Practicing the yoga of judgement
One of the ongoing themes or threads (*cough* sutras *cough*) here has been what I’ll tongue-in-cheekingly call “the yoga of judgement.”
We’ve judged other forms of yoga (maybe a lot). We’ve talked about judging others’ Ashtanga practices. We — and commenters — have touched on whether practicing yoga’s supposed to make you less judgmental.
We, and not a few of those commenters, have come down on the side of: there’s nothing, really, in yoga’s tradition to suggest you vacate your right to being judgmental, or in this case a better word: discriminating.
In fact, practicing yoga — and focusing your mind and regulating your breathing and controlling your senses — ought to make you more discriminating (in the “I can tell a good wine from a bad one” not “I discriminate against person A, B or C”). And being discriminating has all sorts of benefits, such as not being suckered in by a wayward guru, an ineffective yoga (asana) practice or any other fly-by-night operations.
It seems to me that fundamental to this discriminating perspective when it comes to the practice of yoga — at least as my discriminating perspective tells me — is a core of tradition, a clear parampara, a rooting in the classic yoga texts, thinkers and practitioners. That tradition gives you something against which to judge, to discriminate (even if you are reacting against that tradition).
If I can put it bluntly, I’m talking about the difference between Ashtanga and a flow class.
Often, the yoga styles we’ve judged around here, I think, take their lumps because they seem to toss out that tradition in favor of … oh, I don’t know, a rootlessness? Some kind of postmodern scoffing at the nature of tradition? (I’m certainly guilty of that perspective in my life.) Or perhaps just a marketing strategy that values new over old, free-of-Indian-influence over the burden of a religion (yoga without the Om, and thus without even a tradition to react against ultimately).
I’ve been thinking about this for two reasons:
- The founders of 3D Yoga in the past week found and commented on our mostly lighthearted post about their particular form of very non-Ashtanga yoga. They added much depth to the discussion, and I appreciate their taking the time to comment.
- On Sunday, I attended a kirtan workshop with the Sangita Yoga folk (who will be leading kirtan at the 2013 Confluence). There is a tremendous focus on the tradition of kirtan and sacred music, of bringing us from the West to the Indian practice of singing as opposed to bringing the Indian practice of singing to the West. (More on that experience this week.)
For Bobbie and me, the grounding in tradition is critical (as our Yatra with Namarupa ought to suggest). That isn’t to say it isn’t without trouble, without inner conflict, without … our discriminating about what works, what doesn’t, what feels right, what doesn’t, what we value and what we don’t.
We aren’t blindly following a tradition for tradition’s sake, in other words. But we are following a tradition.
And because the tradition I’m talking about is Ashtanga, what has been leaping to my mind as I think about this are the teachers (and students, but teachers especially) who at one point practiced Ashtanga but then went on to develop their own, often Ashtanga-based forms of yoga.
I suppose I can name them, because it isn’t any big secret: Shiva Rea, Bryan Kest, Seane Corn, among others.
Now, this is where you think I’m going to bash them. But I’m not. What I wonder — because my experience is so much the opposite — is why they got a taste of Ashtanga (and other forms of yoga, too) and then went a different direction, especially a direction of their own creation and refinement.
I wonder what was and is different about the experience that the senior teachers of Ashtanga compared to the experience of those who took aspects to Ashtanga and then made something new. Why did one stick with tradition and one not?
More generally, I wonder what is different between the experiences of those who root themselves in a more clearly defined yoga tradition and those who develop a newer form. Or about people leading kirtan with only traditional Indian instruments versus those who bring in electric guitars, rock drum sets, etc.
Of course, I recognize that yoga — and Hinduism as a broad umbrella term describing the religion of India — has a fluidity to it that allows for new strands to crop up, for gurus to have inspiration and set off to teach (and they succeed or fail based on how much their message resonates). The harmonium, after all, is pretty new to India and Indian music.
Things change. No doubt. No argument.
But whether those changes are good, are meaningful, whether they fit within a tradition or run against (for good reason or not), those are questions for …
The discriminating mind.
Posted by Steve