At the final and much delayed birth of this blog, it only seems appropriate to honor the time the respected reader is investing to start off on the right foot and outline why the discipline and philosophy of Yoga is valuable in its complimentary, simple, and accessible implementation to anyone. It’s evolution and progression through time has kept pace with the evolutionary trajectory of human beings. Historically having emerged out of the very same soil that the many practices of what is now referred to as “Hinduism”, the traditions of Yoga have gradually become less sectarian and austere, evolving to include every domain of living. Regarded by some as the “Art of Living”, the base of Yoga is built upon a conceptual framework that includes every conceivable update that comes down the civilizational and evolutionary pipelines. Yoga’s instruments and methods have been stenciled into the very fabric of biological, social, physical, psychological, and spiritual applications. It is not exempt from, or rendered obsolete by, the advent of technology, population growth, or environmental changes. It is an interface with the entirety of the human form. Trans-temporal and trans-cultural, it’s techniques of health and fitness range from those that act on the digestive system, to those that promise a level of psycho-emotional and spiritual flourishing, that may only be commensurate with the state known in the classical Western world as, eudaimonia. Unlike so many other rites and traditions, the levers and gears of the practice are the exact same ones that human beings have never been, nor could ever, be without. The body and mind are the instruments by which, and for which, the techniques of Yoga are applied.
Yoga’s practices and methods are not singular, nor sectarian. It has been molded and shaped by the innumerable teachers and adepts throughout its millenia-long existence, to provide the student with a skill that is fundamental to the acquisition of lasting satisfaction. In all the ways that human civilization has changed and progressed, the effort to secure some semblance of a worthwhile and satisfying existence has not. We have pushed many of the natural threats of our past such as, disease, weather, and predators, behind us. Yet we have never been more unhappy as a world culture. Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide. The antidote to this massive spread of discontent can be seen in the historical account of this practice, that is replete with adherents and enthusiasts that have driven the evolution of Yoga, to serve the ultimate goal of discovering what true and indestructible fulfilment is.
Yoga practices engender a relationship to the way we drink water and eat food, care for our musculoskeletal and nervous systems, treat and engage other beings around us, and everything in between. This is quite a different model from the one most modern humans have been reared with, which renders a perspective that our fate is beyond our influence. The atmosphere of our current Western culture places the human being in the passenger seat of life, with only the most basic definition and approach, to the meaning of constructing a good one. There are of course, the outlying sub-cultures that are inclusive of the holistic relationship to living, but that is not the strongest and most unbreachable message that has been cradling us from near infancy. Such imprinted ideas as, aging, or the unmalleable nature of our character, are far stronger and less obvious, than those that propose a more complete hands-on approach to the improvement of the individual. Take for instance the genetic predisposition to heart disease, that we are told is an inherited and inescapable fate. The reality of the situation though, is that if environmental factors, such as diet and stress, are attended to by healthy practices, this ill fate need not, and even cannot, befall us. In many ways, the structure of our society imbeds, wittingly or not, the idea that the deck of cards anyone is dealt in life is final, and there is nothing any of us can do about it. The notions we have around free will and personal responsibility, temp us to hold a point of view that the ensemble of our personality is solidified once and for all. The type of criminal justice system that has been institutionalized in every modern culture, is one example of the way in which this insinuation has been successful. By holding people indefinitely responsible for their actions they have committed many decades in the past, it makes no allowances for the individual’s personality to have outgrown the state it was in, upon committing the initial crime.
The traditions of Yoga offer what can be simply described as a, mechanistic model of living. It reveals to the student that their physiological and psycho-emotional conditions are simply products of prior events. This is in keeping with the scientific paradigm. Many of those events are self-perpetuated, and most often unknowingly self-perpetuated. To not assume this, would be to assume that people are often times aware of the erroneous and life-deranging acts they are about to embark on. The word “condition” alone, betrays a characteristic of impermanence that defines the nature of all of our conditions, moods, and states. These are in fact determined by the symphony and tension between Nature and Nurture, our Biology and our Rearing. This is not a controversy, nor a surprise in any scientific study of organisms. This is a liberating discovery which affords a confidence that, the mechanisms that precipitate a certain state, can likewise be utilized to mitigate it. Take lethargy for example, the manifestation of this common state comes from either a dysfunction in respiration, hydration, nutrition, metabolism, kinesthesia, or cognitive function, everyone of which is attunable. To have the knowledge and ability to interact with everyone of these systems in the body, is to undermine the eventual appearance of lethargy. It is not however, and fortunately, exclusive to lethargy, but holds true for any state that a human being has the potential to occupy. Depression, anxiety, grief, boredom, apathy, confusion, restlessness, hopelessness, and any other conceivable state that humans have, and could inhabit, is predicated upon specific chemistry within the body. What this essentially means, is that we are not actually experiencing these states, as much as the physiology that is associated with them. The experience of depression or anxiety, is actually the experience of lowered levels of serotonin and dopamine. The James-Lange theory of emotion explains that it is our own psychological interpretation of these physical experiences that aggregates into recognizable emotions, like depression. If someone had the ability to intervene in this chemical maelstrom and provoke more healthy and functional levels, then the unwanted state would dissipate.
Often times we may not even be aware that there is anything worth improving or enhancing. I lived for many years under the false assumption that the participation in the seasonal susceptibility to colds and flus was just a natural aspect of life, to which Nyquil would have the answer. It was nothing more than a little bit of knowledge that showed me this was actually a symptom of poor physical function. Before that I didn’t think this was a problem worth looking at. This is just one instance of how many unknowns we can be subject to.
It is this mechanical skill that we stand to inherit once the biological, cognitive, and psycho-social methodology of Yoga is apprehended. This can be an uncomfortable message to some, as it may sound like a statement about life being predetermined. But this determinism is not exerted by someone else, or forces outside of our own reach. It is a predestination that we set in motion by the myriad, big and small decisions we make along our own timeline. To have a mechanistic view of oneself in this way, means to know that there are dials that can be turned to adjust a state which is unpleasant, overwhelming, or dangerous. This is not to argue that the experience of unpleasant emotions is somehow valueless. They are evolved responses to different circumstances. Fear has its utility because it helps us be aware of terminal danger, of course. Nor does this mean that the applications of Yoga would solve an external problem in the world. The utility comes in by giving the individual a bit of relief from the intensity of their physical or emotional discomfort, which would allow for a more constructive and less reactive response to a given situation. We can all attest to an over-reaction at some point in our lives. Over-reactions come in all shapes and sizes. Some are merely rude or offensive remarks to other people, while others can derail a life beyond recognition. This is simply the outcome of an undigested or unreflective response to a circumstance. All of our reactions are born in the gap of freedom that the great Viktor Frankl outlined in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
This is really where the practice of Yoga, which comes down to the wisdom of behavior, leaves its most important mark. The central determinant of the quality of our choices, are the moments between an impulse and the reaction to it, or an event and our response. Since we cannot intercede in the arrival of some life event, the only place we are left to exercise wisdom is in our response. The practice helps us secure the only aspect of our reality that can withstand the inevitable tumult of the road of life. Who and what we become in life is the sum total of the unquantifiable amount of reactions, to the near infinite amount of impulses and events that are thrown before us every day. When we have better tools to process the incoming impulses in a constructive, contemplative, and reflective manner, as imparted by the plurality of Yoga’s techniques, we can begin to understand that the mechanistic design our body affords us the ability to build a life of true satisfaction.
So my hope with this blog is to extend the favor that I was extended and repay the debt I owe to all the giants from whose work I have been able to benefit. Not because I’m being noble and altruistic, but because I personally get something out of it as well. I know how much better I personally feel if the people in my life are in a better state, and this holds true even for people beyond my personal circle. We all have this in common. This is a part of the architecture of being a human. No one wants a world with more war, disease, and stress. Our morality is built into our biology. It feels good to add some value to someone else’s life, because we are ultimately creatures that have evolved to cooperate. How can cooperation exist without mutual concern? This practice doesn’t give us extra values that are not implicit in us already. It merely codifies them and presents a recipe by which we can attain those values more efficiently and less painfully. Yoga is really a set of algorithms, to put it into more currently relatable terminology. It is also because I know what it’s like to squander time, that I am intolerant of seeing anyone do the same. Life is precious because it is finite, because time is finite. Everyone has a limited amount of time, and the way it is used is the only metric by which we measure the quality of our life. So I will only speak on behalf of experiences and intimations I’ve actually had, and offer practices I personally know. I will not resort to platitudes and conjecture that I’ve merely read in books or heard from teachers. I see it as my fundamental duty, as well as pleasure, to repay and honor the fortune that I’ve been blessed with, by doing whatever I can to spread it.
To not do this, would be unconscionable. All anyone would have to do is just think for a minute about what their life would turn into if they didn’t apply these algorithms. What is the possible outcome if we didn’t care for our bodies, our mental health, neurological health, and did not act in accordance with moral code and social concern? It seems that all we have to do is understand that without a coherent aim, it is not possible to end up with a life that does not end in tragedy. Of course someone could argue that life itself is a de facto tragedy, owed to the plainly obvious End to which everyone is slowly nearing. As true and incontestable as this is, as inescapable as some catastrophe and misfortune may be, there are those that are avoidable, and they are the ones we’ve been complicit in. It would seem that a more vivid and sobering definition of tragedy, is the one that could have been prevented, if we were only a little more discipline, a little more motivated, more impervious to the temptations around us. How many avoidable pains have we all suffered, only to finally see, when it was just a minute too late to turn the ship around, that the heartache was all our own creation, and there is no one more responsible than “me”? I’m an advocate for Yoga, because Im an advocate against avoidable big and small calamities that stand to enter our lives. The small calamities rob us of precious time and energy to do what is good and productive, and the big ones are shared with our families and communities.
So, maybe having Yoga presented this way, might very well paint a picture that leaves no escape from some kind of hardship. It is either the hardship of getting to the task at hand and cleaning up our physical, psychological, ethical, social, and professional life, or it is the hardship that is guaranteed to be our fate if we do not. Having the choice between the hardship of cardiovascular disease, or the hardship of a lifestyle that prevents it, is it even a good use of time to deliberate which one makes more sense? It may even sound that the only choice we have is between, something approximating a good, or bad. In a way, yes thats true. There is no middle ground. It really is the choice between grabbing the steering wheel and doing what you can, or not grabbing it and suffering the inevitable. What else could there be? What other options are imaginable other than either actively working to make your existence and of those around you better, or not doing anything? No thing, skill, or relationship in our life has ever been able to ensure its presence just by accident. Everyone already lives with this understanding in certain areas of life. The fact that you can read this on whatever device you're reading from, implies an act of morality in you, that has granted this device’s arrival in your hands. It was either going to work and earning its possession, or earning the relationship by which you received it. Either way, you chose to ensure your own well-being or pleasure, imatterial of how self-serving it may have been. This is a moral plus, because it was a choice to feel better. This will, to feel better, is exactly what the traditions of Yoga have capitalized on.
What I hope the reader comes away from this with, is not some idea of a stark life of austerity and non-enjoyment of sensuality, entertainment, awe, and meaning. Sure we’re all going to die, unless the futurists have their way, but that will last only a fraction of an entire life span. We don’t need to waste time on the semblances of “wisdom” that offer the pseudo-humorous answers that, we will still die no matter how much kale we eat or yoga we do. The eminence of death can actually rouse us to take advantage of the time we’re not really sure we even have much of in the first place. The quality of our existence is the only offer on the table. This is the central thesis of Yoga. It is an avenue to nothing but good and meaningful results. It serves the human that undertakes it and does not have any interests of its own. We are the main characters of its story.
So we get work...
Thank you for reading!