To learn Yoga, do you need a Guru?


But why a Guru? Especially in this age of surplus Yoga Books and Youtube videos? Really?? So, let me tell you my story.

In 2001, I went on a trek to the Himalayas with a couple of my buddies. As fate led us from one place to another, we travelled without a plan in the mountains. Beautiful as it was, it was also quite gruelling – trekking constantly and sleeping wherever we found a roof. And there and then, struggling under the burden of the huge rucksack on my shoulders; with clothes, tent, stove and provisions for 2 weeks, I saw a real Yogi pass me by. The contrast in our demeanour couldn’t have been more stark! He only had a kamandala (water-mug) in his hand (and a loin cloth to cover his modesty) as his sole worldly possessions. Yet he looked absolutely content, even majestic in his calmness. Honestly, I’ve never seen a more beatific smile that His. That one glimpse was enough for me to completely understand that this man was living right and that we had somehow got things all mixed up. I’ve never seen anyone before with that amount of contentment.

In that instant I knew I had to learn Meditation, and had to return to the Himalayas to become a Yogi someday. I gave myself 5 years, (I had dreamt of working as a copywriter, so I had to fulfil that first). That glimpse of His smile was a life-changing moment and has created the rest of my life-story.

In 2002, I was an up and coming Copywriter working in a brilliant Ad agency. But in less than a year, I realized that I found no satisfaction doing the job I had always dreamt of. Writing smart lines to sell products I didn’t really care much about, wasn’t turning me on. So I enrolled in my first Yoga class in order to improve my focus. And lo and behold, I fell in love! Fell in love with a practice, a philosophy so advanced that in that first class I somehow felt that Yoga would help me find the answers to all the questions I had – that Yoga would provide an Intellectual fountain-head that my religion didn’t (years later I understood that Christianity is a religion of the Heart and of Faith, and does not need to answer the intellectual questions – in fact, it’s simply not required). In that very first class back then, I felt as if I had been doing Yoga all my life! And so a lifelong passion began.

Within 2 months, I was faced with a dilemma. My future Guru offered me on opportunity to live and learn Yoga and Meditation with him. This meant I would have to leave home, family, friends, career dreams and basically everything I considered ‘mine’ to go live with my Guru – training in Meditation and to teach Yoga in his yoga schools. In the most painful 2 weeks of my life, my Mind and Heart battled it out!

My Mind resisted – after all, I had my life and career dreams, things to do and achieve, and places to visit, and friends & family. I was always a rebel and to give up on my Independence, to ‘surrender’ to a Guru or to anyone was an idea I couldn’t fathom. In fact it was an idea I loathed! And yet my Heart knew that it was absolutely the right thing to do. Somehow I ‘felt’ that this was what I needed to ‘see’. I kept feeling that I didn’t want to wake up one day at 40, and wish I had ‘seen’/ tried that in life. Perhaps you can imagine how scary it is to surrender everything you consider precious to you – to surrender your Individuality! Yet, a part of me constantly kept saying that if it scared me so much – then I need to do it. And then, something beautiful happened. My Father couldn’t bear to see me sit on my bed from morning to night wondering whether I should take the plunge or not; and went ahead and bought me a ticket to Mumbai – telling me to go live with my future Guru for 3 months and experience what it’s all about.

And so my training in Yoga began….

So, what’s the whole fuss about Training in Yoga with a Guru?

My Guru, Bharat Thakur is one of a kind – in fact all Masters are absolutely unique and individual. He happens to be a living embodiment of Osho’s vision for the millennial man – Zorba the Buddha! At ease in Spiritual life and at Entrepreneurship & Business; a rare combination and the only person I’ve encountered who could live the ‘Meditation in the Marketplace’ oxymoron effortlessly and with tremendous success at both.

yoga, total yoga, bharat thakur, meditation, artistic yoga
Bharat Thakur

I’ve never ‘seen’ him practice Yoga! In fact the only time I saw him do some asanas was if he were teaching (rarely) or ‘posing’ for a photoshoot! Once an Amercian lady had come to train in Yoga with him and having stayed for a few days enquired about when the Guru would teach her Asanas – to which he nonchalantly said, if you want to learn asanas, go to Youtube! That’s the stupidest answer I ever heard to a yoga student’s genuine question; but it served the purpose effectively. The lady and all of us in the room were reminded of exactly why we were there in the first place; what we had come to learn from him. The essence of Yoga can only be learnt by living around a Yogi – the rest can be picked up from videos, books or Yoga Teachers like myself. This essential Yoga training has since time immemorial been experiential in nature.

I lived 7 years with my Guru. During these years, I was fascinated each time I met him – just to see what was possible in terms of human potential – and that was absolutely Inspirational. That’s the biggest learning of living with a Guru – the extent of what is possible is stretched further everyday. Unless you see how a truly ‘free’ person lives – you can never be Inspired to strive for your own freedom – freedom from your own mind’s conditioning! And that’s the real meaning of Yoga. All other Freedom is of course a must – political, social, economic freedoms are fundamental to this inner journey; but the essence actually is Freedom from even what you consider to be ‘yourself’.

Slowly but surely I began to enjoy training in Meditation and teaching Yoga. It was hard at first but with each passing year, Meditation started becoming second nature to me. I’ve spoken enough in general terms about what Yoga training with a Guru is. To get a glimpse of the Yoga Guru-Student relationship and training, let me give you one specific instance.

Meditation in the Marketplace

When I lived with in Delhi, I was asked by my Guru to go to the bank regularly to deposit money (earned from our yoga school) at an SBI Bank in Lajpatnagar. Those of you who have dealt with SBI a dozen years back would immediately identify with my plight. And this was in the days before twitter and smart phones! So waiting for 45 mins twice a week in the slow-moving queue was a veritable hell. For months I cribbed and cursed everything whilst sweating it out in that old bank office. And I tried convincing my Guru that our driver could be assigned this job. Without any luck. One day, I must have been in a good mood because an idea crossed my mind while in the bank. Why not use the 45mins to practice Meditation. Yeah right! In that noisy, hot room? But being sufficiently stubborn, I decided to give it a shot. Standing in that queue, sweat dripping down my face, being jostled and elbowed, with every loud mouth screaming away – I began my practice. Summoning every bit of determination I kept at it. As the seconds stretched to minutes, my determination to continue my practice was being tested. With eyes closed I continued to move slowly with the queue. I had no idea how long this went on for (possible 30 mins) but suddenly, I began to feel my grit recede and be replaced with ease. The noise began to reduce till I fell silent. The sweat stopped flowing and I began to feel a coolness. I couldn’t notice anyone shoving me, only a centred-ness within. This was such an amazing experience that I think I was spontaneously smiling….after years! I assume that my smile resembled that of the Yogi who’s content smile had first inspired me to take up yoga!

Suddenly, I was woken from my ‘bliss’ by the cashier’s voice, “Good Morning!” And for the first time I had seen him smiling at me or at anyone. Transaction done, I left the bank overflowing with joy.

My Guru called that afternoon from Mumbai and abruptly told me that from now, bank duties were being passed over to my colleague. 🙂


– Manish Pole (yogi, gypsy, storyteller, cofounder Total Yoga)

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Total Yoga

Total Yoga is a balanced style of Yoga that focuses on Fitness training and Mindfulness practice equally.



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