Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Physical Culture in Yoga

My friend Matt Borer posted something on his wall that really made me think.

“Asana is to yoga, as a hammer is to a house;
a useful and necessary tool, but it is not the house.”

This comment got a lot of support from teachers and yoga practitioners. But I wasn’t so quick to hop on board.

I pondered and contemplated. What is the role of physical practice in this thing we call Yoga? Truly Matt and I are fellow pilgrims through this multifaceted training, but I am fascinated at the differences in our views of physical practice. For me this thing we call yoga has an indispensible physical culture component. If yoga was all about chanting, praying, meditating, contemplation of out actions, sutras and focus of the mind without distraction, I would have nothing to do with it. I view the physical practice as the foundation of any spiritual growth.

So odd that I would find myself (who can’t do many of the “fancy” poses) embracing the physical culture of yoga more and more while people like Pamela Beauchamp and Matt (who are amazing physical practitioners) are kind of seeing it as a smaller and smaller component of your yoga. I could never see the physical practice as irrelevant; I see it as part of the any house I live in.

There is this prevailing attitude in the ATX yoga community (and beyond) that the physical practice is not as important as the “spiritual journey”. Oddly this attitude often comes from those, like Matt and the people responding, who have a vigorous physical practice. I understand their viewpoint that yoga is not simply a set of acrobatic, contortionist moves. There is something more going on when we get into these poses.

However, sometimes I think the “spiritual practice” of some is every bit as hollow as those people who take a fancy pose with no spirit. How could we neglect this beautiful physical vessel and claim spirituality on any level?

Maybe it is simplistic, but living in that moment of practice is more sacred to me than rubbing beads in my hand and speaking a prayer in a language I don't fully comprehend.

Please believe me when I say I am not demeaning praying with beads, I know there are some who chose this path and I respect them. I am simply stating how it is for me.

When I see some people do those “fancy” poses, I DO see them reach a spiritual state that is quite beautiful to behold
. Sure I notice some people who do the beautiful pose and have no....spririt, and that is empty exhibitionism. Yet, as I write this I think of Pamela in Warrior 1; who would say there was nothing spriritual?

I remember this man I knew from Tai Chi, and his physical practice was (to be blunt) terrible. He always wanted to discuss the metaphysical aspects, which he espoused were the true essence of Tai Chi. But his movements in the physical practice were disjointed, lacking integrative integrity. Because he lacked integrity in his physical practice, I could tell, in a very real way, he had no clue about the metaphysical things he discussed. The physical practice showed a lot about him and the state of his spirit. He was a good person, I just felt he was really missing something. In contrast, I knew a woman with Lupis who engaged her weakened body and SHOWED her big beautiful spirit.
The physical practice also allows us to connect, as a community without religious barriers. When we practice the phyisical asana of yoga, we are able to connect in a fundamental way that transcends our religious thought. Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Atheist can all find common ground in the physical practice. The physical practice leads us in a subtle way to certain truths about ourselves as humans. Because it is rooted in the undeniable presence of our physical body, unsupported dogmatic beliefs are burned away. We are left with a pure, undeniable (and unexpressable) bond, shared in our Kula.

So I say to you Mr. Matt, Mizz Pamela and all you beautiful people in my Kula, please keep at your physical practice and show me your big beautiful poses they are an inspiring spiritual expression.

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