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.
“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.