When The Real Party Begins
I’ve been reading Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice, by Mark Singleton, and it is nothing short of mind-blowing. It’s clear Mark has done extensive research and found substantial evidence to show that the physical yoga practice as we know it today is not exclusively “Indian”, and not all of it came printed on a leaf from 5,000 years ago.
This newfound knowledge challenges me in a number of ways, such as the concept of “real yoga” or “traditional yoga”. I learned that the physical aspect of yoga is a synthesis of numerous Movement practices. As Mark wrote:
The history of modern physical culture overlaps and intersects with the histories of para-religious, “unchurched” spirituality; Western esotericism; medicine, health, and hygiene; chiropractic, osteopathy, and bodywork; body-centered psychotherapy; the modern revival of Hinduism; and the sociopolitical demands of the emergent modern Indian nation (to name but a few).
(He’s an academic researcher, if you can’t tell :))
I’m reminded of works like Reggie Ray’s Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realizations in the Body, and realized that humans have always had a complex relationship with our physical selves. We seek pleasure with it and we mortify it in hope of finding paradise. We glorify it and we detest it, sometimes in the same breath.
With the way most of us live now, attached to a chair and a desk or a wheel, the body is paying a prize. Naturally, physical fitness is the first thing that needs some TLC. You can’t get to Bliss without going through the physical layer, the Annamaya kosha. I suspect this is why yoga has gotten so bodily focused, certainly to extreme degrees in some cases, but hey, it goes back to that addiction thing.
I had always been vaguely aware that a part of a yogasana practice is the innovation of the practitioner, and teacher. How could a craft that’s mainly experiential not be influenced by the people who must experience it intimately in their own body first? Now I know for sure, that for yoga to work, it cannot be packaged and frozen in time. It cannot be merely recited and regurgitated. Its context must be understood.
The tradition of yoga is to adapt and evolve.
And so, with the understanding that yogasana is influenced by a multitude of factors, like people, culture, sociopolitical trends, etc, I’m reminded of a postcard I bought at a coffee shop.
Let me explain.
I used to frequent Cherry Street Coffee House in downtown Seattle, and one day, I met Ali, the owner. He exuded this other-worldly vibe that I couldn’t quite pinpoint, but I was mesmerized. Shortly thereafter, I saw a collection of postcards made by Ali, and I understood. When I read cards like this, and this, I smiled. Here is a man that doesn’t need no stinkin’ yoga! He already understands what it’s all about.
My favorite Ali card of all, the one that I bought many moons ago and have carried it with me to all corners of the world as I moved east, west, north, and south, is one that says: “The party begins when what you want for yourself you want for everyone else. It doesn’t matter which book you are reading.” I see this portrayed by an image of Egyptian Christians protecting their Muslim countrymen while they pray. This image has gotten 1300+ comments on Reddit, including this one:
“I was there! they placed newspapers and towels on the floor so we wouldn’t pray on the hot asphalt, I love Egyptian Christians and although I am Muslim I would die defending any one of them.” – Reddit user sayyeddy.
And with credit to Ali, I say, “The party begins when what you want for yourself, you want for everyone else. It doesn’t matter which yoga style you’re practicing.”