Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Playing the Edge of Mind and Body - A NEW LOOK AT YOGA (Page 1)
Joel Kramer Yoga Journal, January 1977
What is Yoga? There are as many answers to that question as there are people who do Yoga. This at first might appear confusing, for Yoga is often presented as if there were a true and fixed path to follow leading to a desired end. Enlightenment, samadhi, bliss, peace, higher realms of consciousness - these are the coins of the spiritual market place we are told we can collect with the proper practice and dedication. To find the proper practice it is common to go back to the past, to tradition and authority. Perusing the past, however, there doesn't appear to be any consensus for there were schools and counter-schools with recommendations running the gamut from demanding severe self-denial and austerities to others that held that only in experiencing life and sensuality to the fullest could true realization be achieved. The teachings of today are just as varied. One school says that all types of Yoga are contained within perfection of asanas, while others say that too much emphasis on the body keeps you limited to the gross material plane.
Tradition is important just as history is important - not as a vice to squeeze the present into, but rather as a stepping stone to grow from. It is necessary for all serious practitioners of Yoga to take from other people's experience that which can be helpful to create a personal expression of Yoga. In the years that I have been exploring Yoga, an approach has taken form that has been continually revealing, renewing and exciting. The movement of Yoga involves among other things the continual living recreation of the question, 'What is Yoga?' What follows is a brief introduction to the way I answer this question.
Yoga is a living process. The heart of Yoga does not lie in visible attainments; it lies in learning and exploring. Learning is a process, a movement, while attainments are static. One is internally learning about the whole field of life using the energy systems of one's mind and body to find out how one works and how universal patterns express themselves through individuals. Yoga also involves the process of freeing one's energy, moving out of the blocks and binds that limit one both physically and mentally. Freeing oneself is part of the process of self-knowledge for one's binds limit the nature of the exploration, just as releasing them permits learning to occur.
The way freedom is usually talked about is freedom from something: freedom from pain, fear, death, aging, disease, from sorrow, attachment, and of course, from the ego or self which is viewed as the source of all problems. The bondage of flesh and the tyranny of mind as they endlessly create desire, are to be overcome through discipline. Yet anyone who tries to do this necessarily confronts the basic paradox that is a part of the spiritual quest: trying to free oneself from anything contains within it the seeds of the very bondage one is trying to escape. The desire to be desireless is another desire. The push to conquer one's ego in the belief that ego loss will be the ultimate experience bringing perfection is self-centered activity. The desire for ego loss and perfection comes from the ego as does all desire. Thought then creates ideas of perfection from second-handed sources or from memory's projections and strives toward their accomplishment which is more ego activity. This is another example of what I call the spiritual paradox.
If freedom is looked at as a dimension of action rather than as an escape from something, as a living process instead of a goal, the spiritual paradox dissolves. The only real freedom is freedom in action. Freedom is responding totally to the challenges of the living moment. The true spiritual quest is not 'How do I become free?' but rather, 'What is it that binds me?' The most important thing about questing or questioning is the nature of the quest or question. Asking 'How do I become free?' automatically places you in the spiritual paradox, and even more important, is not answerable. For questing after freedom always involves ideas about what freedom consists of. The ideas I have, come from the state of not being free, and therefore involve projections of what it would be like not to have the problems that I have. Freedom here again is freedom from something - fear, jealousy, competitiveness whatever. The very ideas I have of freedom are limited by the state of my consciousness and as I try to force myself into the mold of the idea or ideal, I am limiting freedom right at the start. So I can never find out how to be free by seeking freedom. I can, however, find out the nature of what it is that limits my awareness and the scope of my responsiveness because that can be directly perceived.
The body's potential responsiveness is limited by stiffness, lack of strength and endurance. The mind's responsiveness is limited by the way it thinks about things. The ideas and beliefs through which you view the world necessarily keep you within the field of these thought structures. The way that you think about things totally influences not only the way you act, but the way you perceive. If, for example, you think that thought is the villain preventing you from experiencing the 'now' and therefore must be conquered through meditation, that mind-set influences everything you do. In intellectual circles there is the tendency to greatly value thought; in spiritual circles there is a tendency to judge thought negatively. The interesting thing is that both evaluations are just thought judging itself.