How Do You Know if You've Found a Guru?

Yoga Guru
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The word Guru has an ancient history, used throughout Indian, Hindu, and other Asian traditions to refer to a teacher, a master, a guide, or even a spiritual teacher. It is a position of respect, admiration, and recognition for a lifetime of devotion to and knowledge of a particular craft. A guru is more than a technical expert but rather is able to relate techniques and principles from the practiced art and teach how to apply these principles to everyday affairs.

The term guru is used a lot now in all fields of knowledge. There are tech gurus, computer gurus, yoga gurus, marketing gurus, fashion gurus, business gurus, nutrition gurus, relationship gurus, and so on.

Within the hyped-up, celebrity-themed images that seem to dominate fitness marketing, there seems to be a whole lot of gurus. There appear to be as many or more gurus than there are students seeking gurus. If everyone is a guru, is anyone a guru? Is there any way to know who are the real Gurus and who are the self-proclaimed gurus?

The late, great Kung Fu Master Hsu Hong Chi from Taiwan, was once asked by his student “how do you know when you are a Master?” Hsu replied, “when your students call you Master.”

Seems like sound advice to allow the customer, consumer, or student to determine who are the gurus and perhaps disingenuous for a fitness pro (or any pro) to refer to himself as a Guru.

Beware of Guruitis

Most of the time, when a word ends in -itis, it is not a pleasant occurrence. Tendonitis, bursitis, colitis, appendicitis, etc. None of us want to experience such unpleasant conditions. You see, -itis literally means “inflammation.” To keep healthy we do not want our tendons, bursa, colon, appendix, or any other body parts to be inflamed as inflammation brings pain, swelling, poor circulation, impaired function, and general discomfort.

I recommend avoiding all instances of - itis.

Guruitis is inflammation of the guru. That professional who has become too good, too loved, too successful, too important, and too high on his or her own accomplishments and fame. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it often happens when success comes too quickly, or too easy, or at too young an age, in which the pride of being noticed is not yet tempered with jurisprudence. Even worse, guruitis can also be self-developed, simply by calling oneself Guru loud, enough, for long enough. In marketing, saying something loudly and frequently enough may eventually seep into the subconscious mind of the listeners and may be perceived to be true. This phenomenon is referred to as The Big Lie and is in reality, simply propaganda or attention gained, not earned through merit, rather from blasting the same loud message over and over and over until it becomes generally accepted.

Why Should Guruitis Be Avoided?

Once guruitis has set in, the fact that the information is coming from that individual guru becomes more important than the message and more important than the customer. The message becomes clouded to read, “Don’t do something because it is what is best for you, or because it has been tailored to your specific needs, rather do it because Me, the Great Guru tells you to, and since I am such an important guru, I shall not be questioned.” Doesn’t seem to be a great advantage to the customer who is paying big money to the big guru.


Conversely, if you are lucky enough to have found a real guru, it is like Fight Club. The Guru doesn’t talk about being a guru. The guru quietly goes about teaching and focusing on the art and the message and leaves it to you to decide if she is a guru or not. This is merit-based Guru-hood and can only be earned from a lifetime of dedication to one’s craft and the expertise (experience) that goes along with it.

Advice to Fitness Professionals

Don’t be a Guru, and don’t call yourself a Guru. Be a teacher, be an example, be an inspiration and put in the years of constant study and practice to truly earn the respect and recognition that is reserved for the true experts.

Further, study and continue to study your art and the supported science. Remain a student always, so that you may always learn and improve not only your base of knowledge but also your teaching skills. 

Take the ego out of coaching or training and remember that to coach and train is a service to others, not a pat on your own back. Keep your attention on the progress of your clients and students and pay attention to how they are progressing. Feel great about who you are and what you do and believe in it, and be sure that your students and clients will recognize your value based upon your excellent service. They will tell the world how great you are, you don’t have to say a word.

Advice to Fitness Consumers or Clients

Seek a teacher, do not seek the Guru. Find the person who is knowledgeable and skillful about the subject matter you wish to learn. However, skill and knowledge alone are not enough. Find the skillful teacher who also has great empathy, has a real interest in serving you and guiding you towards your needs and goals. This can only be developed from a relationship. The coach or teacher should ask you questions and get to know you and understand what you are looking to gain from the experience.

If you are very fortunate, you may indeed find a Guru, that coach or trainer who is a skilled practitioner, and also a caring teacher. One who leads by example by practicing what he preaches/teaches, whose wisdom comes from a long history of practice and refinement, and who is able to clearly communicate the information in a way that is easy to understand and replicate through the positive example being set.