Why Have a Teacher? Mark Whitwell on the Teacher-Student Relationship in Yoga

Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga
Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga

Yoga transmission, transformation, and teaching happens only in a one to one actual relationship. The backbone of Krishnamacharya and Desikachar’s scholarship was clear. It is the relationship itself between teacher and student that IS the teaching and the heart of Yoga.

We first received this experience with our mothers, known in India as our first Guru. Our relationship with our teacher is like our relationship with our mother. In fact, it is the same nurturing force enacted and lived.

My teacher Desikachar lived this principle in his teaching life. He writes,

“In yoga, the purpose is to bring some change, and the teacher is the reference point. You always remember what the teacher told you — not what you read in the book or what he spoke in the class, but what he told you. You need the teacher, you need the intimacy. Yoga is intimate. There is no yoga between one a million; yoga is between two — the teacher and the student. In the Upanishads it is beautifully stated: In education the first requirement is the teacher, the second is the student. What should happen between them is learning. How it should happen is through the constant teaching of that which will be relevant to the student. That is education.”

— TKV Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

The quality of the relationship is utter ordinariness: no hierarchy, no seniority, no knower, no authority. Caring only within a freely chosen relationship of mutual and actual love affection. These relationships thrive in continuity beyond all conditions, all limit, all time and space, and death. They are available to us even when we are physically apart.

Many can understand that the relationship is the teaching. Yet, even though nurturing relationship, such as motherhood itself is obviously the most basic action of Mother Nature, it is often overlooked by spiritual and religious and secular cultures.

Male Authority

The patriarchy is anyone establishing themselves as a ‘knower.’ Real teachers are not ‘knowers’ and they are not authorities. They have no social status, social identity, or even personal identity around their teaching function. They are ordinary people in local community, no more than a friend, and no less.

People such as you.

Mark Whitwell on Freedom from Hierarchy

In the aberrations of society and the pain of personal and public life we look for relief in mere technique, fixated logic, and political posturing within hierarchies of all kinds on all sides of the political spectrum. We look for relevance and recognition in the ladders of patriarchy, or in opposition to it. We hopelessly seek for experience or for consolation.

The yoga that has been popularized in the west as either mediocre, physical gymnastics or mentally damaging spiritual seeking has been another manifestation of this social insanity. We wrangle and twist, debate and dismiss, isolating ourselves from the nurturing force of Relationship. We refuse or forget to do our Yoga sadhana, our direct participation in reality as it is.

Real Teachers

A true teacher recognizes the wonder of all their friends and gives them empowering tools to embrace the fact of Reality — that life is nurturing and we are life itself. Spiritual life is the practice and very tangible whole body embrace of what is already given.

You are consciousness itself. You have no identity except consciousness itself. Yet, consciousness manifests and appears as individuation — all beauty, all skills, all things to be enjoyed and embraced within the perfect and intrinsic harmony of the one reality in which we all Self abide. We don’t have to look for it or find it or do anything to realize it because we are it.

This becomes self evident among our dear friends.

Download a PDF of the heart of Yoga teaching standards here (includes the Yoga pyramid of abuse) www.heartofyoga.com/yoga-teaching-standards

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Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell


Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.