Am I a narcissist?
Don't answer that.
It's a question I've been asking myself a lot lately, though, mostly because of a book I recently read about Bikram Yoga.
Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and My Search for Transcendence or Something Like It is one of those books that every yoga teacher should read, not for inspiration or teaching tips (certainly not!) but for a good chuckle and some insight into what NOT to do. It paints a picture of Bikram Choudhury as an egotistic, selfish, power-mongering, money-hungry man that founded Bikram Yoga. I laughed at his crazy antics and even crazier tall tales. He sits in a throne during his teacher trainings while his students fawn over him offering massages and fetching him his drink of choice--Coke. He says he never sleeps, and yet is never out of bed in time to teach an early class. He no longer practices the yoga that's made him rich. He invented the disco ball. There are a million other unfounded and ridiculous claims.
It's easy to condemn Bikram--to say he doesn't embody the true spirit of yoga. He definitely has his faults. But here's the thing: All of us have some of the narcissistic qualities Lorr describes in his book.
I've never made any outlandish claims. I don't have any trademarks. I've never sued any one. But all the Bikram hubub of late has made me think about my own motives for becoming a yoga teacher. I often tell people about how the yoga that I practice can improve their lives. I fancy myself so wise that I write about my experiences with yoga in 3 different blogs (sometimes more!). I look at other people's postures and tell them how to improve. I collect money for my expertise. And while I certainly practice as much as I can, there are those times when I don't unroll my mat nearly enough. I occasionally enjoy a Coke. I collect yoga clothes in much the same way Bikram collects cars. I don't always practice what I preach, but I still think people should listen to what I have to say. And I have a LOT to say.
If I learn nothing else from Bikram, I'm thankful for this lesson: It's important to explore my own narcissistic qualities from time to time to keep myself in check. It's even more important to be honest with my students (and everyone else who might look to me for guidance or inspiration) about my shortcomings and my own struggles with ego, ambition, and pride. Because it's only after we understand and accept ourselves (the good and the bad) can we begin to teach others how to accept themselves. For me, that's what yoga is all about.