The Poetry of Yoga

Or maybe I should say, “the yoga of poetry.” Maybe it’s both.

My new writing class has started, and I’m once again positioned to ponder the intersection of the body and the mind, and what it means to teach. My students are young, full of energy, and eager to learn. After reading just two chapters of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Bhagavad Gita, they’re full of questions: “Why is Krishna encouraging Arjuna to kill?” “Why is sorrow a delusion?” “What does Krishna mean, that our smallest actions can change us?” “What does it mean to be attached to the senses?”

Already, discussion in class is intense. Intense enough that I’ve come to realize I have given myself a huge responsibility. I walk out of class thinking, “Whoa.”

This afternoon, a former teacher of mine (and Steve’s), Robert Hass, was interviewed on the radio, and he said this: “Wordsworth read the German Romantics. Thoreau read Wordsworth, Teddy Roosevelt read Thoreau, and we got the national parks. It took a hundred years, but it happened. People read poetry and have their eyes opened.”

He was describing, as all poets must do these days, why poetry is important. Percy Shelley said something similar almost 200 years ago: “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.”

I’ve realized this may be the only contact these 20 minds have with this or any poem, with this “song of God,” with yoga. If we define yoga as “spiritual discipline,” and/or as Krishna himself does, as “skill in action,” it gives me pause. I pause to consider I’m using this as tool to teach them to write, and that the skills I teach them will, ideally, carry them through the rest of their lives.

Then there is practice, the practice I mean when I say, “I do yoga.” I have my own teachers, Maria Zavala and Tim Miller. They are guiding me. I am guiding my students. Suddenly my asana practice has extra heft. The condition of my body becomes my method of equipping my mind for the spiritual discipline of my writing, and my teaching of writing.

I am, myself, a writer—a writer of poetry, of these words. It never occurred to me that my yoga practice (as I’m defining it above—and as an integrated spiritual discipline) holds me responsible for the words I’m writing to you now, and the poetry I will write in the future. And that I must, like Arjuna, practice skill in action when I write, teach, and do Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga. This is why we use this word yoga and don’t translate it, the complex poetry of union.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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