“If Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory, I want to hone in on that 1%.” – Ali
The Guru Full Moon (Guru Purnima – Friday 31st July, 2015) allows us to take part in spiritual teachings, opening ourselves up to more meaningful yogic conversations. This is especially relevant since the ‘true purpose’ of Yoga is seldom talked about in classroom settings, or social media circles.
From my personal experiences, having taught thousands of Yoga classes, it seems that silence in the classroom is more highly valued than philosophical discussions. Likewise, physical activity seems more valued than group inter-activity. My attempts to engage yoga students in philosophical conversations have often resulted in us skimming the surface. I get the funny feeling that most students want to stretch their bodies, not their bodies of yogic knowledge! Unfortunately, however, lack of knowledge also leads to lack of awareness (avidya).
“avidya clouds our awareness and stops us being our true authentic selves.”
Although Patañjāli’s classical instruction – Yogaś-chitta-vrtti-nirodhah (which loosely means, yoga reduces mental fluctuations) – may be at the root of modern classroom reserve, one of the primary aims of Yoga practice, according to Patañjāli (YS 2.1-2.9), is to free ourselves from the five kleshas (ignorance, ego-consciousness, pleasure-seeking, aversion, and fear). Yoga is meant to deepen awareness of our ‘true nature’, as a cosmically centred being. The Yoga teacher’s discourse is an important part of that process.
In modern-day contexts, however, Yoga teachers’ vocabularies seem to be limited to a handful of standard slogans, such as: ‘go with the flow’, ‘Namaste’, and ‘breath into the heart’. It is less likely that teachers will say “surrender your ego-identity to the universal divine,” or “free yourself from your negative karma, which amasses from consumer desires and base urges.” While time constraints may contribute to these minimalized mantras, a general lack of philosophical engagement leads me to ask specific questions.
Has Yoga become a consumer product that must meet customer demands? Or, is there room for truth (satya) and honest discussion in our Yoga teaching spaces? Can philosophical conversations and different opinions hold meaning within wider Yoga circles? Or, should discussions on yogic spirituality be limited to specialist workshops and in-group gatherings (satsang)?
“Yoga Philosophy, Tantric Yoga, Mythic symbolism, Guru Devotion, Mantra invocation … Is there any room for yogic spirituality in present-day Yoga?”
In addressing these questions, it is important for us to realise that countries like New Zealand, which are largely secular (which are largely secular, meaning there is a distinct separation between faith practices in the public sphere and religiosity in the private sphere), expect people to keep their spiritual views to themselves. The only exception to spiritual privatization is on days such as Guru Purnima, or International Yoga Day, where members of local yoga communities can openly engage in spiritual discussions and group performances in shared spaces. Fortunately, these special events give Yoga students the opportunity to participate in more engaged teachings.
“Be grateful for what you take for granted”
My personal aim over the next 18 months is to conduct an ethnographical study of Yoga in New Zealand (through the MA programme at Victoria University), to find out more about the diversity of yoga teaching in Aotearoa. This study will involve interviews with students and teachers alike, so hopefully I will get a chance to compile a comprehensive study by interviewing a wide range of yoga disciplines.
For Guru Purnima (10:42pm Wellington time) I would like to open up a discussion on Patañjāli’s Yoga Sutras 2.2-2.3:
YS 2.2: avidya asmita rāga dveṣa abhiniveśa pancha kleśa
- avidya – ignorance and lack of insight
- asmita – ego and identification with the temporary image of self
- rāga – desire and addiction to pleasure-seeking habits
- dveṣa – dislike of change because we fear pain and suffering
- abhiniveśa – anxiety around death and clinging to false hope
- pancha kleśa – these are the five afflictions
YS 2.3: avijja kshetramutthatresham prasupthanu vicchinirodhaaraanam
- When ignorance is removed, the remaining four [kleśa] are destroyed.
These sutras remind us that ignorance should be firmly uprooted to stop other kleśas restricting our personal development.
The platform is now open for you to have your say …