there’s a common misconception, i think, in trying to unpack ancient eastern thought, and in trying to integrate it into a modern or western way of thinking.
there is the older paradigm. the view so often portrayed in eastern philosophy that the body is something base, something to be bested, transcended, left behind. it’s been referred to as a wild elephant that can only be tamed by discipline.
on the other hand, those who feel the dawn of a new paradigm approaching say that it isn’t true. that these teachings are wrong. the harsh “old testament” before the birth of new consciousness. that the body isn’t to be transcended. in fact, the only way out of the prison of duality is through the body.
so on the surface, it might seem as though these are two opposing viewpoints. but i don’t think so. i think what we need to call on is context.
maybe first by trying to narrow our definition of what yoga is. is it just asana? is it inherently meditative? do aerial and acro count?
for clarity’s sake, let’s return to patanjali’s definition in the yoga sutras. yogas chitti vritti nirodha. this translates roughly to: yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.
(why patanjali, by the way? i mean…really, why not? he/they are among the few, the proud, the brave, who took on the task of defining something so broad and undefinable.)
back in the day (and by “the day” i mean the heyday of the bhagavad gita feat. arjuna and all his homies), life was hard! the backbreaking work of a pre-industrial era coupled with having to find food and water in the elements made existing a challenge. that said, the people of that time were living in harmony with, and sometimes as slaves to, the nature of nature. the ebb and flow of the seasons. the flush of spring and the cruelty of famine.
this was a physical, earth-bound, lower-chakra-centric existence governed by the feminine wildness of our planet.
so of course what the gurus and rishis of that era are going to champion for is a quest to engage with the upper chakras, the emotional, mental, and spiritual intricacies of living.
today, however, from an early age, we sit in school and study. we are (hopefully) challenged to develop reading comprehension and critical thinking skills, to sharpen the sweet knife of discernment. many of us grew up in faith-based communities that included praise, prayer, or meditation. little foraging. few famines. and with air conditioning and central heating, there are those among us who can’t be sure what season it is at all.
we are driven by the linear, masculine, rational experience to the point that we’ve overridden the spiral rhythms of our earthmother. connection to wifi, but no connection to the ground beneath our feet.
the intellectual faculties are (arguably) overdeveloped. so yes. what we yearn for now in the practice is something breath-based. what we yearn for now is something really physical. touching the earth. being touched. sweating and exerting and sublimating all thought patterns and ego nonsense through body-focused training.
so it’s not as if the teachers of the past were wrong then, and we’re right now. the teachings, underneath the context of present-moment-culture, are the same. it is only through our shortsightedness that we see these two world views as opposing. in order to have yoga (union, yoking, oneness), what we need to do is to find balance throughout all of the facets of this human experience.
yoga functions to balance the deficiencies of culture. so yoga: its needs and requirements and what it has to offer, will keep changing alongside culture. it will always provide the steps necessary to come back to balance.
so when grandpa is gardening, or when your friend is creating paintings, or when your partner is lost in the flow of cooking a delicious meal for the family…is it yoga? does my yoga only exist on my deionized rectangle of rubber?
and what about the other days, when i am so angry and so egoistic and so driven by my own agendas, even when i am churning out sun salutations, is it yoga?
yoga is the practice of settling the surface of the mind’s waters. and i would make a wager that an efficient, loving breath is present in that mix somewhere. so in the kitchen or the bedroom or out in nature or on the mat, when we are calming the mind chatter, we are practicing our yoga.
the journey may look different because the starting point will be different. but the destination is, as they say in asia, same same.
for information on a book i recommend regarding the chakras, as well as understanding eastern philosophy in the west, click here.