The knowledge of yoga: mushy, lumpy and not very appealing

“Yoga is a radical philosophy and practice which is all too often dumbed down and perverted to suit purely commercial interests: teaching yoga has become a business and writing yoga books a potentially lucrative pursuit.” That’s just one of a number of provocative — in the good sense — statements from the latest from Guy Donahaye, the follow-up to his recent string of posts about yoga and the modern day.

Link is right here. A little more:

Since, in our society, we are taught to desire so much, to excel, to be the best or at least the richest or most beautiful etc., the effort to attain these badges of merit is enormous. Often our drive for success may be fueled by the unrealized desires of our parents. But in any case we experience this drive to compete and acquire as a deep conditioning and stress – and to relieve our stress, we have our pleasures.

According to Patanjali, if you want to experience pleasure, you should not run after it, you should instead cultivate contentment. According to him, from this contentment is derived the highest pleasure. This does not mean that one should be lazy, but that one should learn to see everything with equanimity.

Detachment is a frightening concept for Westerners. We fear we will lose everything we value, however we only lose what poisons us. Since we are confused about what is good for our health and what is detrimental, we fear we will reject something we value.

But detachment does not imply not having feelings, not experiencing happiness and pleasure, quite the opposite!

The main thrust of the post is about viaragya, or non-attachment. As he notes, immediately above, that doesn’t mean not having feelings. It just means not needing to have our feelings fulfilled.

But I particularly — given my own ambivalence toward Ashtanga — am interested in the following:

Guruji often talked about practice, practice…but Patanjali pairs this practice with vairagya – dispassion. If we make yoga into a thing we like, which suits our needs, we do not allow yoga to do any work for us. We do not gain any net benefit. Yoga means mind-control – this is achieved through practice and dispassion.

Too many writings and teachings on yoga accommodate the fact that we are competitive, passionate, compulsive etc.. The implications of karma, reincarnation, renunciation etc are unpalatable. And so yoga is made into something warm and fuzzy, something which fits neatly into our materialistic culture.

I need to think more about that. Because it certainly isn’t as simple as “not liking” Ashtanga. It also suggests that simply embracing and loving yoga may be missing a key point to the experience, to the lesson, of yoga. Based on the idea of non-attachment, the right path isn’t hating the practice or toughing it out, either.

There’s some push-pull there, reflected most “grossly” at the physical level, but going deeper, too. It makes me think that likening yoga to tapasya is, perhaps, close to the right thought.

Posted by Steve


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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “The knowledge of yoga: mushy, lumpy and not very appealing”

  1. “Heart
    In the center of the cavity of the Heart, the sole Brahman shines by itself as the Atman (Self) in the feeling of ‘I-I’. Reach the Heart by diving within yourself, either with control of breath, or with thought concentrated on the quest of Self. You will thus get fixed in the Self.

    Asked “How does a grihastha (householder) fare in the scheme of Moksha (liberation)?” Bhagavan said, “Why do you think you are a grihastha? If you go out as a sannyasi (ascetic), a similar thought that you are a sannyasi will haunt you. Whether you continue in the household or renounce it and go to the forest, your mind goes with you. The ego is the source of all thought. It creates the body and the world and makes you think you are a grihastha . If you renounce the world it will only substitute the thought sannyasi for grihastha and the environment of the forest for that of the household. But the mental obstacles will still be there. They even increase in the new surroundings. There is no help in change of environment. The obstacle is the mind. It must be got over whether at home or in the forest. If you can do it in the forest, why not at home? Therefore, why change your environment? Your efforts can be made even now – in whatever environment you are now. The environment will never change according to your desire.” ~ Ramana Maharshi

    “Questioner: unless I am told what to do I feel lost
    Answer:By all means do feel lost! As long as you feel competent and confident, reality is beyond your reach. Unless you accept inner adventure as a way of life, discover will not come to you. ” ~ Sri Nisgardatta Maharaj

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