Saturday, January 21, 2017
Lance Kinseth, 2016
Does “awakening” in yoga reference “waking up” from everyday routine or is it more?
In yoga practice, especially by returns across time, practitioners may feel something psychologically and/or spiritually awaken in themselves. Generally, this tends to involve a sense of discovering a more confident and calmer self in a high-paced modern world, and even a sense of connecting or “yoking” with more than oneself. Perhaps there is even a sense of everyday life as a “half-awake life,” and more joy or even bliss may be opened. This level of “awakening” is important for physical and psycho-spiritual health.
It is a range of experience that shared in many experiences beyond yoga, especially in experiences that become regular practices and as an avocation for which a person comes to have great affection: music, art, dance, tai chi, or even gardening.
These experiences are helpful, but they are too facile to be the transformational experience of one’s nature that centuries of yoga sought. The traditional yogic awakening quest might be akin to the capacity, for example, to realize Zen koans that
YogaIowa, January 2017
appear to be nonsense in everyday rationality, such as Why does a cloud obscure the sun? or “House and elephant, are they same or different?” A direct experience of awakening allows a clear understanding of such statements, and a clear understanding of such statements reflects a realization of self-nature that is quite different than experiences described above.
Yoga is millennia-old. It is found in the oldest global written records. In the Upanishads, it is the heart: “not two,” “yoking,” This is awakening. But it was not body fitness that attained awakening. Patanjali is referenced as having described the realized yogi, but only references asana a few times, and references asana as essentially being seated. Mental regulation is the essential aspect of Patanjali.
Traditional yogic practice for awakening is essentially meditation, and the body does not necessarily need to be controlled to awaken. The ability to attain a heretofore unattainable pose, to persist and press forward, while improving persistence and discipline can even thwart awakening.
If the body is in play in awakening, it is the brain and physiological self-regulation. The more regulation and physiological alteration, the more likely the opportunity of awakening. But the physiological shift is quite different from the pace of most of modern yoga. Like the deep meditative push across centuries of traditional yoga, slowing down, freeing or releasing (rather than controlling, following, listening, calming, and stilling can provoke a shift from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system. Unlike the dominance of meditative techniques in traditional yoga, the core of modern global yoga is fast, stabilizing/strengthening vs. releasing, and this approach promotes a more sympathetic nervous response that is found in everyday experience. For centuries, yoga sought to transcend this everyday experience.
Modern health and fitness orientations as yoga are unquestionably helpful for health, but the goals of traditional and modern practices that reference “yoga” are not wrong, but quite different.