Yoga Body, Yoga Spirit: Can We Have Both?
It is easy to see why John Friend highly recommends the book Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Yoga “for all sincere pupils of yoga.” Because, Mark Singleton’s thesis is usually a well researched expose of just how modern hatha yoga, or “posture practice,” as he phrases it, has transformed within and after the practice left India.
But the book is generally about the way yoga exercises converted in India itself during the last 150 years. How yoga’s chief, modern proponents-T. Krishnamacharya and his pupils, K. Patttabhi Jois and B. K. S. Iyengar-mixed their homegrown hatha yoga practices with European gymnastics.
This was the number of Indian yogis coped with modernity: As opposed to continuing to be in the caves on the Himalayas, they transferred to the city and embraced the oncoming European cultural fashion. They specifically embraced its more “esoteric types of gymnastics,” which includes the powerful Swedish tactics of Ling (1766 1839).
Singleton uses the term yoga as a homonym to describe the key goal of the thesis of his. That is, he emphasizes that the term yoga has numerous meanings, depending on who uses the words.
This particular stress is in itself a worthwhile business for pupils of everything yoga; to understand and admit that the yoga of yours might not be the same sort of yoga as the yoga of mine. Simply, that you can get lots of paths of yoga.
In that regard, John Friend is very right: this is by far most comprehensive study of the culture and history of the powerful yoga lineage which runs from T. Krishnamacharya’s hot and humid palace studio in Mysore to Bikram’s artificially heated studio in Hollywood.
Singleton’s review on “postural yoga” makes up the bulk of the guide. But he also devotes several pages to outline the story of “traditional” yoga, from Patanjali to the Shaiva Tantrics who, based on much prior yoga traditions, compiled the hatha yoga tradition in the middle ages and penned the famous yoga text guides the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and also the Geranda Samhita.
It is while doing these examinations that Singleton gets into clean water much hotter when compared to a Bikram sweat. So I hesitate in giving Singleton a straight A for his otherwise excellent dissertation.
Singleton promises his task is primarily the study of contemporary posture yoga. If he’d stuck to that project on your own, the book of his would have been wonderful as well as received only accolades. But regrettably, he commits similar blunder a lot of modern hatha yogis do.
All yoga styles are good, these hatha yogis say. All homonyms are just as good and appropriate, they claim. Except that homonym, which the cultural relativist hatha yogis perceive as an arrogant model of yoga exercises. Why? Because its adherents, the traditionalists, state it’s a greater, more religious and standard from of yoga.
This form of standing, considers Singleton, is counterproductive and a waste of time.
Georg Feuerstein disagrees. Undoubtedly the most prolific and well-respected yoga exercises scholar outside India these days, he is among those traditionalists who holds yoga being a vital practice a body, brain, spirit train. So how does Feuerstein’s integral yoga homonym differ from the non-integral modern position yoga exercises homonym provided to us by Singleton?
Simply put, Feuerstein’s outstanding writings on yoga have centered on the holistic training of yoga. On the entire shebang of practices that standard yoga designed during the last 5000 plus years: asanas, pranayama () is exercised by breathing, chakra (subtle energy centers), kundalini (spiritual fuel), bandhas (advanced body locks), mantras, mudras (hand gestures), etc.
Hence, while posture yoga primarily focuses on the bodily body, on doing postures, integral yoga features both the physical and the subtle body and involves an entire plethora of physical, spiritual and mental practices hardly ever practiced in any of today’s modern yoga studios.
I wouldn’t have bothered to bring everything set up had it not been because of the point that Singleton mentioned Feuerstein in an important light in his book’s “Concluding Reflections.” Basically, it is strategically important for Singleton to critique Feuerstein’s interpretation of yoga, a type of yoga that happens to basically coincide with my own.
Singleton writes: “For several, like best-selling yoga exercises scholar Georg Feuerstein, the contemporary fascination with postural yoga can just be a perversion of the authentic yoga exercises of tradition.” Then Singleton quotes Feuerstein, who can write that when yoga reached Western shores it “was gradually stripped of its spiritual orientation and remodeled into physical fitness training.”
Singleton then correctly explains that yoga had already begun this fitness change in India. He also correctly points out that fitness yoga is not apposed to any “spiritual” enterprise of yoga. But that is not precisely Feuerstein’s point: he simply points out the way the physical exercise part of modern yoga lacks a serious “spiritual orientation.” And that is a crucial difference.
Then Singleton exclaims that Feuerstein’s assertions misses the “deeply spiritual orientation of several contemporary bodybuilding & female’s physical fitness instruction inside the harmonial gymnastics tradition.”
While It is logical to think I’m very clear about what Feuerstein means by “deeply spiritual,” I’m still unclear what Singleton means by it from merely reading Yoga Body. And that tends to make an intelligent comparison challenging. Hence why did Singleton take this up in his concluding arguments in a book devoted to physical postures? Surely to create the effort.
As he did make a point about it, I would love to respond.
According to Feuerstein, the purpose of yoga is enlightenment (Samadhi), not physical fitness, not actually spiritual physical fitness. Not a better, slimmer build, but a better chance at spiritual liberation.
For him, yoga is mostly a spiritual practice involving rich postures, deep meditation and deep study. Even though postures are an integral part of traditional yoga, enlightenment may be possible even without the technique of posture yoga, unquestionably proven by such sages as Ananda Mai Ma, Ramana Maharishi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and others.
The broader question around the goal of yoga, from the perspective of regular yoga is this: can it be easy to attain enlightenment through the technique of fitness yoga alone? The answer: Not really straightforward. Not even likely. Not even by doing the sort of fitness yoga Singleton assertions is “spiritual.”
Based on major yoga, the body is the first and outer level of the brain. Enlightenment, nevertheless, happens in and beyond the innermost and fifth layer of the skillful body, or perhaps kosa, not in the bodily body. Hence, from this specific perspective of yoga, fitness yoga exercises has particular limits, just because it can’t alone provide the desired results.
Similarily, Feuerstein and almost all us various other traditionalists (oh, those darn labels!) are simply saying that if your aim is enlightenment, then simply workout yoga probably won’t do the trick. You can stand on your head and do power yoga from dawn to midnight, but you still will not be enlightened.
Hence, they created sitting yoga postures (padmasana, viirasana, siddhasana, etc) for such particular purposes. Indeed, they spent a lot more time sitting still in deep breathing over going about performing postures, as it was the sitting practices which induced the desired trance states of enlightenment, or even Samadhi.
Quite simply, you can be enlightened without ever doing the mixed hatha postures, but you almost certainly won’t get enlightened by simply practicing these postures on it’s own, regardless how “spiritual” those postures are.
These are the kinds of layered insights and perspectives I sorely missed while reading Yoga Body. Hence the criticism of his of Feuerstein appears to be kneejerk and shallow rather.
Singleton’s single focus on describing the bodily exercise and historical past of contemporary yoga is comprehensive, most likely very accurate, and kind of remarkable, but his insistence that you will find “deeply spiritual” areas of modern gymnastics and posture yoga misses a vital point about yoga. Namely, that our bodies are only as spiritual as we are, from that place in our hearts, deep within as well as beyond the system.
Yoga Body thus misses a critical point a lot of us have the right to claim, as well as without requiring you to be criticized for being mean-minded or arrogant: that yoga is mostly a holistic practice, in which the bodily body is viewed as the very first level of a series of ascending and all embracing layers of being from body to mind to spirit. And that ultimately, even the body is the dwelling place of Spirit. In amount, the body is the sacred temple of Spirit.
And where does this yoga exercises perspective hail from? As indicated by Feuerstein, “It underlies the complete Tantric tradition, obviously the schools of hatha yoga, and they are an offshoot of Tantrism.”
In Tantra it is certainly understood that the person is a three tiered being physical, mental and spiritual. Hence, the Tantrics quite skillfully and carefully developed methods for all three levels of being.
From this early perspective, it is quite gratifying to find out how the better faith based, all embracing tantric and yogic practices like hatha yoga, kirtan, ayurveda, breathing exercises, mantra meditation, and scriptural study are more and more becoming important features of several modern yoga studios.
Thus, to reply to the question inside the name of this article. Will we have both a limber physique in addition to a sacred spirit while doing yoga? Yes, naturally we are able to. Yoga is not either/or. Yoga is yes/and. The much more holistic our yoga practice becomes-that is, the greater religious practice is put into our body posture practice-the more these two seemingly opposite poles-the body and the spirit-will blend and unify. Unity was, after many, the aim of age-old Tantra.
Perhaps shortly someone is going to write a book about this new, ever-growing homonym of international yoga? Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body isn’t such a book. But a book about this, shall we contact it, neo-traditional, or perhaps holistic form of yoga would definitely be a unique cultural exploration.