02 December 2009

"I don’t know how old yoga is and neither do you" -- part 2

ancient stone carving of vrksasana at the UNESCO World Heritage Site,
-- more than 100 years old

photo © 2005 Linda-Sama

Keep those comments comin' as you read the second installment of Svasti's guest blogger post. I give my sincere heartfelt thanks to Svasti (my yoga sister in more ways than one) for taking on the challenge!

By the way, one of my classes at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in January is specifically on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. Will report back on that in March!

MY last word on the subject is put out there for all to see in this post. Like I've said before, you do your yoga, I'll do mine. Anyone who has taken the time to read what I've been writing since 2005 knows my feelings about the "American yoga question." Like Svasti, I don't care how old yoga is because it doesn't matter to me. I never really bought into the idea that it's 5000 years old, that number sounds too convenient, but I also don't believe that "postural yoga" is a modern invention. That stone yogi in my photo is one old dude.

Talk amongst yourselves.


That’s yoga?
Waylon gave us a picture of a coin depicting what looks like a guy in padmasana. His argument to dismiss this was a two word sentence: “That’s yoga?”

My reply is this – why isn’t it yoga? Why couldn’t it be yoga? If you were an artist trying to depict what yoga meant to you on a coin, what would you create? Would you be thinking when you did so, that whatever you make might be used in an argument 5,000 years from now to dismiss asana as being more than 100 years old?

And does the fact that asana isn’t mentioned specifically in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras mean it couldn’t have been around at the time? I mean, I could write a book on yoga tomorrow that has no mention of asana in it. Not that it’d be a very good book, but hey, I could write one! And what if that was somehow the only book that survived after 10,000 years? Would that be proof that we never did asana in 2009?

To be fair, I don’t know if the image on that coin is depicting a yogi or not. Or whether asana was around 2,500 years ago. And Waylon, Nick, neither do you. Just because we can’t prove/disprove something, doesn’t make it true/false.

On a more practical note, I’ve gotta ask: Where do you think all this wonderful yoga philosophy came from? Perhaps the various gods of the Hindu pantheon incarnated into this world and wrote it all down for us. Or perhaps somebody (or several somebodies) sat in meditation for a very long time. Which, I should add, is not possible to do without having done an awful lot of asana.

And as you may be aware, the original intent of asana was to clear the channels of the body and prepare it for meditation. Sit in meditation for even an hour or two without a properly prepared body and you’ll be in serious pain. So I’m guessing that for all of that incredible philosophy to arise, there must have been some form of physical practice.

Just sayin’!

And finally…
Nick said: “Something doesn’t have to be old for it to be great”. And I agree.

But if you don’t care how old something is, why bother insisting that yoga is 50 or 100 years old? If you can’t prove it, why say it? Why attempt to draw a line in the sand and call what we do now “modern” yoga? Just because it’s only been 100 years or so since the first yogis came to America? And just because mostly what you see in commercial yoga studios these days is purely asana?

Why slice and dice yoga, cutting it down to size and suggest that yoga is only 50-100 years old? Honestly, I think it’s a bit of a joke.

Sure, there’s a mass of people for whom yoga is purely a physical practice. And I say, so what? That doesn’t make it lesser than the yoga practiced through the ages. If I have kids, I’ll be introducing them to yoga via asana, but it certainly won’t be all they learn. And a physical practice might lead some people to look deeper and see that… ah yes… there is more to yoga than a toned butt! Of course, if it doesn’t, that’s all good too.

Seems to me that even though Nick clearly had some interesting experiences during the filming of Enlighten Up!, in his own words, he was “subjected” to yoga. He didn’t come to it of his own accord. He doesn’t practice yoga regularly now. It seems Nick has done his research and decided yoga isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Which is fine. No one has to dig it the same way some of us do.

However, if that’s the case, is it cool to be speaking on behalf of yoga? I know, I know...Nick was in a movie and people want to interview him about it. Fine. So speak from your own experiences. But please, don’t re-write the history of yoga or suggest that "yoga’s anything you want it to be..."

Personally I think a true understanding of yoga can only come from a sustained and regular practice - whether its asana, meditation or a combination of the two, plus pranayama and whatever else you want to throw in, except maybe swinging from the chandelier in your chakra undies (nice one, Linda!).

Because yoga is primarily an exploration of the Self. And not one that can be understood in-depth just by reading books or doing yoga for a short amount of time.

I’ve been a practicing yogini for seven years now and wouldn’t dream of talking about yoga except in the broadest of terms. What would I know? I’m merely a beginner on this life-long path.


P.S. Many thanks to Linda for offering me a guest post on her marvelous blog. Hopefully she didn’t cringe too much at my Australian English spelling! [@Svasti - no!]

P.P.S. On a final note – in comments at YogaDork and here on Linda’s blog, I decided I’d plant a bit of a furphy. It seemed like everyone was cool with Nick saying whatever he wanted about yoga. So I thought I’d create an argument around academics who write about yoga, suggesting perhaps they weren’t writing from the place of a practitioner. Understandably, some commenters found my statements a little annoying. Truth be told, I have no idea if there are any academic writers on yoga who aren’t also practitioners. But writing what I did certainly made people wonder. Fact, fiction...hard to separate sometimes, eh?


Bob Weisenberg said...

Thanks for these two heartfelt blogs, Svasti. I enjoyed reading both of them a couple of times and really got a lot out thinking about them.

Bob Weisenberg

Anonymous said...

Thanks Bob, I'm glad you enjoyed reading them. I certainly had fun writing them. And as you can see, I speak very much from the place of a practitioner. I'm definitely not a scholar!

Bob Weisenberg said...

Svasti. I really did enjoy them, and I like the way your guest blogs and all the discussions have further clarified what seemed like a pretty spent topic. I would certainly never call myself a scholar either.

Bob Weisenberg

Bob Weisenberg said...

Rachel just left this comment over on Elephant Journal ( )

"Thanks for posting this article! Obviously there are a lot of misinformed ideas about what yoga "really" is - and a lot of anxiety over maintaining the "authenticity" of the practice. For anyone who is interested, and for anyone who wants to seriously engage with this practice, there are several fantastic books available that delve into the history of yoga and how it has been purposefully reformulated within the context of British colonialism and imperialism since the 1850s. Must reads. They end all speculation. I'd be interested in hearing what you think after reading them.

"A History of Modern Yoga", Elizaebth De Michelis
"Yoga in Modern India: The Body Between Science and Philosophy", Jospeh S. Alter"

(These also happen to be two of the five books recommended by Nick as the source of his comments.)

I'm looking forward to reading both of these myself.

Bob Weisenberg

Christa said...

Even after going through yoga teacher training here in the states, I consider myself to be a yoga virgin ~oops, can I say that?~

Svasti humanizes and dymstifies yoga for me and that's why I keep coming back to read her blog and posts like this one.

BTW - nice to meet you Linda. I'm groovin' on the red and purple in your blog.

The physical asana practice isn't enough for me and it is a shame "Modern Yoga", focuses mostly on the warriors, down dogs and camel poses.

Modern yoga is entirely too serious and that's why I perked up when reading about Linda's chakra undies and her swinging from her chandelier. Must be the Laughter Yoga Leader in me but I often think joy and laughter is a component often missing from the "modern" yoga practices in this country.

Yoga is a personal journey, and as Svasti says "an exploration of the self". Perfect explanation.

I might be a bad yogini (or called one) in the modern context because I practice more yoga off the mat than on the mat.

We practice self love, kindness and compassion. We laugh at ourselves, smile and spread joy. This is yoga. No asana required.

Maybe I can't execute pigeon pose without cursing like a truck driver, but that's still my yoga...and I love it!

Now let me scoot, grab my mat and get my pranayama on! I'm getting back into my groove after an ankle injury.

You ROCK Svasti. Om to you and all groovy things like that. :-)