This is a great question, and a controversial one! I had to think long and hard about it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that yes, you need a guru. We all do. But there’s an important caveat: that guru can be you. Let me elaborate...
Traditionally, the teachings of yoga have been passed on from guru to student, transferring ancient wisdom and knowledge all the way down a particular lineage. There are many benefits to having a guru in this traditional sense. They may be an inspiring force in your development, guiding your spiritual journey. If you are lucky enough to have a guru who knows you well, they’ll be able to support and challenge you to grow in ways you perhaps would never have considered yourself. Their greater learning and experience may give them insights that, when shared, can illuminate your path. I think we all need this help to some extent. (Read more in What Makes a True Guru?)
In my own experience, I’ve had some incredibly inspiring teachers, although I’ve preferred not to think of them as gurus. For a start, the thought of placing someone on a pedestal that the term “guru” often evokes in a Western context, feels a little uncomfortable to me. And with the significant number of self-proclaimed “gurus” exploiting their position, power and influence, it’s not a term I readily embrace.
By contrast, my first meditation teacher had an approach that I liked a lot. At the same time as sharing his considerable and valuable expertise, he would tell us not to “leave your intellect at the door.” By that he meant that he wanted us to keep questioning, exploring and challenging what we were learning because what he ultimately wanted us to do was to find our own path.
To me that’s what great teachers do. Great teachers don’t do the work for you, and they don't expect you to follow them blindly. Great teachers inspire, guide and advise. Ultimately, they empower you to discover your own way. If the ultimate goal of yoga, or any spiritual path, is to connect with yourself, and to realize your own truth, no one can do that for you. It has to be something you experience personally. At some point, you will need to turn inward, tune into your intuition, wisdom and truth. In my opinion, the best teachers create the conditions for you to become your own guru. (Read on in How to Find Your Guru.)