Real Yoga Vs … Well … Real Yoga

Downdog on Zeil

Through the years I have witnessed numerous spiritual seekers, all of them well-intentioned, who have lost their way by not paying attention to their own addictive patterns … yoga is particularly prone to this syndrome. Abdi Assadi, Shadows on the Path (2007:11).

I often get frustrated with myself for visiting the yoga supermarket. Mostly online, because there’s only two ‘brand name’ yoga styles here in Alice Springs. Online, I jump from yoga style to yoga style, favouring one for a few weeks, thinking hmm…. That looks like the one, the real yoga for me, only to find another style that I’d like to train in a week or so later.

The problem is that deep inside of me there is an ontological ‘real yoga’ – a foundational structure against which I measure everything else. It’s powerful. It’s the yardstick. The thing.

And yet, this is a false ontology because real yoga, as in traditional yoga, is something else very different from my own foundational, inner ‘real yoga’. In this post, I undertake svadhyaya of my understandings about real yoga, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the construct within my own corrupt belief systems.

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Kill Your Home Yoga Practice!

tadasana

Sometimes I am a very lazy, very bad yogini. I don’t practice asana everyday. Sometimes, I only practice at home once or twice a week. Then I beat myself up for it because out there in the External World of the Internets, there appear to be those perfect, devoted, daily practising yogi/nis. S/He is there on many websites, in magazines. S/he flickers in our minds. S/he burns our eyes with her/his perfect practice.

… and thus I deal with the disappointment of not meeting my own expectations of what a yogini is.

For example, here are some of my Haunting Inner Voices:

Guilt.

  • It’s good for you
  • It’s your spiritual practice
  • It will make you feel better and deal with great dollops of arising shit throughout the day in a calm and focussed manner
  • If you don’t do this, then you are a failure, a fraud and a bad person
  • If you don’t do this, the latent fat woman inside will burst out and you’ll be FAT.

Procrastination.

  • But I want to go running
  • I want to sleep in, just this once
  • I just don’t feel like it
  • I need to write my PhD
  • I’m bored
  • I have to get ready to go out bush
  • I want to surf the net
  • I just need to read one more chapter and the book’s finished.

Expectation.

  • I will practice for an hour and a half everyday I will become super-yogini
  • I will be nicer, and more focussed
  • I will be a better human being
  • Every one else out there in the online sadhana practices everyday for an hour and a half
  • I will not be short, fat and frumpy if I do this.

———————

Anything in this sludgy and depressing mire that you can relate to?

Thought so. You’re just like me…

So let’s unpack the baggage.

I’m going to have a talk with the Haunting Inner Voices, examine my ideal yoga practice, then breaking this down further to get to my core understandings and motivations about yoga practice.

The Ideal:

I practice for an hour and a half everyday.

Why is this hour and a half practice ‘the ideal?’

  • The market tells me so
  • Most yoga centres promote classes that are an hour and a half
  • My first experience with yoga was with hour and a half, and later, two hour, Iyengar classes.
  • The mega-advanced-and-perfect yogi/nis on Yoga Peeps tell me that practice should be least an hour and a half
  • The mega-advanced yogi/nis in Journal X all seem to practice for at least an hour and a half every day. (Ana Forrest, who I’ll admit, scares the be-Jesus out of me, practices for three hours).
  • If I don’t practice for an hour and a half every day, Ana will teleport into my yoga room and crush me with her titanium-cast inner thighs!

What Do You ‘Practice’?

Asana. Especially headstands and other flashy poses on the front of Yoga Journal where some super-bendy chick sticks her big toe on the back of her head standing at Byron Bay in the rising sun.

This raises two questions for me:

How do I define yoga practice?

Why do I practice yoga? By this I mean: What’s the real, nitty-gritty reason I practice yoga?

My Definition of Yoga Practice:

  • Asana, with pranayama, dharana and dhyana
  • Yoga is a spiritual process, working from the outside in
  • It’s the meditation that gives the real effects, not the asana
  • Yoga is practiced all day, everyday

So, for me yoga is 4 elements comprising a spiritual process. There is no question that object of yoga is union (in a non-dual sense) with All That Is, and that eventually, it will be done continuously. This contradicts my ‘what‘ above, which is really about asana.

Asana, however, does remain ‘the big thing’ for me, influenced by the superficial understandings of yoga thrown in our faces each day: Yoga as an exercise practice, yoga as ‘designer spirituality and exercise’ wrapped up.

The contradiction creates a trigger, a darling I will murder later on.

Why Do I Practice?

  • It makes me feel good (mentally and physically)
  • It makes me belong to a special community (both physical and online)
  • I am working with non-attachment
  • I like what it does to my body

The sense of well-being that I derive from yoga is the main thing for me, followed by a sense of community. The ‘physical exercise’ component rates the lowest here.

Murdering My Darlings

So what can I do? I can’t live up to my own expectations, I have internal contradictions about what yoga is and I haven’t even started to tell you that I’m a mother, an anthropologist employed full-time, I have an exercise regime that I LOVE and I need me time everyday or I morph into a CRANKY BITCH. But not being able to live up to my own all-or-nothing-goals is making me miserable. I just want to practice yoga regularly and feel good.

Well, I’ve found some sage advice here from Jonathon Mead:

I’ve learned that taking it easy and following your natural rhythms is much more important than productivity. What matters most is how much joy you’re currently experiencing in the present moment. If you’re putting off your happiness until you accomplish something, you’re failing at life.

By killing your goals and exposing their underlying expectations -which often aren’t even your own- you free yourself. You make space, literally, for the ‘real’ stuff to happen. And you stop wasting time and energy on guilt and procrastination.

I Don’t Really Believe This Stuff: Goals Work!

Well, I agree. Setting goals works. If you’re trying to clean out your email inbox or renovate the house. When it comes to habits and behaviours, goals aren’t always useful in my experience.

Aligning with your own values and disowning what’s not yours is what works. To do that, you need to do the anthropology. Get right down into the underlying meanings and values you own and beat the fraudsters out with a stick.

That’s right. Get those frauds you’ve picked up from Yoga Journal and Madonna and god knows who else out of your inner cupboard. Shine the light on them and beat them out.

Not easy, I know. But I’m going to have a go. That’s right. I’m going to test this on myself.

What I am Going to do:

As I’m not giving any advice that doesn’t work, for next thirty days, I will conduct an experiment.

I will practice yoga every day –yoga that aligns with my core values and not those of the fraudsters. This will be any yoga practice as I’ve defined above, for no set length of time. It will be highly responsive to the present moment, the nowness of my life. This is, of course, very much about going against the grain of Iyengar and Ashtanga yoga, into the realms of Desikachar, Mark Whitwell, Satyananda etc.

At the end of this time,  I’ll report back and let you know:

  • Did it work?
  • How I feel
  • What I did, and

Whether murdering my darlings and killing the ideal of the home yoga practice has delivered any benefits.  I suspect it will. And I also suspect I am about to redefine yoga to myself and transform my home practice forever more.

Any comments?


    Birthday Tattoo

    It had to be something meaningful to me…

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    Wow! This photo makes me look curvaceous. Unfortunately, I am nowhere near curvy!

    I wasn’t going to jump on the tattoo bandwagon that started ten or so years ago, when Madonna and Angelina Jolie and Sporty Spice and every second teenage girl and middleclass mum was getting a tattoo to show how hip, cool and alternative they were…

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    That’s more like my uncurvy shape.

    I waited until I turned 42. My non-tattooed darling bought it for me for my birthday. I was afraid he wouldn’t approve, but he did and he likes it.

    09042009002

    Gary came and held my hand… but it hurt about as much as I expected it would. Like a Chinese burn, really.

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    My dedication to exploring a non-dual, Buddhist yoga, inscribed upon the aging, ever-changing vehicle of the body, something that is not me, not mine, which has and will continue to grow older and eventually, will die.

    09042009005

    This is my dedication:

    I was given depression that I may understand

    I was stripped of everything that I may learn non-attachment and contentment

    I made the darkest choices of all, that I may understand those choices

    May my life be of benefit to others,

    May my service be of benefit to others,

    May I come closer to non-attachment and  contentment through the Eightfold Paths I have been shown

    This is the dedication of the symbol, I carry with me always and forever.

    Om shanti, shanti, shanti.

    Hari Om. Tat sat.

    Fun With Social Theory

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    My daughter is in the first year of a degree in mass media and communications. Several of the subjects she’s studying draw heavily upon various social theorists such as Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Bathes, Marx, Stuart Hall etc.  I am kind of reliving my undergrad days, recalling names I studied in social theory in third year sociology and my honours year.

    Unfortunately, she’s doing subjects which are largely ‘cultural studies’ by another name; the same discipline responsible (in Australia) for having Year 12 student study posters as ‘texts’.  I say unfortunately, because … well … how do I say this politely? I’m not convinced cultural studies should be a discipline in itself – but I should save that for another post. Which brings me to the reason for this post.

    Social theorists seem to come in two camps: the exceedingly dull (in writing style or personality) or the flamboyant. For example, his prose might not rock your world -and he is no longer THE theorist whom all aspiring social scientists MUST quote in their essays, but you could hardly call Michel Foucault dull. Thus, in writing this post, I am picking up on the humourous, the bizarre, the odd little snippets to make you smile about the social theorists whose names drove you spare in Sociology 101.

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    Field Notes: What, How & Why?

    Nearly a month since my last entry. I’ve made a conscious decision not to post umitigated guff, but to post useful topics that might be of interest to/slightly useful to someone. Afterall, there is way too much unmitigated guff in blogland already.

    A topic that’s been on my list of ‘blog posts to write’ has been field notes: what, how & why?  This has been prompted in part by a recent post on the Savage Minds blog http://savageminds.org/2007/08/13/whats-in-your-fieldwork-bag/  however, it’s also in my list of ‘blog topics for Radical anthro (I also have two other blogs that I write. Keeping lists is a must).

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