Finding Your Own Path of YogaDec 19, 2022
When we think of “spirit” or “spiritual” it sounds so lofty and remote - silver winged, hovering somewhere in the heavens! We often superimpose Christian-based words on Sanskrit words where there is no direct or accurate translation, so that we end up with terms that have a host of connotations, which would not have been there in the original context. The world view of the yogis is often so different from the Western view that mis-interpretations creep in. Before we know it we end up with a spirituality which can feel hierarchical or inaccessible.
While we can’t deny the hierarchy or even apartheid tendencies of the caste system which kept women and lower castes away from holding any status in the Vedic based religions, the history of Indian religion and yoga is also rich in individuals who break away from this orthodoxy & gain a great following, to create a more equal access to power. This includes the Buddha & Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism- all move away from the idea of caste. Even Within the Vedic fold and outside of this orthodoxy the philosophical foundation describes equal access to the Source of life and light.
As far back as the Gayatri mantra, recorded in the Rg Vedas, the light of existence is described as shining on all and every one.
Humans are described as a multi-dimensional beings, through our interconnectedness with the universe. Brahman is the fundamental ground for all existence, and within Brahman exists Atman, or ‘self’. Vice versa Brahman also exists within Atman. They are inseparable. So that our inner being, our essence - or Atman, is an integral part of all that is and has ever been. Our human-ness is also inherently divine.
If we look to the koshas model, we have 5 dimensions of self all interwoven - from the body to the sublime. From the busy mind narrowed by identification with a specific thought, to the vastness of consciousness beyond thought. We are subject to these dimensions of self in a non-hierarchical way, and we get to influence how we inhabit our selfhood; depending on what we focus on, where we cultivate our energy and focus our attention.
Yoga is a “spiritual tradition” it helps us to realise we are not just these bodies wandering around on the planet freestyle! We have a part in the entire weave of existence and our role is not to reach higher, but to realize our integrity. This isn’t an intellectual exercise, the genius of the yogis is that over the centuries they developed a whole host of philosophes as well as practices so that we can embody our knowledge. We can enhance our realizations with the felt experience.
Within our competitive world we might hold ourselves aloft and believe “I am a spiritual person” meaning that we can experience the connection to the “self” or the “spirit” in ways that set us apart. But we can’t siphon off something which by its very definition is universal, which animates each and every living being.
The other side is that we can experience ourselves adrift, disconnected. There are so many ways we might experience ourselves as not good enough, in a hierarchical culture and one obsessed with physicality. The further from the axis of power the more discrimination we face, the more traumas we endure - the more remote our inner power seems.
The loss of connection to self-power, suits every type of prejudice which hides in the folds of religion or culture - misogyny, racism, sexism, gender discrimination, fat phobia.
Privilege can be defined as a hierarchy of social power - more money and more power sticks to those who are more white, more male, more hetero. As opposed to less power and more oppressed the more black, less hetero, less male etc. Denying this fails to recognise systematic issues in access to any resources, yoga included.
As we doubt ourselves - not pure or pretty enough, not white or thin enough; we lose the connection to the inner self, and assess ourselves as if from the outside. Capitalism is so good at repackaging our lost self and selling it back to us as lotions, potions, clothes, diets and “wellness”.
Spiritual By-passing & Trauma
Trauma, does not make us stronger, it scrambles the nervous system and makes healing harder
This sense of isolation, disconnection and powerlessness can be reinforced by spiritual bypassing, common in the yoga world. It is so tempting from a place of privilege to ascribe access to “spirit” as equal. Those who truly want will receive. The righteous shall be rewarded. But while “self” or “spirit” is ubiquitous, access to yoga is not. This is changing perhaps with more awareness of trauma sensitive principles, community access and bursary funds. But the mainstream media and many teachers continue to only share yoga which is physically inaccessible and to suggest that “yoga” will appear if you are worthy enough.
Somehow trying to cover this with the very vague “yoga is for everyone” trope, not only hides the problematic roots of yoga in an oppressive culture, but also denies the reality of so many in accessing yoga or social support in any meaningful way.
Other sentiments that are deeply problematic are the “everything happens for a reason”. I find this one triggering having experienced early life traumas - what purpose does it serve to have kids attacked, women raped, young men sent to war? Who is doing the “reasoning” in this scenario? To ascribe reason to something so evidently unreasonable robs those who suffer from the right to feel, to reconnect, to heal. It tells them to get on with it. Suffering & particular trauma, does not make us stronger, it scrambles the nervous system and makes healing harder. Possible, we can relearn and heal, but it can make it harder.
But yoga does have a role to play (yup it’s a yoga blog!). The methods cultivated by yogis over thousands of years, are now being researched more thoroughly. It's no surprise to many of us that “yoga works”! Those of us who love yoga for what it has brought us, that possibility of reclaiming our selfhood, know this.
The genius of the yogis is in identifying that there are so many ways we can reconnect to self. With a breath, with movement, with connection to others or self. Our sense of inner self, connected to the whole, is our birthright.
If we can de-robe yoga of its lofty “spirituality”, and let ourselves & students feel into self-hood as a part of being conscious, the yoga of toes and blood and sexuality and sensuality, alongside the meditations and chanting, the breath and consciousness - then yoga is possible for all of us.
What does it take to notice that, to feel it, to share it? To believe in the power of you? Of you as much as the next person? Of you right here and now! Each an interwoven vital part of this web of life.
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Talk to me!
I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of this I've shared. There are a lot of different areas packed into one blog! I’m happy to discuss further. If you’d like to cover some of this with me it underlies much of what I teach. Do get in touch if you’d like to talk through any of my courses.
- Yoga for Anxiety Online Course for anyone
- Teaching Yoga for Anxiety- in person or online
- Class bundles- various themes, all trauma sensitive teaching
- 200hr training courses- evidence based, trauma sensitive approach
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