It’s been a week since I finished the yoga studies course that I’ve written about here, lately. While I did not expect the the 9-week program to open it all up like an oyster and just deliver to me everything I need to know about ancient Indian metaphysics and modern yoga in a shiny, easy to handle pearl, I did expect more than this general feeling of disappointment in my reading comprehension and wonderment over how much more complicated it is.
It’s way more complicated than Pacific Lime Mold, even if a salad that stands up on a plate is pure magic. Which it’s not; it’s chemistry; artistic 1960’s food chemistry (which I prepared and shared with coworkers, last week). At any rate:
My main takeaways from the yoga book club are:
- The physical yoga practice –notably the type that inspired me to get into teaching, vinyasa– was originally designed to boost the fitness of young Indian boys (and later, soldiers). Of course, the strength and stretching that is a part of it is likely to benefit bodies of any ages, genders or shapes, especially if modifications are implemented. However, some of the more powerful transitions and the sustained, sometimes swift transition pace are things that may be less beneficial to older bodies, or to bodies and minds just needing a quieter practice that evening, day, year or decade. This news wasn’t much of a shocker, but it was reaffirming, with regards to my own practice and to how my teaching evolves.
- It will take far more than nine weeks to understand this stuff. I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t finished all the reading. I got most of it done, but I was frustrated to discover that there are books that cannot be read in an evening (I could do that in college!?) or week. It’s challenging material! From the not-fully-translatable Sanskrit terms to the “what-is-reality, really?” ideas… I need more time. And maybe a white board with pens in many colors.
- If I do seek the enlightenment that is apparently down this road, or even if I simply want some help with these concepts, I am in need of a good teacher. That’s the idea, with these scriptures: it’s crucial to be guided by someone who has experienced this learning themselves. This is because it’s too freaking hard to sort out by reading alone – and because the teacher/student relationship is a big part of the stories and philosophy. So, the search for my guru continues; for now I’ll rely on the nearest canine, close family and friends, and the random insightful experience. There is guru in a salad containing cottage cheese, walnuts, horseradish and green jell-o.
- I still really like Ganesha, even after my Halloween dalliance with Bhairava. While it’s not hard to love a creature with the face of an elephant, I now know his story, and continue to appreciate this representation of strength and compassion to remove obstacles, of authority to bless new beginnings, and of veneration of the arts and sciences. If this –the loving reference of deities as representations of specific aspects of the big, everywhere, divine power– is all the understanding I have gained so far of Tantra, so be it. That’s new.
- And yet there’s just a little more of Tantra that has piqued my interest. Until this course, yoga philosophy seemed
predicated upon two big dualities that are similar: the world-as-we-get-wrapped-up-in-silly things (the Samkyha duality), versus its opposite; and the world as one big stage, versus what’s behind the curtain, true reality (the Vedanta duality). The whole idea with both pairs is to spend your efforts to expand your view beyond the more material worlds into something simpler, less full of suffering, and generally far better: The Self.
The Tantra duality, a third perspective on energy and reality, is less linear and less polarized. There is divine order and power (Shiva) and there is the energy that drives it (Shakti). To a degree this is a divine male/female synergy, though there’s much more to it. Shiva and Shakti rely on each other; it’s a continual interaction that makes the world go around. For now, all I grasp is that it seems to make spending time in this material world more worth the effort. Also: it makes dancing more meaningful.
- Early on in the course, I learned about “skill in action” as a definition of yoga; this is another meaningful takeaway for me. Wasting time has yet another reason to be avoided.
For good measure, I also read two excellent children’s books: The Little Book of Hindu Deities: From the Goddess of Wealth to the Sacred Cow and Ramayana: Divine Loophole. Not too surprisingly, these last two were the most rewarding of my yoga reading, at least in this calendar year. The illustrations were gorgeous, and the stories really helped me get a handle on some of the characters and narrative patterns in the Hindu tradition.
I’ll continue with my reading of the yet-to-be finished Tantra book; I flipped forward and noticed some mudra illustrations that give me incentive to stick with it before picking up some blissfully easy-to-read crime fiction for some air travel coming up.