04 Apr Dear Ashtanga, I still Love you
It’s true, I still do. Everyday.
And you reading this should too, regardless of what you’ve heard, seen, experienced or been told. Most of what they tell you, is all just a front. There’s a hidden world inside this one we see and play out on social media, mysore morning specials or weekend yoga n’ surf retreats.
The thing is, it’s not a safer place than this one — on the contrary, it is the sensation of danger there that brings us back to life: the feeling that for once, for one moment that seems to eclipse the past and future, there is something real at stake.
Where the yogi formerly felt boredom, he now feels passion. Where he once was complacent, he now is excited and compelled to self-asserting action. The world which once seemed empty and tiresome becomes filled with meaning, filled with risks and rewards, with majesty and danger. Life for the yogi is a gift, an adventure with the highest possible stakes; every moment is memorable, heartbreaking in its fleeting beauty. When he practices yoga – all eight limbs of it – a person who once felt disoriented, alienated, and confused will know exactly what she wants. Suddenly his existence will make sense to him; suddenly it becomes valuable, even glorious and noble, to him. The burning practice is an antidote that will cure the worst cases of despair and resigned obedience.
True and real yoga makes it possible for individuals to connect with Life in a meaningful way — it impels them to leave their shells and risk being honest and spontaneous together, to come to know each other in profound ways. Thus real yoga makes it possible for them to care about each other genuinely, rather than at the end of the gun of the institute doctrine. But at the same time, it plucks the yogi out of the routines of everyday life and separates him from other human beings. He will feel a million miles away from the herd of humanity, living as he is in a world entirely different from theirs.
In this sense true yoga is subversive, because it poses a threat to the established order of our modern lives. (Hello Richard Freeman!)
The boring rituals of workday productivity and socialised etiquette will no longer mean anything to a person who has fallen into yoga, for there are more important forces guiding him than mere inertia and deference to tradition. All the yoga marketing strategies that depend upon apathy or insecurity to sell the products that keep whatever lineage you’re into running as it does will have no effect upon him. Obedience designed for passive consumption, which depends upon exhaustion or cynicism in the practitioners mode, will not interest him.
There is no place for the passionate, true yogi in today’s world. For he can see that it might be more worthwhile to hike through the hills of Sintra collecting wood (or to sit in the backyard and watch the clouds sail by) with his sweetheart than to workout for his handstand or sell blissfulness brunches, NIT advertisements and instagram challenges, and if he decides that it is, he will have the courage to do it rather than be tormented by unsatisfied longing. He knows that breaking into a cemetery and making love under the stars will make for a much more memorable night than watching Cody tutorials ever could. So true yoga poses a threat to our consumer-driven Shalas, which depends upon consumption of (largely meaningless) workshops and (largely useless) wellness advices and mediocre physioteraphy, and the students that this consumption necessitates to perpetuate itself.
Similarly, true yoga poses a threat to the entire yoga system, for it is difficult to convince a person who has a lot to live for in his personal journey to self discovery to be willing to stand for an abstraction such as tradition; for that matter, it may be difficult to convince him to even pay for yoga. horror!!! It poses a threat to cultures of all kinds, for when human beings are given wisdom and valor by true love to something they will not be held back by traditions or customs which are irrelevant to the feelings that guide them.
True yoga even poses a threat to our society itself. Passionate yogis are ignored and feared by their peers, for it poses a great danger to the stability and pretence they covet. True yoga permits no lies, no falsehoods, not even any polite half-truths, but lays all emotions bare and reveals secrets which domesticated men, women and teacher cannot bear. You cannot lie with your emotional and physical response; situations or ideas will excite or repel you whether you like it or not, whether it is polite or not, whether it is advisable or not. One cannot be a yogi and a (dreadfully) responsible, (dreadfully) respectable member of today’s society at the same time; for yoga will impel you to do things which are not “responsible” or “respectable.” True yoga is irresponsible, irrepressible, rebellious, scornful of cowardice, dangerous to the doer and everyone around him, for it serves one master alone: the passion that makes for the journey of self discovery. It disdains anything else, be it self-preservation, obedience, or shame. True yoga urges men and women to heroism, and to antiheroism — to indefensible acts that need no defense for that which they hold close to their heart.
For the yogi speaks a different moral and emotional language than the common practitioner does. Perharps, the average person has no overwhelming, smouldering desires of self knowledge. Perhaps sadly, all he knows is the silent despair that comes of spending his life pursuing goals set for him by his family, his educators, his employers, his nation, and his culture, without ever being able to even consider what needs and wants he might have of his own. Without the burning fire of discernment within his practice to guide him, he has no criteria upon which to choose what is right and wrong for himself. Consequently he is forced to adopt some dogma or doctrine to direct him through his life. There are a wide variety of moralities to choose from in the marketplace of ideas, but which morality a person buys into is immaterial so long as he chooses one because he is at a loss otherwise as to what he should do with himself and his life. How many men and women, having never realised that they had the option to choose their own destinies, wander through life in a dull haze thinking and acting in accordance with the laws that have been taught to them, merely because they no longer have any other idea of what to do?
But the yogi needs no prefabricated principles to direct him; his desires identify what is right and wrong for him, for his heart guides him through life. He sees beauty and meaning in the world, because his dedication paint the world in these colors. He has no need for dogmas, for moral systems, for commandments and imperatives, for he knows what to do without instructions. And yogis, come in all shapes, sizes, practices and beliefs: The ones who get on the mat everyday and the ones who don’t even know what yoga is.
Thus he does indeed pose quite a threat to our yoga community, and subsequently, to our society. What if everyone decided right and wrong for themselves, without any regard for conventional morality? What if everyone did whatever they wanted to, with the courage to face any consequences? What if everyone feared loveless, lifeless monotony more than they fear taking risks, more than they fear being hungry or cold or in danger? What if everyone set down their “responsibilities” and “common sense,” and dared to pursue their wildest dreams, to set the stakes high and live each day as if it were the last? Think what a place the world would be!
Certainly it would be different than it is now — and it is quite a truism that people from the yoga institution, the simultaneous keepers and victims of the status quo, fear change.
And so, despite the stereotyped images used in the media to sell whatever yoga sells these days, genuine passionate yoga is discouraged in our community. Having both the courage to take a stand and being “carried away by your emotions” is frowned upon; instead we are raised to always be on our guard lest our hearts lead us astray. Rather than being encouraged to have the courage to face the consequences of risks taken in pursuit of our hearts’ intuition and our ethical standards, we are counselled not to take risks at all, to be “faithful”. And faith itself is regulated. Yoga as most of us know it today is a carefully prescribed and preordained ritual, something that happens twice a week in expensive and “it” places. This regulated “yoga” is nothing like the passionate, burning love that consumes the genuine practitioner. These restrictions, expectations, and regulations smother true yoga;
For yoga is a wild flower that can never grow within the confines prepared for it but only appears where it is least expected.
We must fight against these cultural restraints that would cripple and smother our self inquiry. For it is true yoga that gives meaning to this life we chose, that makes it possible for us to make sense of our existence and find purpose in our lives. Without these, there is no way for us to determine how to live our lives, except to submit to some authority, to some god, guru, master or doctrine that will tell us what to do and how to do it without ever giving us the satisfaction that self-determination does. So fall in love with yoga today, with yourself… with life!
One might say that it is ridiculous to implore others to seek out their genuine passion for yoga — one either finds it or one does not, it is not a choice that can be made consciously. Yoga does not follow the instructions of the rational mind. But the environment in which we must live out our lives has a great influence on our decisions, and we can make intelligent ones that will affect this environment. It should be possible to work to change an environment that is hostile to the true meaning of yoga into an environment that will encourage it. Our task must be to engineer this world so that it is a world in which people can and do progress in their own journey of self discovery and thus to reconstitute human beings so that we will be ready and so that we will be able to find meaning and happiness in our lives.