me & my yoga: part II

after my last post about me and my yoga, i received an email from a one of my colleagues and friends from the yoga teacher training in Italy. he has, after doing our training, delved very deep into the philosophical scriptures and the history of yoga since that, and he is also teaching classes in the US. 
he has a lot to say, some criticism and some positive feedback. Copy-paste:


"Okay I don't know what you mean by saying yoga is 5,000 years old. That pre-dates even the Vedas. There are arguments for 3500 years old in that Mohenjadaro seal, but I'm skeptical of that really being anything but the way people often sat. There is much dispute even over what constitutes any kind of yogic scripture -- Patanjali is so misinterpreted and blown way out of proportion, for example. It's only 4 fucking pages and who has really read it? Everyone interprets it through interpreters. I think there are other texts of greater importance, but almost all the early ones which are about yoga are a mix of crazy and fascinating shit.
And then if you come all the way forward, nearly anything westerners (and most easterners!) know of yoga is asana, and that didn't start to take shape, pardon the pun, till around the 1700's C.E. And even that's pretty obscure stuff. If you're interested I can go on and I can give you references, but the point is, the yoga nearly everyone does today really dates back  about 120 years, in India, England, Sweden, and the USA. It's very multinational. Read Mark Singleton's Yoga Body -- I don't agree with him on everything either, but it's eye-opening.
Is there a deeper yoga which has existed for millenia? Yes, and there are some good ideas (e.g. santosha) but on the whole I'm more interested in Buddhist stuff, which actually pre-dates Patanjali. And the I Ching is even closer to my heart. And I love Zen and karate as well."

Very accurate arguments and he definitely has a point. Asana, which we mostly practice, is just the tip of an iceberg. or the lava coming out of a thousand-year-old volcano. 
I used to be hyper-critical, too, just like Ivan. That was one of my main problems during my studies at SOAS; while learning about the actual facts and the history, about the developments of Indian philosophies, Yoga, Buddhism and later Hinduism, and to learn what Yoga actually IS (which actually isn't so easy to define) i went to yoga classes where the teachers thought themselves holier-than-thou for practicing asanas. I was hyper-critical of this attitude, as the "real yoga", from what I was learning at university, had nothing to do with asanas. 

After letting go of taking classes, after my traumatic events in the place I did my yoga teacher training, I took a break from the public yoga-world and retreated. There is a poem by Rumi or Hafiz (don't remember..does it matter?) which talks about how you should seek knowledge "like a bee seeks nectar" and then retreat into your own self to digest, "like a deer finds a quiet place to graze" and after, go out into the world, live wild, and free, like a lion. 
I'm not comparing myself to a Lion (not just yet) but I was definitely a bee seeking nectar. I was a butterfly, going everywhere. I then spent my yoga practice in my bedroom, with a closed door, for three years. 

I forgot, during these years, about my hyper criticalness regarding the "truth" of what yoga "really is". I just knew I could not take classes, because it bothered me, the way teachers would be calling yoga "their" yoga and pronounce Sanskrit words like they were ordering a skinny latte and a low fat blueberry muffin at Starfucks. 
But I actually forgot that I used to be caught up in the history, the dates, and the fact that yoga asanas were never part of the "original" yoga. Ivan's email reminded me of this, and made me think a lot about what happened in my own yoga-evolution, during these three years, grazing in my quiet bedroom. 

I always did something else than asana. Like pranayama, for example, every day, for a few years, or yoga nidra for some years, too. Meditation has always been a big part, but in periods, which come and go. But the asana practice was the major thing for these three years, and actually, in the last few months, it's the only thing I do (oh ok, maybe some pranayama! I can't help but doing it!)

And what I have found, and this to me is really important, is that when I practice, I come to a place in myself. 
This place is reached by asana, pranayama, yoga nidra, or meditation. 
This place is somewhere deep inside my head. It's the very center of my head. I sink into it, I'm drawn into it, by a certain amount of practice- any of the ones mentioned above. 
With the asana, it's usually required that I do at least 45 minutes, before I get there. 
The feeling of this center of my head is one of total calm. It's not HAPPY, it's not SAD- it just IS. I'm there, and I'm not bothered by the outside. I'm there. Not tired, not energetic- just pure Being. 

I noticed this place for the first time around 6 years ago, from regular pranayama. But to then discover it in my grazing, in my bedroom, was an amazing one. I can get to "that place" by any of these practices which would go under the umbrella-term "yoga". Yoga means "union" and this is what "that place" feels like to me- I re-unite, I unite, with myself, with my center, and clean off the mind for a bit. And because I do this every day, in one way or another, I have a spiritual practice. It doesn't matter if it's asana, pranayama, meditation or whatever- it's all a YOGA-practice. 

And what I more discovered was how using the breath in my asana-practice can really catapult me into "that place". Sometimes so deeply that I find it hard to get back into my daily routine, because I'm so far "inside". 

So yes, there is a "deeper" yoga, which has as its goal- Samadhi. And this Samadhi doesn't mean sitting on a mountain top in the Himalayas, eating air and drinking sun- it means a true and pure connection to the Self, free from the Mind. All the possible ways to get there are legitimate, if you ask me. 

So I'm now taking classes. I found a studio really close by, and I really like it. Some of the teachers irritate me but I started to really think about WHY instead of following the anger and irritation. And I made the necessary realisation (for me):
A good teacher, of any kind of teaching, has to step aside, and let the "teachings" come through them in a clear way, without putting too much of "themselves" into it. 

I had a class with a lovely Brazilian woman, who was just a bit too much lovely and strong in her personality. She was passionate, and too hasty, and made mistakes. I focused more on her voice, her mistakes, her passion- than I focused on my own practice. 
Then there was the Latin American girl, who was not skinny and not fat, not pretty and not ugly, just really clear and centered. I stopped noticing her after a few minutes, and went so deep into my own practice, that I spent the rest of the day trying to get out of my own bubble (which was only helped by a very big siesta). She had an ability to just channel her teaching, her class, her words, and she stepped aside. That, to me, is an amazing teacher. 

About my complaint that teachers call their teaching "their yoga", Ivan says:

"So no one can lay that much claim to any one way, although some can lay claim to their own yoga, and that's the way I like it too (uh-huh uh-huh). I think that gives us the license we need as teachers to be creative! Of course, up to a certain critical point -- because one should and can argue that freedom necessitates responsiblilty. People have expectations from yoga, and I think the 120+ year old yoga is brilliant and should be respected. But you can't get all purist about it. It's just not real, it doesn't have real roots in history. I've done a lot of research, and yoga history is a mess and a paradox. It's rather amazing history, actually. Yogis were villains, sometimes falsely accused but sometimes totally for real, and there's a lot of hijinx and tomfoolery, and no one can get too soapboxy about it. And yeah, that might be a good thing."

And yes, he is right. I thought about this a lot, too. It's true. 

But what I would like to add, is that the 120+ year yoga that he claims is "not real"- might just be a natural development of what has been continuing to develop over all of these 3500-something years. If there was one thing I really understood from my university studies in Indian Religions, then it was this: the teachings keep developing, and as they are passed down from generation to generation, they adapt to the current times. One scholar called the Indian Religions (and then I also refer to Philosophies!) a flowing river, branching out into many little side-rivers, flowing in all directions, but from the same source. 
Maybe it's just very simply like this: the current times needed a more physical spiritual practice, a more physical approach to get to the center. 
And yes, no one should get too soapboxy about it. No one can claim to "own" it- instead, we are free to just "use" it. 

And I have found that both asana and pranayama and other things are like different types of vehicles, all taking me to the same place. But if there is another person driving the car, then it depends a lot on the driving. If the music's too loud, the person't screaming at their boyfriend on the phone, or almost crash the car- then I don't get to this place. 


And another, even more important thing, is the fact that my physical body is now my main motivator to practice. 
To find the motivation to meditate each day, for the rest of my life, is hard. Really hard. 
But to NOT practice asanas, is in fact, IMPOSSIBLE. If i don't, i get pain, i put on weight, it gets tight, i get a headache, i twist my ankles...and so on. My physical body is what keeps me coming back to my yoga, each and every day, because if i don't- i feel like i used to feel ten years ago, before yoga. (pain in my shoulders, a bit overweight, pain in my back when sitting, pain when walking, headaches...)

I have learnt a lot in the last few weeks of taking my practice out of the wardrobe again. About how it affects me, about what a good teacher is for me, and about how I cannot stay angry or irritated or snobby about it anymore.
And I processed a lot thanks to you, Ivan. 
Thank you!


"as a be