Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I ain't got no body

The closer you look at something the more it disappears.

I think this really helps to illuminate my yoga practice.  Sure, it's a body thing, postures, breathing, effort, trembling, sweat, fatigue, exhilaration, tranquility - all of these are in play.  Still the more I do, the more my body lengthens and strengthens, loosens and opens, the deeper I go into poses, the greater the capacity of my lungs, my increased equilibrium, the more I "body" it, the more I feel like my body is not really involved.  It's like a doorway:  we can focus on the doorjamb, the moulding, the door itself, but it is all nothing without the open space.  And how much of a "thing" is that?

Even if you don't do yoga I think you can still get it.  In fact the best days of yoga are when I feel like I am discovering it all over again.   I have often imagined explaining the practice to the uninitiated.  Is it a religion?  An exercise?  A meditation?  Fitness?  Enlightenment?  The answer is yes.  Recently though I think I have distilled my understanding of it down to something easily expressible.  Yoga is a purification technology.

There's a lot of new age gobbledygook that unfortunately has attached itself to the common perception of yoga, and in our society, as religious and moralistic as it can be sometimes, we are still suspect of anything that smells of superstition or mysticism.  To our authoritarian-god loving culture the Hindu polytheistic associations with yoga turn a lot of people off.  They ask why we are praying to Shiva or Krishna or Ganesha.  Personally I never have.   Yoga, and its cousin Buddhism were the first spiritual practices that recognized the falsehood of their own gods, or rather recognized the nature of a "god" as a vehicle for understanding, an helpful illustration in a guidebook to enlightenment.  Its no surprise then that in our skeptical, rational culture yoga should become so popular, because it relies ultimately on experience, and not so much on faith.  Although raised Catholic, and very taken by the example of the life and work of Jesus Christ, I don't think I really experienced god until I began to meditate and practice.  In fact I don't think I really got Jesus until I got deep into yoga.

Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not a religion.  It is again a practice that is completely compatible with any faith, or with none at all, and if you want you could divorce it entirely from any conscious spiritual association and just enjoy the physical practice.  You'd be missing out on a lot though.   Say "spirituality" today and again you are trapped in that new age marketing cliche.  The goal really is joy.  Happy people are people who know god.  Loving people are the same.  There might never be the thought of god in their minds their entire life. They may never consider the philosophical issues behind the meaning of life and so on.  They are just living and loving.  Kids do this, we all did, then we ate the apple of knowledge, became aware of our minds and started to make trouble for ourselves.


The body then is the way back.  Body is connected to breath is connected to mind.  Science bears this out.  Every cell at every moment is breathing, a calm breath leads to a calm body to a calm mind.  Health, clarity and happiness can follow.


I am on the mat everyday, bending, twisting, contorting, standing on my head, on one foot, on my hands.  I am sweating, I am wobbling, I am falling down.  If I am lucky I am not there at all.  I am everywhere.  I am the wind that blows through the doorway, the light through the window.  

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