Like massage, yoga joins the ranks of things I was told are relaxing but are really masochistic.
Our host is a yoga pro. He has been practicing his entire life and has taught in numerous places around the world. I have no doubts of his skill and compassion in teaching the art of yoga. However, there is only so much gymnastics one can teach a dog.
I have the same affinity for yoga as the dog has for gymnastics. Sure, I’ve learned the basic poses and breathing exercises, but the positions are only half of yoga. The other arguably more important half is the mind. Our host laments the fact that yoga is seen as merely exercise in the west, for the spiritual half is what the humdrum minds of westerners really need.
The poses, I’m told, continue to be painful so long as the practitioner does not clear his or her mind and focus on breathing, and, go figure, it’s hard to breath normally while posed like someone who was just told to stand in the most uncomfortable way imaginable.
Like Buddhism, yoga has attain a substantial following of annoying white people. That’s the only thing I can say about them, though, is that they annoy me. I lack the patience and spirituality to grasp the finer points of yoga and eastern philosophy in general, but if it works for people, all the power to them.
What annoys me about westerners who praise eastern philosophy as some kind of silver bullet is their insistence that spirituality doesn’t exist in the west. This is of course not true. Having been in eastern countries for a few months now I feel comfortable admitting that here, spirituality is far more public. In the west, our spirituality is hidden in churches and the writings of great thinkers, but mostly it is hidden within our selves.
In the west, spirituality has no business with the public, even though it often times makes ugly appearances in the public sphere. In India, however, spirituality is expected to be present in the everyday. When we begin practice yoga in the morning we must first perform a few sun salutations, which are successive positions that somehow give praise and thanks to the sun. These positions are not just meaningless flailings. They are meant to be practiced with the same sincerity with which one practices evening prayer.
Part of the work here has been helping to construct a pond, and before even the first stone was laid, we all stood solemnly by as a puja was performed. A puja can be many things I’m told, but most of the time it is a sacrifice in order to ensure good fortune and prosperity. In this case a few bananas and a pomegranate were the unfortunate victims.
The spirituality is out in the open here, just as it can be out in the open in the west, but these outward displays of faith are typically Christian, and are usually met with skepticism.
Some of this skepticism no doubt stems from the elements of fantasy in the Bible, the promise of salvation through faith being perhaps the hardest pill to swallow. But eastern religions and philosophies have their own versions of salvation, and why these variations should be treated with less skepticism is to me unfathomable.
I originally intended to write about how comical my struggle with yoga is but here we are. This ended up being about a different kind of struggle I suppose.