Friday, August 26, 2011

On Yoga & Commitment-Phobia

I went to a new yoga studio yesterday, and found the class I took there quite refreshing. It wasn't so much that the teacher was super amazing - she really wasn't - as that the class she taught was so calm and therapeutic. Of course, there were some challenging poses; any yoga pose is challenging when you bring your full physical and mental attention to it. But there was also meditation to start and end class, and a feeling of calm and sensitivity in the room that made its way into my mind and body. I was able to be present in a way that I have not been in a yoga class (or anywhere else) in quite some time.

The studio I normally go to holds one-hour classes that are incredibly intense from a physical perspective. They are crowded - mats are laid down edge to edge like the patches of a room-sized quilt - and it's hard not to feel as if you're at some kind of yoga revival. I don't mean to be overly critical or dismissive of this approach: it draws a huge crowd and is definitely an intense workout. I'm just not sure that an intense workout is what I'm really looking for from yoga anymore.

What am I looking for, and am I going to find it in yoga? I'm not sure, although I have been consistently drawn to yoga for ten years now, though it's never really found a comfortable niche in my life. I have always been drawn to its spiritual and philosophical aspects, but never enough so to really dedicate myself to their exploration beyond reading a popular book or two. I suppose I'm a yoga commitment-phobe: I want the benefits of a cursory relationship with yoga - strength, flexibility, a toned body - without all the intellectual and spiritual work of delving into its literary and meditative teachings.

Maybe this speaks to a larger issue I struggle with: a hesitancy to believe thoroughly in anything. I try to avoid dogma in its many forms, even when disguised by things I believe in, like nature and science. Does this hesitancy keep me from fully investing myself in a course of study and spiritual development? Or am I simply, as I sometimes think, just lazy? Am I just satisfied enough with the way things stand that I don't feel any need to dedicate a lot of time to profoundly changing my life - a life, I must say, that I'm very happy with?

Whatever the case, the cursory relationship I've had so far with yoga no longer seems to be enough, and in some way, I desire to go deeper. This may mean facing some of my own assumptions head-on: after all, I realize there is plenty of room for critical thought when one is engaged in studying philosophy or in developing a spiritual practice.  It's just a matter of owning up to the rigorous work that represents, instead of brushing the whole thing off as dogma and therefore not worthy of my time and serious contemplation.  It's just a matter of deciding to invest - an always risky, often rewarding, proposition.  


  1. "I want the benefits of a cursory relationship with yoga - strength, flexibility, a toned body - without all the intellectual and spiritual work of delving into its literary and meditative teachings."

    That really resonated with me. Same here. I just took up yoga two weeks ago and want to commit to it. That said, I'm an agnostic, and a very happy one at that. I am currently on the lookout for some introductory materials on yoga, because as a very methodical person, I am struggling a bit with the "going with the flow" aspect of how yoga appears to be taught. "And now brighten your heart!" What the fuck does that mean? I look around the room for answers and guidance, but I only see sweat-glistening backs and arms going up in the air, the sound of a collective exhale. I seem to be the only person who doesn't get it. But inside, I know I'm not. It just seems that way. So I do a bit of googling, come across introductory literature as pdf downloads. "Yoga - a Basic Introduction" says one title. I right-click it, save link as. Open it in Acrobat, and first thing I see I some yogi in ornamental clothes and with a bald head. Apparently some guru whom every yoga learner except me would recognize. i start reading. "Get up at 4 am every morning. Eat a something something diet, shun (insert all the stuff I enjoy here)." -- Thank you very much, this is not for me. I just want to be more flexible, more fit and find a bit of mental peace, and lastly, improve my air consumption while diving. Yes, my yoga goals are quite mundane. And I'm sure as hell neither ready nor willing to abandon my "perfectly happy agnostic" world view just because I want to do yoga exercises. And I do not believe one has to be a devoted Krishna crazy person to be able to reap the benefits of yoga. After all, SOO many are doing it. And most of those I see there would check "atheist," "agnostic" or "Spiritual but not religious" in their profile.

    So, no, you are not a yoga commitment phobe at all. you are just reluctant to give up everything your life and the world has taught you to believe in just because you enjoy the feel of the warrior two pose every once in a while.


  2. Here is how I look at it: There is tendency to deify ancient philosophies, especially if they're Eastern. And while I do believe they have a lot going for them and a lot can be learned that would help us refocus in our supposedly "modern" lives, I also believe it is important to keep in mind that they're ancient. The yoga teachings, I take it, grew out of what people were thinking and doing 5,000 years ago, with everything they knew back then, but also with everything they DID NOT know. I think it is not only naive, but potentially dangerous to take ANY five-thousand-year old philosophy at face value. Sure, I bet those people were more grounded and more aware of living conscientiously. They knew a lot of shit. But there is also a lot of shit they didn't know that we know today. That sacred tea doesn't do much for cancer, for example. Stuff like that. I think we are very lucky, because at no point in time has the world known so much as we do today. Sure, there is a lot of crap "knowledge" you have to dig through, for example that you need iPads in your life to be happy, just like you need sacred tea to get rid of cancer, but YOU hold the incredible power to take the high vantage point and look down on everything the world has known so far. And YOU hold the power to make the decision what of all that stuff resonates with you and makes sense for you and pick and choose what you want and leave out the rest. By the way, if you have tips for a beginner like me how to find an intro class where people don't bump into each other all the time and where you don't have to show up almost a half hour early to get a spot in the first place, I'd love to hear about it.

  3. So well said, lady. And something I have also been toying with - I know I want to pursue a spiritual life, but which path do I choose to start that process of deep discovery?

    Right now I'm loving the idea of Buddhism - retreats like the one I found happening here called: "Sustainable Happiness: Wellness, Altruism and Inspiration in the Nalanda Tradition"

    I think I would welcome help getting more wellness, altruism, and inspiration into my life. But as you say, I kinda like my life how it is! I guess my take is that I don't want to ever stop trying to be a better, truer version of me because I do think that's the first step in changing the world... which I believe very much needs to happen. But sometimes I just watch a movie and eat popcorn, too. Which I think is ok.

    Anyway, I'd like to keep talking about this with you. I find it a fascinating topic. And you a lovely conversant.