In truth, yoga doesn’t “take time” — it gives time.
~ Ganga White, Yoga Beyond Belief: Insights to Awaken and Deepen Your Practice, 2007.
Hatha yoga is more about connection than about connecting your hands with your toes. I do find myself perplexed by the degree of commercialism in contemporary interpretations of hatha yoga – in its ever expanding forms and schools – in dominant culture. I stumbled upon an email in my spam folder recently advertising a new range of European designed, Indian manufactured ecologically sensitive (whatever than means) organic yoga clothes and accessories. A South African yoga celebrity has just begun importing these luxurious garments, and is the exclusive supplier in SA. Prices for a pair of ravishing yoga pants hover at over a thousand ZAR. There seem to be an ever growing number of studios that offer classes en masse in tightly packed spaces, with sound systems, microphones and expensive temperature and humidity controlled air. Yoga products and brands for mats, blocks, straps, bolsters, etc., are obviously over-priced and exclusive. Yoga magazines commonly have images of model-thin women in high-heels and lycra performing acrobatics on softly lit beaches, and sweaty rainforests. Its clear and only right that yoga means many different things to many different people, but to what degree has hatha yoga moulded into the image of contemporary capitalism, commercialism and gender- and body-politics? To what degree are we really benefiting from what hatha yoga offers us through this kind of interpretation?
I am the last person to be beating the drum of dogma and ‘traditionalism’, but I do think it is always important to be curious about what we engage in in life, especially those things that become part of daily or regular routine/interest and attachment/need/desire.
Broadly defined, Hatha yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that is thousands of years old, originating in the ancient spiritual texts of an area now recognized as India. It is one branch of four paths of yoga that are said to lead to spiritual enlightenment (jnana, bakthi, karma and hatha).
The late B.K.S Iyengar, a foremost yoga teacher and expert, writes in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (2001), that, “Yoga is an art, a science and a philosophy. It touches the life of man at every level, physical, mental, and spiritual. It is a practical method for making one’s life purposeful, useful and noble”. From my own experience I would impress that the ‘practical’ in this statement is of utmost importance. Mysore-style ashtanga yoga ‘guru’, K. Pattabhi Jois tells us that, “Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.”
This is because the intangible stuff attached to this – ‘mental and spiritual’ – is subjective, interior and immeasurable, and cannot be touched or practised upon in isolation to the physical. For instance one cannot exercise an emotion without either an object to attach emotion too, or some kind of a sensory experience; love for your partner is aimed towards something, and universal love or an unattached feeling of love is a sensory experience, be it a warm sensation in the solar plexus or an uplifting sense felt in the pulsing of the temples and lightness in the head, or a rush of heat and energy down the spine into the stomach area. Training mental focus, similarly, is something done through use of a physical external object to focus on, or concentration on some kind of sensory experience, or thoughts(s) (brain and nerve-work). Even meditation on ‘nothing’ is attached to the rythmn of the unforced breath or a sensory awareness of expanse, silence, lightness.
So the physical in the practice of hatha yoga is of utmost importance, and nothing happens in the ‘stuff’ beyond it without it. But the stuff beyond it happens all the time in accordance with the physical all the time anyway, so if we are not in the least conscious or respectful of this, are we really benefiting? Are we not selling ourselves short and just skimming the surface? Are we avoiding?
I think we have to temper our physical engagement with yoga with a consistent questioning of oneself on the issue of motivation: ‘Why am I doing this?’. If your drive is merely physical and attached to status and popular trend, then fine go for it and enjoy, but to me this is tragic, because it seems to be missing all that can be gained. It also might mean that you are avoiding the ‘stuff’ that is not tangible. Surely we all intrinsically know that feeding and fostering our mental and emotional faculties is a positive and good thing to do in the long run for ourselves and those who we live with? Or is it easier and more exciting and rewarding to rather invest in physical with full awareness and intention on this physical? Do we think often enough of our minds and emotions as attached to our body, and both muscle and something more that can be exercised, toned and made healthy?
Iyengar advises that “Yoga is a friend to those who embrace it sincerely and totally. It lifts its practitioners from the clutches of pain and sorrow, and enables them to live fully, taking delight in life. The practise of yoga helps the lazy body to become active and vibrant. It transforms the mind, making it harmonious.”
I do believe that yoga offers one something more than just a workout to those who are open to being aware of this something. To me, being aware of it is focusing on connectedness, being curious as why we think, behave, feel and desire certain things in connection with our physical and practical being. Hatha yoga can be like a training lab for focusing on this connection. Its a safe, set and isolated space and time to focus on connectedness within us. Over time, this training ground overflows into everyday circumstances in which we are very practically assisted by the consciously fostered awareness of how ‘my’ mental, emotional, habitual stuff is also a set of physical happenings that are internal and external. This means that ‘I’ am never in isolation in anyway. Contingency is everywhere all the time.
I would like to give unto you as yoga as given me – I hope not in not in a corny way, but in a way that just makes sense from the perspective of connectedness.
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