and all – amidst a culture that demands perfection.

So no, I don’t want some flawless guru to teach me. I want someone who understands the messiness of real life because they too are going through it. Someone who shows up every day and deals with their shit like the rest of us. I want a teacher whos authenticity and humanity give me the space to endure my own.

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Melissa Singh


  1. Ed Piotrowski on January 24, 2018 at 10:38 am

    Good article. With the Mysore setting there is an opportunity to have several different teachers throughout the year due to subs and such allowing for a richer, more well rounded experience … especially important for me from time to time in what is more or less a daily practice.
    Agreed, we all have our good and bad days and people, unlike ideals will never measure up perfectly to expectations. For whatever reason, perhaps the worst Yoga teacher is the one who gives up in you. Peace.

    • Melissa Singh on January 25, 2018 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks Ed, glad you liked it!

  2. Michelle on January 24, 2018 at 2:15 pm

    Fantastic article! Thank you. I practiced Ashtanga for 15 years… mostly at Downward Dog but I occasionally came to Mysore with David. After I had my baby the practice didn’t work for my body as it used to but I believe I am a better mother because of Ashtanga. I love that we have taken our teachers off of their thrones, and see them as real humans. The practice is completely separate from the teacher in my mind. Parttabis Jois was far from perfect but the practice benefited me. I also practice Bikram from time to time. Again I don’t really care for the dude Bikram but the yoga helped me as well. Thanks again for the article! Timely and well written. All the best with your studio and family!! Namaste

    • Melissa Singh on January 25, 2018 at 1:16 pm

      As a new mama I definitely agree with you. I am a better mama/human because of this practice! So glad you liked the article!

  3. Jady on January 25, 2018 at 12:14 pm

    Great read. Needed it….Every damn day…?

    • Melissa Singh on January 25, 2018 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks, Jady! So glad you liked the article!