In his book Essence of Yoga, Bernard Bouanchaud asks “What preliminary steps lead me to this study?”
Well, Bernard, it all depends on what you mean by “this study”.
If he’s referring to the study of the Yoga Sutras themselves, I can blame my teacher Kathryn Downton for that. I didn’t even know there was a yoga philosophy when I signed up for my first class. I just read on the internet that yoga was good for asthma – worked for me. She started burbling at the start of each class and I pretty much ignored her until we got down to the ‘real’ yoga… you know, the stretching and breathing stuff. I don’t know when it made it through the circuitry that the “burbling” part was interesting and … it worked! For me that was and remains the key part of Yoga studies. It might be some Sanskrit soaked convolutions at times but the danged stuff works.
Flash forward a few years: I’m now making multi-year commitments to hang out with other yoga weirdoes at least one week a year to study these burblings in depth. And how did YOU spend your summer vacation?
But I suspect the pump had been well primed for me to be receptive to the study of yoga. In September 1980, Saint Thomas University in Fredericton granted an honorary doctorate to HH the 14th Dalai Lama. I was a freshman country pumpkin, straight out of the backwoods of New Brunswick, although at the time, I thought I was charmingly sophisticated and oh such an urbanite. Barely heard of Buddhism, let alone the Dalai who-who? (Wasn’t he a Spanish painter?) As part of his visit, His Holiness gave a talk to the student body of the university. I went because …well, that’s what you do when you’re in university. On one level, it was totally wasted on me. If you put a gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you what he talked about. I didn’t understand it then either.
What I do remember, and it’s a vivid memory locked into my very cellular structure, is that there’s something about that guy. Call it presence, call it mojo, call it divine essence but there is a frequency of energy coming off that guy that defines description or definition and it literally changed the path of my life. Three decades later, I’m still trying to catch up with my short visited stay in the presence of holiness.
For the record, I’m not a Buddhist. I fall into the general category of ‘no-brand affiliation’. That’s okay though. That Dalai Lama guy? I still read his stuff. He’s a good teacher because he makes me think about me, my place in the world and what I’m capable of doing to make things better. And that’s what I’ve gleaned out of reading his books over the years– the absolute importance of cultivating compassion.
I’m now 40-something, pushing hard on 50 actually. More than ever, after 20 years in policing, I appreciate the need for more compassion in this world. It may be the only thing that saves humanity from its own destruction. And how do I get there? For me, the path is yoga. Yoga provides me with an easy to understand manual on how my brain works, how my body works, and how my spirit works and it does it without an appeal to authority. I’ve mentioned this before but for me, the key point of yoga is that it’s experiential. I don’t have to read yoga or study it or believe someone else’s take on it. What I have to do is DO IT. In the end, Practice is the ultimate teacher.
Do I think there’s a place for formal study of the philosophy? Absolutely because, in my case anyways, it’s the formal study of the tradition that keeps me motivated and informs me of when I’m doing yoga versus doing “Indian aerobics”.
I hope everyone has a good Labour Day weekend. If you live in the Maritime Provinces, try to keep your socks dry!!! It can rain all it wants in my books – the heat wave is over (for another year).
Namaste and thanks for reading.
A general note: This blog is about trying to integrate the philosophical teachings of Yoga into my daily life. I’m not an expert on Sanskrit, Yoga or Life in general. My teacher Kathryn Downton has provided an important part of my education in these matters but I read voraciously on these topics. I’ll credit her for the parts that I get right and I’ll own the parts I mess up. I try to acknowledge my sources where I can but frankly, I haven’t kept good notes over the years on where I got this stuff. These discussions are meant to be about one person’s perspective and not an intellectual treatise on the nature of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Please keep in mind that this is exploration and not explanation.