Yoga

October 28th, 2010 by Editor B

Yesterday morning I took my first yoga class ever. Through Living Social, I got a deal on three classes at TriYoga in Mid-City that was just too good to refuse.

Even though I’ve never done yoga before, it’s something I’ve regarded positively for many years. Ironically enough, for years I’ve often urged Xy to try it out. I thought a yoga practice might help her with her migraines and general stress. (And she did take a single “mother & child” yoga class this summer.) I always believed it would be good for me too, but never made it a priority.

What finally lit a fire under me, besides the great deal, is all the work I’ve been doing with contemplative pedagogy and integrative learning. Yoga keeps coming up. It’s in the books I’ve been reading, it was discussed at the conference I recently attended, and some actual yoga practice will be integrated into a session I’m co-presenting at an upcoming conference. I figured it was about time for me to check it out.

The session was great. I was the only student who actually showed up, so I got some nice one-on-one instruction from a woman named Karen. Perhaps I should mention that I’ve done some very basic breath meditation over the years, and my occasionally exercise regimens have mostly centered on strength training. I found this practice combined the meditative breathing and the physical exertion with which I’m familiar in a way that was totally new to me. I felt very clumsy trying to do these new things with my body, but clumsy in a good way. It was not particularly strenuous; actually I think it was very gentle, but I can still feel it in my muscles today.

At the end, when Karen asked how I felt, I burst out in a big, uncontrollable smile. I felt great. I think I got in touch with my belly chakra or something.

Strangely enough, later that morning I learned via Facebook that my mother (a thousand miles away in Indiana) also had her first yoga practice this week. That’s some synchronicity. But it gets even stranger.

My boss has done some yoga in the past, and she’s also a notorious ailurophile, so I mentioned the “cat pose” to her. She came back with some remark about “downward dog,” which is something we didn’t do in my class. I had never heard of it before, but the unusual phrase got my attention. A few minutes later, I checked my e-mail and found a message from Religion Dispatches, a website to which I subscribe, with the title “Is Downward Dog the Path to Hell?

Reading the article by Andrea Jain led me to a post by Albert Mohler which asks the question, “Should Christians Practice Yoga?” It also led me to a talk by Mark Driscoll on the question “Should Christians stay away from yoga because of its demonic roots?

Driscoll equates yoga to “absolute paganism” and “demonism.” I found his assertions outrageous and wrong-headed, but also kind of funny. I have actually been quite interested in contemporary paganism lately, but I would not hesitate to describe Mom as a devout Christian. Who knew that we would have this in common?

In all seriousness, though, I find this strain of Christian thought pretty sad. It’s perfectly in line with other things I’ve read lately asserting that meditation is dangerous because it opens the door to demons. I’m sure my mother doesn’t subscribe to such a narrow view, and in any case, I hope she doesn’t let this ridiculous rhetoric discourage her. I think it’s wonderful that she’s practicing yoga, and I think its many benefits can be enjoyed without imperiling one’s Christian faith.

As the Jain article argues convincingly, yoga has become part of our Western cult of fitness: “Modern yoga is a reflection, not of ‘spooky’ Hindu gods or ‘demonic’ practices, but of our contemporary culture’s tendency to envelope physical fitness into the sacred routine of self-development.” I’d actually be interested in the connections to Hinduism, but I’m sure most American practitioners don’t get much into that.

I’m not worried about where yoga practice might lead, because I’m confident in my own ability to sort out right from wrong and to distinguish between what I truly embrace and what I reject. To quote Jain again, “One feature of consumer culture is that we increasingly have choices when it comes to the ideas and practices we adopt. We choose ideas and practices much like we choose commodities.” I used to find this sort of “shopping cart” mentality disturbing or repugnant, but I’m increasingly seeing it as one of the better aspects of our culture. There’s plenty to criticize about consumer culture, but if it empowers individuals to develop to their fullest potential then surely that’s positive.

Anyway, I am already looking forward to next week’s class.

15 Responses to “Yoga”

  1. Maitri Says:

    I’d actually be interested in the connections to Hinduism, but I’m sure most American practitioners don’t get much into that.

    I’m sure you already know much of what I’m about to say. The physical yoga popular now in America is one of the several paths (or contemplations) towards union with the whole, i.e. self-awareness and liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and rebirth (samsara).

    If you read about Hinduism, you’ll find that Hindus have three main ways to attain moksha: karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga. Karma here means through “doing,” bhakti means “faith” and jnana means “knowledge of advaita” or the non-duality of creator and creation.

    The theory is that as one matures on the path of enlightenment and as a human being, one takes one or more of these paths towards the goal. The body is also a path, so Hatha yoga (or physical yoga of modern practice) is the physical mastery and purification of the body for the other yogas.

    I hope that was useful. If you want to know more, my mom teaches Hinduism and can suggest some books for you.

  2. Garvey Says:

    Indiana is a thousand miles from NO?

  3. Julie Says:

    It also has strong ties to buddhism. I love vajrayogini which is practiced by buddhist nuns to send blessings.

  4. Editor B Says:

    Maitri: That’s quite interesting indeed, and mostly news to me. Yes, I’d love a book recommendation.

    I should maybe also mention I’ve recently become aware of a certain amount of dialog and tension (mostly positive, sometimes not) between Hindus and Neopagans. Of all the major world religions, Hinduism seems the most polytheistic and thus the most “pagan” in the eyes of contemporary Pagans. But rather than attempting to reconstruct old indigenous folk religions, Hinduism represents a living, evolving, unbroken tradition. So there’s a lot of interest coming from Pagans, and a lot of “borrowing” or appropriation. There’s even been some occasion to find common cause in the political arena — for example, Patrick McCollum (Wiccan) getting an award from the Hindu American Foundation.

    Garvey: From Indianapolis to New Orleans — almost 900 miles.

  5. Brooks Says:

    What an inspiring post. Makes me want to sign up for a yoga class today!

    Meditation, as you’ve figured out, doesn’t conflict with religion at all. If anything, it provides clear, non-dogmatic insight into the core teaching of all religions.

    Religion should be a diving board that takes us to the edge and says “jump”. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know to jump, are too scared to jump, or have been conned by churches into believing that there IS no jump……that the diving board itself is the be-all, end-all.

    Have you read any J. Krishnamurti? I think you’d find him interesting. There are many books of his writings and talks, such as this one:

    The First and Last Freedom
    J. Krishnamurti
    http://tinyurl.com/33zqntv

    And this book, written by a former nun, will either fascinate or scare the bejesus out of you:

    The Experience of No-Self
    Bernadette Roberts
    http://tinyurl.com/359pedw

    Cheerio!

  6. Maitri Says:

    The biggest myth about Hinduism, sadly under-understood and fostered by Hindus themselves, is that it is polytheistic. In fact, it is more monotheistic than the Abrahamic religions in that it really suggests that all is god, there is nothing but god, and what we see are physical manifestations (maya) which we must look past to become one with the non-duality. Hinduism is just a tool and not a goal or path, in that regard, discarded once union is achieved. This is the point of all yoga.

  7. Editor B Says:

    Aha. Well then, I’m glad I said it “seems” polytheistic rather than asserting it is so. I don’t know much, that’s for sure.

    Pantheism is also a concept I’ve been learning a wee bit about lately. There is also a pantheistic strain of Paganism. See for example http://www.pantheism.net/pagan.htm

    My current confusion with pantheism regards the totalizing nature of it. If all is god and god is all, isn’t that similar to saying there is no god? What is the distinction between pantheism and atheism?

    Also, another addendum, I may have made it seem that TriYoga is strictly physical, but actually there was a good spiritual element to it. I remember my teacher saying something about erasing dualism. So that seems very much in line with your comment about looking past maya.

  8. Editor B Says:

    And of course I have to answer my own question. This seems pretty accurate:
    http://www.pantheism.net/atheism.htm

    Brooks: Our library has the Krishnamurti book but not the Roberts. Ironic for a Catholic institution, eh?

  9. Brooks Says:

    Ironic for a Catholic institution, eh?

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Honestly, I’d have been flat-out amazed if they did have it!

  10. Maitri Says:

    My current confusion with pantheism regards the totalizing nature of it. If all is god and god is all, isn’t that similar to saying there is no god? What is the distinction between pantheism and atheism?

    As a scientist, this is one of the biggest arguments I’ve had with my mom, my godfather (a Hindu spiritual leader) and other Hindus well-versed in Vedanta. As a fitting aside to this discussion, the Hindu concept of moksha (liberation; union with everythingness) and the Buddhist notion of nirvana (liberation; union with nothingness) are identical in their oppositeness.

    The link on sexed-up atheism answers a lot of it, but misses one thing: It’s not just about sexing up atheism with a higher power for the sake of being positive. Once moksha is attained, when one truly understands that there is no difference between self and outside self, one no longer needs god (no more inside and outside), but in this life/form, “god” is a reminder for further contemplation and sustaining the understanding one has achieved.

    My mom recommends Introduction to Vedanta (written by my awesome godfather) for starters, after which, if you have more specific questions, she can recommend other advanced reading materials.

    Personally, I don’t believe in God in the common usage of the term, but don’t call myself an atheist because it says there is no God. Depending on one’s definition of God, that is too narrow-minded a statement to make, especially as a scientist, who should be open to all possibilities. I’m also not a skeptic or agnostic, because I don’t go back and forth on it. It’s just a matter of allowing for things that we don’t yet understand and acceptance when proper proof is presented.

  11. Raymondo Says:

    You misunderstood your mother. She and I both have been doing yoga two or three times a week for about 10 years. We also do pilates. For me, yoga is the superior form of building strength and flexibility. I don’t know why, but women outnumber men by about three to one in our classes.

  12. Editor B Says:

    Brooks: I’ve requested our library to acquire the Roberts book.

    Maitri: I’ve requested our library to acquire the Dayananda book.

    Raymondo: So you’re saying yoga class is a good place to pick up chicks?

  13. Brooks Says:

    Roberts isn’t a writer, so don’t expect deathless prose.

    I wasn’t raised in the church, so her Christian references had no resonance for me at all. And it didn’t matter.

    If you make it through The Experience of No-Self and feel inspired to press on, Roberts wrote an incredibly dense follow-up called What is Self? Flipping open the book at random, I came across a passage that echoes one of Maitri’s comments:

    Beyond self of consciousness, there is nothing for the divine to BE IN, and nothing for it to transcend. Self or consciousness had been the vessel experiencing the divine as without and/or within. Without a vessel or container, however, there is nothing the divine can pour itself into, nothing for it to be either within or without, and nothing to which it can reveal itself. Without a vessel, there is no “one”.

    Make what you will of the word “divine.” (Better still, make nothing of it at all!)

  14. Jack Schick Says:

    You’re crankin’ Bart…
    quite a council of minds here, esp. Maitri….Christ is King-
    a bit of writin’ with a Casteneda quote:
    “…
    After a few minutes, a serious, solemn vibration set upon me. The sense of deep, humble

    reverence, a feeling of being watched by a circle of old, blanket-wrapped Indians, pervaded my

    consciousness. I was meant to take this medicine. I had a duty to the world, to consciousness,

    to God. Later, in a traditional sweat-lodge, I would find this sense of spirituality repeated. This

    was more real than anything that was happening in my old Presbyterian church. I felt renewed

    and more at peace with myself after receiving a sweat-lodge re-Baptism and acceptance among

    other, more experienced peyote church members.
    Many people felt the need to throw off their religious upbringing as a result of their

    experiences with psychedelics. For others, the spiritual part of life was confirmed. The luckiest

    ones had both sides of that experiential coin, finding that old dogmas could not contain the Soul.

    Don Juan spoke of the

    …emergence of the awareness that we
    are luminous beings.

    “Each one of us is different, and thus the details of

    our struggles are different,” don Juan said. “The steps that

    we follow to arrive at the double are the same, though.

    Especially the beginning steps, which are muddled and

    uncertain.” – Tales of Power, Carlos Castaneda.

    ….
    Thank You for your valuable-historical-record-of-contemporary-thought
    BLOG here at Rox.com….
    ….
    I still recommend Autobiography of a Yogi, and the first three Casteneda’s.

  15. b.rox » Archive » Question of Practice Says:

    [...] took yoga classes for about three months, but cut them as an austerity measure; now that our finances have [...]

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