Thursday, April 12, 2012

Without faith? Without love?

In the last few days I have read several blogs that delve into the topics of love and faith in practice, questioning the idea that one can actually love yoga, or that faith is detrimental in a quest for truth.  I don't normally think too much about these flare ups of interest in the yoga blogging community, as I am never sure that my opinions are really relevant to anyone other than myself, but this is a topic that I feel particularly strongly about.  My humble thoughts for you to read.  Or not?  Either way is ok by me.

When the idea of loving yoga is looked at as an impossibility, because of the gritty, challenging, visceral effect of the ashtanga practice, I look at something like my relationship with my family.  It is not an easy go, and 9 times out of 10, I wind up angry or depressed or a combination of the two when I go to visit them for any extended period of time.  (Sorry mum, I know you don't like hearing that.)Do I love them any less for bringing out a side of me that I would rather didn't still exist?  No.  It is hard, it is work, but it is still love.  If you look at the practice through a romantic comedy falling in love montage sort of perspective, then there is definitely no comparison.  It is to me the kind of relationship that asks everything of you, but in return, provides a strong, steady mind and body, and a way to burn through negative patterns and come out the other side, weary and worn, but with the courage and the fortitude to move forward.  I will say it loud and proud. 

I love yoga.

Faith is an idea that I have struggled with through childhood and adolescence.  As a child going to church didn't have anything to do with spirituality or God, but it meant singing and playing games in Sunday school.  When I got older, I was pretty cynical about the idea  of some benevolent being up in the sky watching down on the world as people die or starve or suffer.  None of it made sense.  No faith was there.  With the practice, I have somehow managed to set aside all that disbelief and find faith, because in ashtanga yoga, so much of the process is the responsibility of the practitioner.  You do these poses, in this order.  You make shapes, and you breathe.  Don't think, just do. Too much thinking, nothing happening.  Stop thinking.  Breathe.  It's possible.  Try this for yourself.  See what happens.  The idea of faith goes hand in hand with devotion (to me), and Sharath talks often in conference about the necessity of the two.  If you have no faith, if you can't dispel the disbelief, you will never allow the practice to work.  Without devotion, and dare I say a bit of love as well, you won't be able to get yourself on your mat, 6 days a week for an extended period of time, long enough to reap all the benefits of yoga.  I don't have a copy of the sutras on hand, and I don't have them memorized, but I know there is most definitely a sutra that states pretty well that.  Practicing for a long time, uninterrupted, with devotion is necessary.  Key ingredients.  The quest for truth is a common pursuit among yoga students, and the idea that having faith can be an impediment along to road to discovering what is true is something Nobel discusses based on a comment left on his blog.  He argues in defense of shraddha, as not an idea of blind, unquestioning faith, but as an anchor from which to explore.  He writes well, follow the link and read it for yourself. 

Practicing without faith, without, love, without devotion, would be a depressingly futile process to me.  If you are looking at just the asana, and only trying to get a bit of exercise, than maybe it would be ok.  Letting go of the ego, the sense of the self, and surrendering to something greater requires a degree of faith.  Can it be any other way?


  1. This is my idea of keeping it real.

    Internet ashtanga is 99% ego, 1% useful.

    My article of faith is this: that practice works, more often than not, to give practitioners space from self-limiting stories and harmful behaviors. It doesn't kill the ego, but it does make it more transparent and flexible.

    As a result of this faith, I also have faith that the 99/1 ratio will improve as writers in the ashtanga-blogosphere accumulate more years of uninterrupted practice.

    1. The space that faith allows doesn't kill the ego, you are right. I have this image of it allowing a certain degree of omniscience (did I spell that right??) so that you can step aside and take a good look at yourself, while you are busy being yourself, and gain a whole new perspective on what/who that self actually is.
      Thanks for reading madam :) Not sure that I fall in the 1% useful, but hopefully I am not too much in the 99% ego either. More years of uninterrupted practice coming slowly slowly.