My yoga starts when I acknowledge the Western inheritance of the yoga tradition or some blended combination of traditions. Western yoga shares widely in the thread known as hatha, a tradition of opposing forces coming into balance and working together for the yogi’s mental, spiritual, and physical development.
A scholarly treatment of ancient texts or a detailed study of yoga’s historical variations – each with schools, histories, practices, religiosities, and gurus requires intense, academic study in linguistics, theology, sociology, history, medicine, and mythology. This would be the work of a lifetime.
Knowing this opens me to become an incomplete scribe articulating a perspective behind a yoga encounter in matter and consciousness. Yoga is a force which puts an encounter front and center for every yogi. Faced with this, each one responds in their own way. And while I think it’s good to know about tradition – so that we do not claim something as ours that is not ours – like most Western yogis, my practice and study draws from the deep well of yoga’s healing waters.
Yoga and its variations were formed in a complex, multifaceted cultural context that very few Westerners understand. This culture created yoga from its particular situation and in its evolving timeline.
The truth is that yoga has always been and is always changing and the proof is that yoga today in India looks different and is vastly more inclusive than it was just one hundred years ago. And just as yoga has morphed and changed through the Centuries in India, it will also change and evolve in the West.
I’m expressing my understanding of yoga through an experiential narrative. It’s a narrative anchored by the pillars of tradition and imbued with yoga’s spiritual DNA. It comes to me in both motion and stillness, each with movement and pause. You will receive yoga in your unique way and will be defined by what you experience, your encounter on the mat, and the threads of tradition you embody. I call this encounter a martial art of the soul.
Spiritual awareness, sometimes called ontology, is the human experience of being and consciousness. I specifically raise ontological questions in some of my writing as in, “Yoga and the Pure Consciousness of Healing,”; “Transforming the Emotional Body,”; and “A Yoga Parable: Diaspora to the West.”
Why might I put forward in, “A Yoga Parable,” the image of Eastern gurus weeping at a reading of a poem by Shelley? What does Louie Netz of Harley Davidson’s Styling and Graphics Department mean by stating form follows function, as quoted in “Transforming the Emotional Body.”
What is the emotional body – not just to the gurus – but to you? And in, “Yoga and the Pure Consciousness of Healing,” does the Heisenberg principle influence your life coincidences, synchronicites, extrasensory perceptions, or your consciousness and healing? Does this principle influence your faith, or the faith of witnesses to Mark’s Gospel narrative of Jesus and the paralytic? These are the questions raised by the yogi as they tune into the meaningful encounter of prakriti and purusa, matter and consciousness.
Many years ago, in what Wyoming residents call the Red Desert; I set out on a solo three day vision quest. Before my quest began, I trained for days in the Lakota way. In the desert, I was not to eat, talk to, or see anyone for three days. My guide offered minimal instructions for my quest: “Drink water and pay attention.”
When it was time, I walked into the desert on a hot July morning to set myself apart and seek a new vision. My intention was to strip away all distraction in my experiment with truth. This is what yoga is to me now; it’s an experiment with truth force within the container of my yoga mat.
I expected my vision quest would challenge me, but would also help me connect to that which I had not yet connected. I was doing the work of yoga (yoking/connecting) before I knew what yoga was.
In the Red Desert, I learned from the birds that if I had a song to sing I had to sing it. It was not about how well I sang, but that I did. This is why I’ve written about yoga. I learned that it’s not how well I do, but that I do.
In the desert I was set up to experience a moment of encounter. I framed it as something akin to what philosopher Martin Buber called the I-Thou encounter. Years later, I realize this is the encounter of yoga. It’s a meeting of truth force(s); a yogi in hatha on the mat facing self and Thou, the sacred seeker to the sacred center.
There are no rules about what one must accomplish in this encounter, but when the yogi is present, yoga will open space for a yoking experience in many dimensions. Each yogi experiences both heard and unheard, seen and unseen, felt and not felt. In the words of John Keats these unheard, sweeter melodies, are the “foster-child of silence and slow time.” Yoga gets us to silence and slow time.
I wrote of the yoga encounter as the martial art of the soul and it stands as the truth of my experience. It works for me because it’s my encounter. You get something else for you because it’s your encounter. I do the yoga and ask nothing more from myself but to be present. I take everything I’m given, and receive all of it in gratitude.
I’m aware of my blind spots though, so I admit that all my encounters are filtered by my education and training, my age, race, gender, culture, and my misperceptions – what Patanjali, author of The Yoga Sutras called avidya – (a gross ignorance) – still, I aim to remain a Western seeker, a being expecting to meet the Thou in all my encounters.
I also aim to articulate my experience of yoga as a physical, non-physical (ethereal) and metaphysical therapeutic. To that end, and with my story meeting between my head and feet, the yoga melody moving within waves of the sea and within my breathcentric core, I return to the dimensions in space where yoga first tumbled me, and find myself back to the place where it started.
“We shall not cease from exploring
and then end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time
. . .
And the children in the apple-tree
not known, because not looked for
but heard, half-heard, in the stillness
between two waves of the sea.”
A Six Point Evolving Yoga Precis
- The yogi starts any session with gentle release and surrenders into trust. Then, the ritual process of yoga moves the yogi to enter a state of true presence
The yoga world knows it as TRUST. In relinquishment, the yogi learns to open their heart and settle into the most important moment – – the one they live. This grounding in the present is conscious contact which opens one to engage the reality of their life. Surrendering into the moment, the yogi experiences their life without filters. This is associative living, not escapist. The move to trust is a lived symbolism, for the yogi simultaneously participates in their life while pointing beyond it.
- The yogi comes home to their breath-centric core where they kiss the soul to receive their full inheritance
The yoga world knows it as BREATH. At the center point, breath is the building of consciousness. In heightened consciousness, jettisoning old scripts, the yogi constructs a personal story of renewal formed by inspiration. They learn their healing treasure is at the end of a long journey.
- Asana and pranayama bring the yogi to a sacramental remembering of self. This transforms both the seen and the seer
The yoga world knows it as EMBODIMENT. Yoga’s alchemy, formed by movement and breath, is anamnesis connecting action and memory. The yogi lives into a sacramental dimension of existence by remembering – in each moment – their being-ness as both immanent and transcendent.
- A path to community opens with the relinquishment of armor in a shared experience
The yoga world knows it as COMMUNITY. Inside the yoga room, the awakened center is tutored in self-love and love for others. When vital energy and passion are shared, the body (individual and corporate) is fed by pranayama. Where there are no hierarchies, questions of worthiness are tossed out the window. There is no rank, systems, or bureaucracy. The yogi joins as a witness to one common identify – which points them back to an intimate connection with all.
- The target of yoga’s missiology is self
The yoga world knows it as PRACTICE. In the container, at the confluence of yogi, guru, and healing practice, a drop of sweat takes one to self and self to God. The yogi – a vessel devoid of armor and ego – incarnates a healing curriculum in a generative engagement translated to a focused biology of belief and concomitant mind/body/spirit reshaping.
- In savasana, space and time welcome the yogi for an anointing to the goodness of true self and true nature
The yoga world knows it as HEALING. Yoga’s internal tapas (the heat of transformation) teaches compassion for self; and in savasana’s moments of rest, the yogi is anointed in its healing tradition. This is not a cosmetic make over, but the weaving into (being) a timeless process which synthesizes everything up to that moment in a deep affirmation of life itself. By subsequent and even deeper release into savasana, yoga’s physical, non-physical, and metaphysical medicine works its healing therapeutic on the human in corpse (savasana) re-pose.