Yoga, culture, and the spark of life

Writing about a recent article about yoga in the New York Times Magazine, Ran said,

Something the article doesn’t mention is that every yoga pose was invented by someone whose body needed that particular stretch at that particular time. Ideally we would all have the skill and awareness to improvise our own exercises every day. Lacking that, we follow rigid and uniform routines that are inevitably wrong for us.”


The way I see it, yoga is an ancient spiritual and healing tradition that has various expressions in our culture. Sure it’s been commercialized and I can find yoga studios in trendy neighborhoods that are filled with people who do the practices at a shallow level and are taught by teachers who don’t understand it. But there is a spectrum… I’ve found that if I put the energy into it, I can find yoga teachers who do hold the spark of the spiritual and healing traditions, and who don’t merely ape the practices.

The great yogis of old could invent new poses and even whole programs of healing that involved poses, meditation, diet, and other learning, customized for each individual. And not just for themselves — yogis are healers. But they too stand on the shoulders of their teachers and a large body of passed-on knowledge. And there are great yogis alive today, along with a spectrum of teachers, down from the yogis — teachers who teach other teachers but may be expensive to travel to see, all the way down to those special yoga teachers who are genuine practitioners in our neighborhood yoga studios who can offer what they know directly, in person, for low cost. Not all hold that spark of life. But if you look you can find the living lineage of healers, and that lineage does help you customize your healing to your own body. It’s not inevitably wrong for me. And I’ve seen plenty of others get the right customized healing from different yoga teachers.

Ran also said,

“This reminds me of how religion starts with direct experience of the divine, and then hardens into rules and memorized prayers. Or how learning starts with curiosity and self-directed exploration, and ends up in lifeless forced schooling.”

Here too I would ask, isn’t that a generalization? There are spiritual traditions alive today that have great life in them, the direct experience of the divine. I’ve looked and found them, and practice one of them that is alive in me (Shambhala Buddhism). It’s tempting to look at religion from the outside as something that is dead, lifeless, ossified, meaningless. And in fact many are, especially the mainstream culture’s religions in each region of the world. But there are genuine spiritual traditions that are alive today in the fringes.

Ran concluded,

“Or how learning starts with curiosity and self-directed exploration, and ends up in lifeless forced schooling.”

And yeah there too, the mainstream schools in our current culture do that. But in the fringes there are different experiences. That phrase “ends up in…” seems to me to imply a linear view of growth, that things start young and good, and end up old and bad. Why can’t I be a cool old dude? Why can’t new effective and healing cultures grow up out of the ossified ones? My son goes to a healing noncoercive “school” or learning collective (PSCS) that is alive and well now, and is relatively new – it wasn’t around 20 years ago. If you seek it you can find new growth and healing.

I wish healing, spiritually-connected, non-coercive, curious culture was more widespread. But Ran, you might be surprised at how much there is already. How can we make these communities stronger? How can we link them to create a culture that will grow up through the cracks of the mainstream one that is not working now? How can we help more people choose healing cultures over ones that are dying? Those are the questions that I think we should be asking.

3 Responses to “Yoga, culture, and the spark of life”

  1. The problem with āsana which literally means sitting is that is a stage of yoga and not synonym to yoga, and it may not be even essential, since in earlier scriptures according to the Indian religion historian Surendranath Dasgupta it doesn’t even appear, http://goo.gl/ejXuV, it was instead tarka which is more like reasoning, yoga in early scripture is more associated with technique, breath, or fire more like Zen or Chan who took the interconnectedness of breath and mind as fundamental, the problem with āsana’s in this way and not as a sitting postition is that is relatively modern, in XIIth century nāth sect of Gorakhnāth most of the āsanas appear, but great majority of āsanas are a XIXth and early XXth century contribution, the tantric nāth sect are relatively marginal indian sect, and also āsanas and nāth are asociated with fakirism. But since I could continue like that for pages I think since yoga is a foreign word in sanskrit language, we better take a look at how many meanings has this word http://goo.gl/MseOQ and remember that dogma and crystalization always come with impoverisment of meaning, if you look at modern yoga, yoga is more like a synonym for sexy, just look at yoga pants, or yoga abs, or yoga don’t know what, yoga became more like a word enhancer than a word more like tao or zen, put tao and you mean exotic, put zen and you mean chilled, put yoga and you mean slim and sexy.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4emkk6IZ08

    If someone would ask me for a very profane definition:
    Yoga means to get your shit together.

  2. Romania has this beautiful story where the communist regime gave the task to a few psychologists to study Transcedental Meditation and apply it to the all nation because there was a shortage of food and TM claimed that make people live with less food and less material conditions, the experiment went so wrong that the communist regime had to shut down it and make outcast of all psychologists into janitor jobs, close all the psychology class in universities, and ban the teaching of psychology in schools and instead teaching pedagogy, http://goo.gl/rmrWy also out of this yoga, meditation, martial arts got banned.

    Probably Romania is the only country in the world where yoga was prohibited, out of this ban it has grown a lot of interest in yoga but also some dangerous yogic cults like MISA (global porn business yogic cult )powerfully connected from European diplomats to local political figures and mafia so much that Assange was extradited from Sweden but this sexual offender Bivolaru was granted asylum in Sweden.

    And this should be the blueprint if there is a need there should be someone to fulfill it, and if a society cannot support true spiritual research this need will always be filled by crooks.

    Because every great yogic teacher believes in consesual reality. And what spirituality can be, when there is the consesus that a higher reality doesn’t even exist why bother spending resources to make RD on that.

  3. Matt Holbert

    Hi Adam,

    I got here through a link on Ran’s website…

    I followed the links and learned some new things. (The Dalai Lama’s brother taught at I.U…) I’d be interested in talking/corresponding with you about a new university network that I have been designing over the past few years. It might be something that would be of interest to PSCS graduates.

    Matt (Spokane)

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