Updated: May 4
In my previous post, I referred to yoga in the broadest sense because I am not just talking about Yoga Asana, the physical postures, but Yoga as a philosophy and way of life.
A brief history of Yoga
Coming from South Asia and India thousands of years ago, one might envision Yoga having an original or authentic form.
Traditionally, the ancient philosophy of Yoga has been studied through a canon of texts including the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Hathapradikipa and the Yoga Upanishads.
More recently, however, a wider range of ancient Yogic texts have been translated for the first time into English from Sanskrit as well as Tibetan, Arabic, Persian, Bengali, Tamil, Pali, Kashmiri and more.
What these translations and other developments in the realm of yoga academia are showing is the fact that there is not, and has never been, an “original” or "authentic" form of Yoga.
In fact, Yogic practices have developed over thousands of years from many diverse roots.
Interestingly, the physical postures which have become almost synonymous with “yoga” in the West today are only a small portion of “yoga” historically. In the early texts we see only a few physical asanas, generally limited to sitting positions. Compare that with the standing sequences of today: there were no warriors back then!
Other key Yogic techniques include strict principles of adherence, ascetic practises (including painful ones!), processes of physical and mental purification, withdrawal from society and the senses (you can see my previous post on Pratyahara here) and of course meditation.
It was not until the 18th century that the Yogi, Krishnamacharya, extensively and systematically developed yoga as a system of physical postures, laying the foundation for the contemporary Surya-Namaskar inspired practices of today.
Krishnamacharya went on to teach Patanjali Jois, the founder of the Ashtanga Yoga Lineage, and B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar Yoga, two of the most influential modern. He also taught the first Western Woman (against his initial wishes), Indra Devi, who went on to share the practice with Hollywood stars such as Marilyn Monroe.
So why am I telling you this?
The word “yoga” comes from Sanskrit (an ancient Indian language) and roughly translates as “yolk” or “union.”
As we have seen, yoga has changed a lot: in fact, there was never an "original" form of yoga.
But that is the thing.
The Form may change, but the central philosophy remains the same.
It is this central philosophy of yoga as union which can inspire our practices, and our day to day lives.
So, what is this philosophy and what is the union between?
In the broadest sense, yoga is about dualities coming together into oneness.
The dualities which come together can be understood as mind and body, subject and object, or through the Tantric conception of Shiva (pure consciousness) and Shakti (manifested, feminine energy).
Different concepts will work for different people.
Whichever concept works for you, the key point is that dualities are relative: that is, they are based on difference.
Duality is central to our lives
In life, our understanding of the world is made through duality; we categorise and create meaning through difference.
Black is black because it is not white; night is night because it is not day and so forth.
Our Western worldview is heavily influenced by Cartesian Dualism (the idea that the mind and body are very distinct and seperate) so understanding yoga through mind and body coming together works well.
This also makes sense in the way that the dominant Western form of Yoga today puts so much emphasis on the physical asana practice: the body becomes a way for us to reconnect with our mind, because in our day to day lives they seem so speerate!
We must remember however that this Western mind/body distinction is a social construct, something I will be writing more about soon.
My worldview: my philosophy
In my University studies (I studied Social Sciences), the theories I learnt about were rooted in duality and difference. Whether the division was between “objective” and “subjective” reality (i.e. my perception is different to yours) or the debate between individual agency versus the structures of society (are we free agents or not?), these ways of understanding the world significantly shaped my worldview.
I began to overtley see things in the world through difference and relativism. I became a bit of a postmodernist who couldn't find much meaning in anything.
That was until I found Yoga as a means to embody and experience life in a deeper and more holistic way. Even if the world is made of difference, somehow this difference came from the same thing..... was in fact the same thing. And that was beautiful.
The point is that, in life the categorisations we use to map our understanding of the world are about difference.
Ultimately, difference can never be what one might call ‘ultimate’ truth…. This is even more relevant today in the world of FAKE NEWS and Post-truth.
But what if there is a shift? If these dualities were not set apart, but came together, in union?
Some might call this truth. Some might call this death.
Ultimately, this is yoga.
Now this might all sound a bit spiritual, quacky or just downright confusing to you. Or it might not, depending on your personal views and outlook on life.
I don’t blame you. In writing, this is abstract-ish philosophy.
But the beauty is, yoga is an embodied practice.
On one hand, it is a philosophy which acknowledges the dichotomies, dualisms and differences of life. But it is also the means to explore and appreciate these differences through connection, as we embrace ourselves and our experience fully.
Ultimately then, Yoga is about practices which enable deeper connection between body, mind and spirit, or whatever else you concieve of the world being split in to!
And the fact Yoga has no "original" or "authentic" form? Well that is great news.
Accepting there is no "right" way to do yoga means we can explore many different forms and styles of practice with out judging ourselves or others to find what works for us.
This may "look" like conventional yoga, or it really, really might not.
Here are just a few examples for inspiration: Hatha, Tantra, Ying, Yang, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini, Rocket, Forrest, Synergy, Fusion, Dance, Mantra Chanting, Meditative, Meditation (so many types), Rebirthing, Ecstatic Dance, Hammock Yoga, Laughter Yoga, Goat Yoga, Gong Bathing.........
What might embodiment feel like to you? Dancing? Free movement? Stillness?
Dancing in Pushkar, India, trying on my Flossophy Fashion designs. (above).
If you still need some convincing, in my next post I will be talking more about embodiment as a tool to help us better understand our practice and relationship to ourselves.
And if you are feeling sceptical, rest assured the nest instalment will have a healthy dose of neuroscience to support it!
In the meantime, stay well.
Sat nam– truth is my identity